In this aging thread there’s a debate about a specific botched SWAT raid that resulted in a man holding a golf club being shot dead by police in his home. While nobody wants to defend the poorly executed raid itself, the officer who fired the fatal shots is not being charged with anything criminal, as he claims that he thought the club was a sword and was therefore justified in feeling threatened.
Opinions range from “charge him with first degree murder” to “he did everything right,” with the middle ground being held by Bricker, who argues that the officer should be disciplined but not charged. His most recent post in its entirety is this:
As a layperson I’m not sure how to argue this. If this statement is true, it leaves the door open for extraordinary mistakes to be criminal. I think that’s what negligent homicide is for, or manslaughter, or whatever it can be called.
Poster Enderw24 agrees with me, saying this:
Bricker’s response was dismissive, stating that anyone who actually knows a thing or two about the criminal justice system would agree that the officer’s actions don’t amount to anything criminal. Feel free to correct me on that assessment.
I did some digging to see if I could find similar cases. Specifics seem to vary greatly so I’ll try to summarize. And yes, I’ve cherry picked these cases, so I have no idea if the outcomes can be considered typical.
Case 1: Police shoot man holding a remote.
Police execute a knock-and-wait warrant on a house where an informant says he bought a small amount of cocaine earlier in the day. Upon entering, they are confronted by a man holding a remote control and shoot him, thinking it’s a gun. No criminal charges were filed.
Case 2: Police shoot an unarmed woman during a drug raid.
Police raid the home of an armed drug dealer. Someone dealer unleashes pit bulls on the cops, who open fire on the dogs. Meanwhile, an officer upstairs sees a shadowy figure at the end of the hallway, and, hearing the shots, assumes he’s being fired on. He shoots and kills a young woman. The officer was charged with negligent homicide and negligent assault and acquitted.
Case 3: Police shoot another unarmed woman during a raid.
Police enter a home searching for an armed robbery suspect. They encounter the suspects wife in a hallway. Accounts differ, but the officer in question vaguely remembers feeling the recoil of the weapon. Nobody heard the shot. The woman was shot in the throat and died. A jury inquest found that the officer had committed negligent homicide, but no charges were filed.
Moving away from raids:
Case 4: Officer shoots unarmed man after police chase.
Following a high speed chase in a Corvette, an officer tells a prone man to get up. When the man complies, he shoots 3 times. There’s actually video of this one, it’s pretty disturbing. The officer argued that the man made a threatening move and went to reach inside his coat. The officer was charged with voluntary attempted manslaughter and acquitted.
Case 5: The infamous Oakland BART shooting.
An officer shoots and kills a handcuffed man, presumably because he thought he was holding his tazer instead of his gun. The officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not guilty of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
My take away from this is that criminal charges are rare, and when they are filed they’re usually not severe – misdemeanors versus felonies. And in almost all cases they end up getting acquitted. The BART shooting was the only one I could find a conviction for, and the guy was frickin’ handcuffed, and even then he was only sentenced to 2 years minus time served.
I’m not sure where this leaves the debate. I still think Bricker is optimistic about saying officers will never face criminal charges for making ordinary mistakes, because I think “ordinary” is too much of a weasel word. However, he’s ultimately right about the severity of the charges and the likelihood of conviction.
And with that, I’ll shut up and see what others have to say.