An Oklahoma City police sergeant has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter for shooting a man in the back three times. A man who seconds before attempted to kill another sergeant, charging him with a knife in hand.
The charging document, filed by a homicide investigator, included the following: Mr. Edwards (the deceased) charged Sergeant Duroy with the knife before he changed directions and began “running away from officers.” That was when Sergeant Holman dropped his Taser, drew his gun “and fired three shots unnecessarily at Mr. Edwards as he was running away striking him in his upper middle back, causing his death.”
Seems pretty simple and straightforward. The man was shot in the back as he was running away from the officer he charged to attack. The man was obviously no longer a threat because he turned sharply to his left after the initial attack and ran away from the officer.
Obviously not a threat, right? Simple?
Well, in words, on paper, even on the video–a video that can be stopped, paused, and replayed over and over–it is simple. At the moment he was shot there were no obvious victims in the man’s immediate path. He was no longer in the act of attack.
Simple, at least to find what you want to find. What you may need to find. Confirmation bias as it were, meaning you see what you want to see.
Fantasy vs. Reality
Uses of force on TV shows and in movies are very simple. In those fantasy realms they’re clear cut. The viewers know the bad guys. They can foresee their murderous intent. Camera angles change. Music swells. The good guy shoots and the bad guy falls. The good guy’s bullet strikes its mark, and the bad guy stops. The shots are fired only on someone who is an immediate threat to another. An assailant obviously determined to kill.
But in the real world it isn’t at all that simple. In the real world uses of force are often complicated and complex on many levels.
Let’s examine the multiple issues that are at play in this incident that involves a decision made in less than three seconds by the sergeant who is now being charged.
Time, Motion, Decision, Intent
I’ll tell you what, count to three right now. Ready? Go. 1-2-3.
Pretty quick, correct?
From the first shot fired at Mr. Edwards by Sgt. Duroy, who was inches away from being murdered, to the last of the three shots fired by Sgt. Holman is exactly three seconds.
Moments before, Holman risked his own life by moving within 10-12 feet of Edwards in order to employ the less-than-lethal Taser. That, incidentally, is a tactically unsound thing to do in my opinion. Edwards could have closed the gap on Holman in about one second. If he did, Holman never would have had time to drop the Taser, draw his firearm, point and accurately shoot the knife-wielding Edwards. And–bringing forth another real-life complexity-– even if he did manage to shoot Edwards once or twice in that one second, the odds that the shots would have immediately incapacitated Edwards are extremely small. A brain shot or a penetrating shot to the heart or spine would have had to happened to cease the attack in that moment.
Murderous Intent by the Police?
While the manslaughter charge implies an unlawful killing and the shooting itself is being portrayed by some as another example of heartless police officers coldly killing an innocent and troubled human being, the actual facts prove the exact opposite.
Edwards had been harassing customers at a pawn shop. That’s what prompted the police to respond. He had a knife in his hand when Sgt. Duroy arrived. Edwards was acting irrationally and refused to drop the knife. He advised the sergeant to leave, which of course he couldn’t do. Instead, the sergeant called for assistance…in particular an officer with a Taser, who ended up being Sgt. Holman.
While waiting, Duroy wisely and patiently ignored Edwards and gave him both the space and time to cool off.
As for the Taser being used on a man with a knife, as I mentioned earlier, it is a very questionable and dangerous tactic.
A knife is a deadly weapon any way you look at it. A Taser is a less-than-lethal weapon and in order for it to be used effectively on a human being an officer would have to get within 15 feet of his/her target. A man with a knife can cover that 15 feet in less than two seconds, maybe faster. Therefore, the knife-wielder could plunge the edged weapon into the officer’s chest, neck or head well before that officer could pull his sidearm for defense.
So why try to use the Taser in this case?
Well, that one is simple. These officers proved beyond a reasonable doubt that they did not want to shoot Mr. Edwards. Holman, who has been charged with manslaughter, was willing to risk his own life to save Edwards’ life.
Holman fired his weapon reluctantly.
So why the charge of manslaughter.
Well, according to the investigator, “Sergeant Holman dropped his Taser, drew his gun and fired three shots unnecessarily at Mr. Edwards.”
Were those shots unnecessary?
Well, they could be considered so if you look at the video with uninvolved eyes, where your life and the lives of others were not at risk. If you could stop, pause and consider the three different video angles of the shooting. If you can make yourself believe that you knew that the murderous intent of Edwards, displayed 1.5 seconds prior to him being shot, had subsided and he no longer had any desire to hurt anyone else. And finally, if you could determine that no other citizen was in the area who could have been a victim, if in fact Edwards still did have murderous intent. Well, then you can come to the conclusion that the shooting was unnecessary and criminal in nature.
Reality? It took you approximately 25 seconds to read that last paragraph. That is at least EIGHT TIMES LONGER than Sgt. Holman had to make all of those determinations. And if he was wrong, if a woman walked out of one of those doors (and one did) at the wrong time and was stabbed by Edwards, then what?
In addition, there was another police officer on the opposite side of the squad car Edwards ran past. Was Edwards going to turn left around the front of the squad and engage that officer?
Sgt. Holman had to make a decision faster than I can type this sentence.
Human Performance Considerations
None of what I have pointed out so far in this article has addressed another important issue that must be taken into consideration when deciding why Holman shot Edwards from behind. That is the science of human performance while experiencing massive acute stress.
Holman tried Tasering Edwards twice, again at the risk of his own life. Think about being within reaching distance of an irrational and uncooperative man refusing to put down a knife. What type of stress would you be experiencing? What would be happening to your ability to perceive the subtleties of behavior? What would be your level of selective attention? Selective attention, incidentally, is the brain selectively attending to what’s important and disregarding what the unconscious decides to be insignificant in the moment. How long would it take your body and brain to adjust to the rapidly changing dynamics being presented by a man close enough to kill you?
Holman literally had to drop his Taser at the sight of Edwards charging Sgt. Duroy, shout out to Duroy to shoot, grab for his own sidearm, pull it, aim and shoot. Accurately.
People sometimes dismiss the reality of human performance under stress, not believing that tunnel vision and auditory exclusion exist. That time seems to speed up and slow down. That memory becomes muddled.
They don’t believe all that because they watch TV and movie shootouts and they are always so, well, simple.
Imagine the terror felt by Holman as he tried to piece together everything that was happening to him. And all of it happening in literally three seconds.
Not as simple in real life.
Much simpler watching a video, sipping a latte with a preconceived determination that the police are always wrong.
The law basically says that a use of force by the police should be viewed from the perspective of a reasonable officer in the same situation.
Almost all watching the videos of this event have no first-hand idea of what that perspective is.
One thing is for sure: it is anything but simple.
Watch the video here. It is edited with many of these considerations in mind and meant to be used for education and training purposes:
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