Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Killer Expectations

Had another suicide-by-cop locally -- in Gresham -- last week. Ugly all the way around, but as always, not as simple as it first seemed.

I saw the initial report on the evening news. Couple of witnesses at the apartment complex -- Nah, the man was doing what the cops said, they shot him with bean-bags, and then capped him dead. No reason!

That sounds heinous. But I've heard a few of these stories, so I poked around ...

Most complete story here.

The gist is that Aaron Campbell, upset over the death of his gravely-ill brother that very day, went to his girlfriend's apartment, in what everybody seems to agree was a bleak, suicidal depression.

A friend of the girlfriend called the police. When they got there, Campbell's girlfriend was outside in the parking lot -- and Campbell was in her place with three small children.

What's the deal? The officer asked.

She allowed as how Campbell was talking about suicide -- and that she had seen him put a gun into his coat pocket.

Hmm. Suicidal man with a gun, in an apartment with three small children.

I'd have called for back-up.

Officers started talking, and Campell was (and you can put "allegedly" in where you want in this narrative, I'm not going to) distraught, and said he wasn't going to play, and "-- don't make me get my gun."

None of this sounds good.

But: The kids came out, and shortly thereafter, so did Campbell, who initially, all seem to agree, did was he was told, putting his hands behind his neck.

Here the story bifurcates:

Police say Campbell began refusing to comply, yelling, moving around, putting his hands down.

Civilian witnesses say he was doing what he was told, though he was mouthing off, including telling the officers to go ahead and shoot him.

One of the officers popped him with a couple of bean bag rounds, and when that didn't do the trick, hit him with four more.

Civilian witnesses say he put a hand to his waist where he was hit by a bean bag as he backed away and the cop shot him.

Police say he put a hand to his belt and started to move away. They had reason to believe he was armed, and when he didn't stop what he was doing, they potted him. One round from an AR-15.

And to make it nastier, he didn't have a gun. (There was one in the closet in the house, they found later.)

So, yes, the police shot an unarmed man. Then again, when the man's girlfriend allowed as how he was suicidal and had a gun, you might consider those extenuating circumstances.

Still, they didn't see a gun, only a quick move, and because they expected that he had a piece, they capped him.

Expectations can be a killer, and it this case, that's what they were.

Did he do it on purpose, knowing they'd shoot? No way to tell, only guy who could say is gone.

What is also cause for head-shaking is a letter in today's paper from a woman who wonders why the police didn't just, you know, shoot him in the leg (or maybe, like the old cowboy movies, shoot the gun out of his hand ... ?)

She had no clue that the idea of being able to hit a moving target that precisely while amped on adrenaline is foolish. Police are taught to shoot to stop -- center of mass -- and if it becomes necessary to crank off rounds, that is supposed to be because the target has become an imminent threat to life or limb, and if you shoot him in the leg or arm or anywhere that doesn't instantly stop him, he might kill you, the little old lady peeping out her living room window, or anybody else without sufficient cover to stop a bullet.

I hope somebody from the local cop shop writes in and explains this.

It's all a nasty can of worms, but I suspect when all is said and done, the grand jury won't indict anybody.


Dan Gambiera said...

They won't and never will.

If we believe the Courts there has NEVER been a bad shoot in the Metro area.

Not one.

Yes, police work is tough and somewhat dangerous. Regular citizens who usually know who the threat is - the angry vengeful ex who just broke into my apartment? probably something to worry about. Cops are often in situations where they don't know that.

But still, not one mistake worth prosecuting ever? Not a single True Bill?

Given a 95% benefit of the doubt and a historical average of around ten officer-involved shootings in the Metro area each year there should have been at least a dozen incidents worth sending to trial in the last thirty years.

Or put the other way around, the chances that not one of them was worth a Grand Jury's time and effort is on the order of one in a million.

Color me....skeptical

Rory said...

UNqswDan ALL of the shootings in the PDX Metro area that I am aware of have gone to Grand Jury. It is not the DA who have decided that the shootings were not crimes, it was an empaneled group of citizens.

If you have issues with statistics, probability or good/evil, fine. But pretending to confuse going to trial and not being presented to the Grand Jury as if they are one and the same is, at best, disingenuous.

Steve Perry said...

Technically, what Rory says is true. There might be some debate on the intent -- there's an old saying among lawyers -- A good DA, they say, can get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich.

But good DAs also understand that if you don't think you can win a case, you don't try to make it.

The leeway in police shootings is that everybody knows what the rules of of engagement are supposed to be, and whether they follow them or not, when it comes time to report the incident, they will surely make it sound as if they did.

If you were in fear for your life or that of your fellow officers or the citizens in the area, that is your justification for deadly violence.

It's the reasonable person defense: Put yourself in the officer's shoes and tell me, would you have felt justified in doing what he did?

In the case of suicide-by-cop, the guy who is angling to get shot also knows that if the police think he has a weapon and is about to use it, they are trained to stop him instanter.

Do I think every shooting involving the police in the metro area has been righteous? No. I can point to a couple -- the guy running from the bus a few years ago comes immediately to mind. And the beanbag round to the 12-year-old girl's thigh still looks like bullshit to me. But the job police are hired to do involves violence and that area gets gray ...

Todd Erven said...

I had a cop pull a gun on me one time because he thought that I might be the guy who had just robbed a movie theater. Being an innocent person, I really didn't appreciate having a gun pointed at me.

Know what I did though? I certainly didn't choose that time to start arguing with the officer. I put my damn hands up as fast as I could and froze. I did exactly what he asked, when he asked.

Not getting shot by the cops seems to be pretty easy. Do what they say and don't move. I don't see too many stories of people on the ground with their hands behind their head who get shot by the cops. It's always the dumbasses or the unfortunately insane people who get all twitchy or decide to fight.

I don't care if I find the situation unfair or if I think the officer is in the wrong. If they have a gun pointed at me, they are going to get the utmost level of compliance. Deal with the "outrage" of it all when you're not a 6lb pull away from death.

Dan Gambiera said...

Rory, yes you're technically right. They did go to the GJ. But not one indictment. Ever. That means that in more than half a century not one DA has been able to convince a Grand Jury that there's enough doubt about what happened to even consider a trial.

It doesn't just strain credulity. It broke it into splinters.

The message is clear. All police badges are prefixed with '00', and the pious blathering about "Cops are held to a higher standard" is pure bullshit. If you wear tin you can kill with impunity.

Master Plan said...

Dan, you know that's a bullshit statement. Cops don't kill with "impunity" and most of those they do kill (correct if I'm wrong) are in fact "job related" (they don't do drive-bys, right?).

If no DA in 50 years can convince any group of go forward...doesn't that actually imply that...those were all justified shootings and thus...not prosecutable?

I always wonder what it is exactly the cop-hating types are wanting here. Mistakes do get made, nature of violence, doesn't mean the cops are making deliberately conscious choices to murder people for their own pleasure (which seems to be what you're strongly implying)and in the case of such mistakes...what do we do to them? Crucifixtion? Jail time? Kick them off the force?

jks9199 said...

I don't have the details of 50 years of police shootings in Portland at hand. But if they've all gone before the grand jury, you're probably talking about at least 3 or 4 different head district attorneys, right? (A Commonwealth Attorney, the equivalent in my area, recently retired after 10 terms as Commonwealth Attorney and 40 years as a prosecutor; he was unusual in the length of his tenure.) So, in all that time, nobody's indicted a police officer. I can't address any specific shooting but that suggests that they were all justifiable.

That's not at all suggesting that every use of force by police is justified and reasonable. If you recall, I wasn't at all happy with the guy using the bean bag at point blank range on the 12 year old...

I know no police officer who takes the use of deadly force lightly. I've pointed my gun at more than a few people -- and been within ounces of pressure and tiny fractions of an inch of shooting someone on a few occasions. In other words -- the slack in the trigger was taken up, and the person complied at the last possible instant for me to react. Thank God, I've not shot anyone -- and I hope I never have to.

I'd encourage you to heed the advice of the Supreme Court (see Graham v Conner, among others) and not use the advantage of 20/20 hindsight to assess police use of lethal force. Especially in cases that appear to be suicide-by-cop... The officers at the scene are limited to what they know and have been told -- and have to make the best judgment that they can. And they're limited to human reaction time; quite a few cases that appear to have been officers shooting someone in the back are actually simply the result of reaction time between a stimulus (often incoming fire) and pulling the trigger. You might consider taking a look at some of the work done by the folks at the Force Science Institute.

Steve Perry said...

A link of some interest regarding this. The news is old, 1992, but offers some stats:

Ed said...

My observations

Being drunk/on drugs, stupid, hard of hearing, abusive or mentally unstable for whatever reason - or a combination of any or all - sometimes(a lot of the time) does not mix well with trying to stay away from police contact and a police officer ordering you to comply to his or her's orders. Most of those don't help with family/living situations too. A police officer has to make decisions very fast and at times with limited/very little and or bad info - a tough job at best. Great officers are worth their weight in gold.

I think most people go thru their lives not having police contact, other than traffic stops. But there are a bunch/probably a very small number of the population - but seems to be growing - that have many contacts and those and their peer group and or family tend to hate the police even after they are called in to try and clean up their mess - go figure?

The police should use tranqs on people - officer steps in and has the alleged perp sign a waiver saying they have no medical issues that would interfere with the tranq and no other of the hundreds of things that could go wrong with an arrest - then the officer can step back and administer the dart. Ya, that would work good, riiiiight.

Tough job. Doesn't mean you can't have great people doing it though.

Eric said...

I've been doing this job for 10 years on a city with a violent crime rate double Chicago's.

I've had more people I *could* shoot than I can count and haven't done it. They've been lucky or I've been lucky, either way. No cop wants to shoot somebody, it's a shit storm you've gotta live with.

We're judged based on reasonableness with an assumption about our training and abilities.

Dan, you are an idiot. Just curious, how many times has someone reached for a gun or tried to take yours?