Competing Narratives: April 4, 2002
1. A Grand Rapids, MI police officer, mercilessly and unjustifiably shot a confused and terrified black man in the back of the head while laying on top of him and pushing the defenseless man’s face into the ground. A motivating factor in the officer’s decision to shoot was the man’s race.
2. A Grand Rapids, MI police officer shot a man in the head who had run from a traffic stop, physically resisted arrest and assaulted the officer. The man refused to obey repeated orders and after grabbing the officer’s TASER and attempting to control it, refused to release the TASER after three clear warnings and was finally shot by the officer as a last resort and in complete self-defense. After reading countless stories and listening to the many opinionated accounts, those are essentially the clashing descriptions concerning a Grand Rapids police officer’s use of deadly force on a man after a traffic stop last week in Michigan. The competing narratives are based on the same set of optic facts which is, four different video sources of the event. The four sources are, dashcam, body cam, cell phone and video surveillance from a residential home. All are important, but when it comes to the actual moment the deadly force was used, the cell phone camera captures it best. That said however, in an effort to assess what the officer needed to consider, both the behavior and intent of the resistive subject, the officer’s bodycam and the squad car’s dashboard camera provide vital information.
We combined the cell phone and body camera footage here. *NOTE: CLICK “Watch on YouTube” TO VIEW THIS VIDEO.
What you just watched is readily available to the general public and everyone sees the same thing technically. However, each individual’s preloaded bias about the police, whether pro-police or anti-police, will unquestionably influence exactly how people assess what they are seeing. Experience and lack of experience in the controlling of a resistive subject will significantly impact how viewers evaluate the officer’s actions. This is often referred to as Confirmation Bias.
EXAMINING THE DIFFERENT VIEWS Against the Officer’s Decision & the Police in General Those who have come out, protested and/or have publicly commented against the police officer and his use of deadly force are summarized here, obviously not in their entirety:
1. The officer shouldn’t have made the stop for such a minor violation. (Many states have actually legislated this belief, prohibiting officers from making minor traffic stops that do not risk general citizen safety, such as equipment violations and registration violations all for the expressed reason of manipulating statistical outcomes when it comes to race.)
2. Once the man decided to resist and run, the officer could have just allowed the man to leave as the original reason for the stop is a minor infraction.
3. A TASER is not a deadly force weapon and therefore the use of a firearm is completely unwarranted on the part of the officer.
4. The man didn’t have the TASER at the moment he was shot and if he did, he wasn’t using it as a weapon in that moment.
5. A shot to the back of the head is completely unjustified for any reason.
6. A man should not be shot and killed for a minor traffic violation.
7. The primary reason he was shot is because he is a black man and the officer was white. One of the most interesting aspects of writing my articles is the response we get from readers, police officers and citizens alike. I’m not going to address all seven points above outside of what I’ve read about how the police feel about this case, but I encourage you to email us at email@example.com and we will, if feasible, print your opinions, whatever your views.
In Support of the Officer’s Decision Officers I have spoken to and things I’ve read and seen on the Internet in support of the officers and the police in general, are as follows, again, not in their entirety:
1. The stop: Completely justified and legal. The plates on the car were supposed to be on another car. This is often an indicator the car is stolen. People don’t simply make a mistake and put the wrong plates on a car.
2. While the violation may be a misdemeanor, an experienced officer would be aware that the situation has potential to be a felony (stolen car).
3. The man didn’t have a driver’s license. He resisted arrest. He ran. He fought. He grabbed and attempted to control the officer’s TASER. Several violations of criminal statutes were committed indicating a threat and danger to the officer.
4. Ignoring the multiple orders of, “Let go of the TASER!” repeated for about a minute, indicates the man is not about to comply and wants the TASER as a weapon.
5. If the man gets a hold of the TASER, there is potential to incapacitate the officer long enough to flee. But there is also the potential, during that incapacitation, that the suspect would grab the officer’s firearm and use its lethality against the officer.
6. A three-minute fight is an incredibly long time. How much energy did the officer have to continue the fight? Experiencing the acute stress associated with a fight and the use of weapons is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting and something those critiquing the police have never experienced.
7. Shooting a subject to stop a deadly force threat is not limited to any specific part of the body. You shoot what is available in the moment. There is no law that prohibits shooting someone in the head and/or back.
8. Whether the man was, in the moment deadly force was employed, in the midst of using the TASER against the officer is irrelevant. His behavior indicated his intention to use it and he could have moved, rolled and deployed it in less than one second.
9. If the man simply complied with the officer no force would have been necessary.
10. The man’s color had no bearing on the decision to use deadly force. Race is routinely used in an effort to malign the entire police profession. I think the points in both categories accurately summarize the two opposing perspectives.
If you have others or would like to address any, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graham’s Legal Ambiguities
Generally, according to the Graham Standard (Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), the moment is all that really matters. What was the officer facing the moment he decided the use of deadly force was necessary and objectively reasonable? Many people, including yours truly, get confused when navigating the Graham Standard. It is, like most case law, ambiguous when applying its application to an actual event. First, understand that the Graham Standard was only really meant to be applied when being sued under Federal civil action for deprivation of rights, in particular, 42 U.S. Code § 1983. While the essentials of the ruling (viewing the use of force by the officer under the Fourth Amendment and the objective reasonableness standard) has been adopted by virtually every state in their respective criminal statutes, Graham doesn’t translate in the states exactly the same way as it does for a Federal 1983 action. That said, Graham does essentially establish the basics when considering an officer’s use force, which is, objective reasonableness. “As in other Fourth Amendment contexts… the ‘reasonableness’ inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” The Court continued with this caution for those viewing the use of force after the fact, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Police officers always bring up Graham when defending uses of force, but as I mentioned, it isn’t that clear cut when they may be facing decisions to charge, or when faced with actual charges, under state criminal statutes. Still, the crux of Graham is important. So, let’s consider this Grand Rapids case with Graham in mind and the moment force was used.
Cell Phone Footage and that 20/20 Vision of Hindsight
Using the video we provided here, and the beginning which depicts the view from the cell phone camera, here is what transpired in approximate seconds.
1:07: The officer yells, “Let go of the TASER.”
6:13: The officer yells again, “Let go of the TASER.”
12:25: The officer yells, “Drop the TASER!”
14:02: The man has both his hands on the TASER.
15:24: The officer fires his one shot, a fatal one to the back of the subject’s head. Watching the video several times, freeze framing it and magnifying still moments, it appears as though from the time the officer yells, “Drop the TASER!” to the time he fires, three seconds elapse. From the time that subject had sole control of the TASER —by that I mean the officer had no hand on it and the subject had it in both of his hands—to the moment the officer fired his one and only shot, approximately 1.22 seconds elapsed.
Is a TASER a Deadly Force Weapon: In Whose Hands?
Eliminating for the sake of argument at this time the exhaustion experienced by the officer after an intense, three-minute fight that went from standing, to on the ground, to standing and finally on the ground again, let’s examine whether a TASER can be considered a deadly force weapon when in the hands of a resisting and assaultive subject? Overall analysis and studies show that when TASER-type devices are used by the police there is a very low chance that the results of such use would include death and/or great bodily harm. The following are from the Axon (TASER) website: — “In a 5-year TASER safety study by the US Department of Justice ‘an expert panel of medical professionals concludes that the use of conducted energy devices by police officers on healthy adults does not present a high risk of death or serious injury.’” — “In a peer-reviewed study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, MacDonald, Kaminski, and Smith examine less-lethal weapons including conducted electrical weapons.
Analyzing data from 12 police departments across 24,380 use-of-force cases involving injury to officers or civilians, this study found that “odds of injury to civilians and officers were significantly lower when police used CED weapons.” — “4,915,495 uses in the field by officers around the world. 99.75% resulted in no serious injury.” Therefore, there is a strong argument that a TASER is not a deadly force weapon which would then not allow an officer to respond with deadly force. But those studies and their results are dependent on the TASER being in the hands of a police officer. A police officer, presumably trained and with a focus on controlling, detaining, and deescalating a noncompliant/resistive/assaultive subject. Not incapacitating him for the purposes of pulling out a gun and shooting him.
So, the question in this Grand Rapids case, as in others, is essentially: Is it objectively reasonable and justifiable for a police officer to employ a sidearm against someone who has control of the officer’s TASER? Well, the answer can’t be singular, simple, straightforward and/or myopic. As with every other deadly force situation, the multiple variables present and the things the officer is of aware, matter. In particular, all the pertinent variables. All those dynamic, confusing, pesky, ever-evolving variables. Most people view a video, such as the one here from Grand Rapids, already aware of the overall conclusion. As in this case, a white officer shoots an unarmed black man in the head, which accurately depicts what most media headlines reflect. On the other hand, those in law enforcement are tired of being characterized as heartless, soulless, genocidal racists and they look at the videos with an eye for justifying the officer’s ultimate behavior. Again, both are experiencing a level of confirmation bias; you see what you want to see.
However, facts matter. Variables matter. Reality in the moment matters. A veteran officer and friend who contacted me after seeing the video said this: “My argument for the officer’s use of his firearm, based on my training and experience, is the offender’s actions did not seem consistent with someone trying to give the ol’ 1-2 to an officer in order to get away. He was not pulling away from officer to break free from his attempts to control. Fleeing offenders don’t try to take control of your weapons systems. They just flee.” Still, what about the level of threat a TASER presents when in the hands of an offending/resisting subject? He addressed that also. “In this case, considering the TOC (totality of circumstances), an actively resisting subject gaining control or attempting to gain control over a weapon that can incapacitate an officer, allotting an offender minimum 5 seconds or more (depending on offender’s understanding of that tool) to 1) access lethal weapons about the officer’s person to inflict harm on the officer or others or, 2) inflict death or GBH (great bodily harm) on the officer without weapons (i.e. stomping his head into the cement) creates the required ‘imminent’ found in nearly all Use of Force policies and laws I have seen. At least in my opinion.”
Well, draw your own on what we presented here. We have people who are not police officers who follow our website, our YouTube videos and our articles. Most are either pro-police or curious about the reality of law enforcement and the LE perspective. Still, we have others who troll because they hate the police and find fault in virtually everything they do. Facts, the law and common sense do not persuade. This anti-police bias is exemplified in this case concerning the Grand Rapids officer, a seven-year veteran. He was immediately labelled, branded, and characterized as a murderous racist with zero facts and a blind eye towards the complexity of the deadly force decision. Media, politicians and activists jumping to this conclusion and making this claim are disingenuous at best and loathsome and dangerous at worst. Consider the complexity of facts and the various opinions in this article. While not complete by any means, they are meant, along with the video and picture, to demonstrate how what many people think is simple and obvious, is really quite complex and confusing.
Again, please share your thoughts. E-mail us at: email@example.com