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by Peter Moskos

September 21, 2016

Terence Crutcher shooting

I'll cut right to the chase, I think this is a bad shooting; but not as bad as many people seem to think. (In my very first sentence, I probably just pissed everybody off.)

Terence Crutcher wasn't armed. And I don't think he was an imminent threat when he was shot. Therefore it wasn't reasonable. And that's the legal standard for a justifiable shooting.



One very troubling thing here is why nobody renders aid. It probably wouldn't have helped (with a bullet going through a body from one side to the other). But you can't just shoot somebody and not render aid. You can't. And they did. What they hell were they doing backing up in formation? What weird part of training was that?

Nor do I like the helicopter guy saying, "he looks like a bad dude." Would the guy have said that about a white guy? I don't know. I first thought it was a contributing factor, but from what I've read their broadcast was not being transmitted to the officers.

But what was Crutcher doing? False narratives are unfair. And dangerous, as we just saw in Charlotte. (Keith Lamont Scott seems to have approached officers with a gun, not a book.)

Despite what I keep reading, Crutcher was not complying. Crutcher was going to his SUV against the orders of cops. This is odd, worrisome even. But it doesn't elevate somebody to a lethal threat. And Crutcher’s hands were not in the air when he was shot.



But I still don't understand why the cop shot at that moment. I like to think, had I been there, I would have taken Crutcher out with my straight baton and a blow to a leg. Tasing would be justified. I don't want him getting in that car when my partner is telling him not to. Perhaps, if you have the muscle, you just tackle the guy.

It seems to me Crutcher wanted to get back in his car. And cops are not going to let that happen, because we don't to be killed like Officer Dinkheller died. What I'm saying is this isn't Walter Scott bad. It wasn't Charles Kinsey bad. It wasn't Levan Jones bad. It wasn't James Boyd bad. It wasn't Bobby Canipe bad. It wasn't Jonathan Ayers bad.

Bad is bad, and there's no reason that every police-involved shooting has to be as bad as the worst shootings to warrant criticism. But I mention those names in part because many of these names are not African American. If people don't know that cops shoot white people, too, they should. And sometimes these shootings aren't justified. Too many police are too quick to pull the trigger. And this problem is not evenly spread throughout policing (more on that in my next post).

Back to Crutcher: As a cop you're also aware that gunfire deaths of cops are up 50 percent this year. But you can't just shoot people because they're non-compliant and drop their hands. You can't be a police officer and be that afraid. Damn that Dinkheller video from 18 years ago. Before you shot, you need to wait till you see an imminent threat, like a gun or movement towards what you know is a gun. Look, people should be compliant, but as a cop you know people aren't going to be compliant. It's why we have police. People do not act rationally and police officers have to deal with them.

That said, this wasn't just a motorist with a stalled car. From the 911 call:
Caller: There was a guy running from it. He, like 'somebody was going to blow up.' I think he's smoking something.

Dispatch: Ohh (laughing).

Caller: I was rude to him too because I got out and was like, 'do you need help'? And he was like, 'come here, come here.' I said 'well, what's going on' and he's like, 'come here come here. I think it's going to blow up.' I'm like, 'nah I'm out.'

Dispatch: OK.

Caller: He started freaking out and he took off running.
Crutcher was not acting reasonably. He's talking about something blowing up. He's roaming the street in what was probably a drug-induced high (we don't know for sure, but PCP was found in the car). None of this justifies the shooting. But it does all matter.

Let's imagine that Crutcher was going to blow up his SUV or had guns in there. It's possible (though it wasn't the case). Then would the shooting be justified? Still, no. (But it sure would be a better narrative.) Even then the shooting would not have been reasonable because at the moment the shot was fired, I don't think a reasonable police officer would see an imminent threat. At least I don't. As a cop, you don't have to wait till a gun is pointed at you before you shoot. You shouldn't wait till a gun is pointed at you before you shoot. But there's got to be a gun! I mean, people should be compliant, but as a cop you know people aren't going to be compliant. It's why we have cops.

So now we'll see how justice plays out. I suspect the officer will be criminally charged, as does happen in many bad shootings.

So here we have another "incident." One of many, certainly. And don't ignore the historical context. But there will be another bad policing shooting. I guarantee it. We can't base reform on anecdote. Cops kill roughly three people a day. They're not all good shootings, but most of them are.

What is the goal? The goal could be fewer bad shootings. The goal could be more accountability for tax-payer funded agents of state. Fine. But we're never going to have zero bad shootings. Not only is that impossible, it's not even a good goal. When cops save a life by killing a criminal, it is not an example of "global and national hatred." Policing is not a pacifist occupation. We give cops guns because sometimes, at certain moments, we want them to shoot somebody. That is the reality. The way forward cannot be continued outrage, incident by incident.

That said, we can reduce bad and unnecessary police-involve shootings. I'll get to that in my next post.

15 comments:

Drew said...

Very balanced view in an unbalanced world. That last paragraph might need an edit.

Peter Moskos said...

Thanks. (And for the heads up)

Thorn said...

When I was trying to figure out why she shot the thing that kept playing in the back of my mind was the (recorded) murder of Deputy Dinkheller; an example of why, if you have reason to detain someone who is acting 'off' you don't let them go back to an unsecured vehicle. And a video that every cop has surely seen and listened to at least once.

But even so, I would think physically grabbing him would be a good option. Too much reliance on intermediate range options (Taser, etc) and not enough on grappling\HtH skills?

As to the 'bad guy' comment I heard it as a synonym for a big suspect but I don't know how the pilot meant it.

chai guy said...

Was the window open or closed? Seems like this is a pivotal point of contention.

"I think he may have just been Tasered," an officer says over the radio.
"Shots fired!" a female officer says.

Here are my theories:

1. The victim was having a diabetic episode (regardless if he had been previously diagnosed as diabetic). That accounts for his erratic behavior. The number of obese African American men over 40 with diabetes is staggering, it's something like 50%.

"He had a very hollow look in his face, kind of a thousand-yard stare, so to speak, and would not communicate. And she could tell he was not normal. She thought that when she saw him,"

2. I believe the female officer who shot him actually thought she was using her tazer, not her firearm. Similar to the BART shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009, or as happened in Tulsa shooting of Eric Harris in April of last year. If you listen to her call in on the radio "shots fired" - she is a surprised as anyone else.

Peter Moskos said...

I too thought of a diabetic episode (do other cops?). But the PCP found in the car seems to trump that theory.

And I think #2 has been firmly contradicted (ie: not supported by) her laywer and/or her. She said she drew her gun, somewhere I read that, cause they guy was told to simply stay still but instead decided to raise his hands and walk to his car. That was freaky and she unholstered. At least that's my understand from something I read I making all the links for this post.

Andy D said...

Bravo for a very good balanced take on this shooting. First, @ chai guy, I highly doubt she thought she was using her Taser. The "I think he's been Tased" comment is the helicopter crew talking and that wasn't being broadcast to the officers on the ground--it was either Intercom in the chopper or going out over some air-ops channel to HQ.

I think she knew very well it was her firearm. I think she panicked and shot and I think the tone of voice you hear in this video is THE proximate cause of this bad shooting: she was scared sh&tless. Freaked out completely by this big dude acting irrationally, with the shooting of Kyle Dinkheller playing in her head somewhere. But Dinkheller made the same mistake that this officer did: letting him get to his car. I want to share my thoughts on why some other kind of force was not used. First, by herself she was probably scared to go hands-on or use a wimpy little expandable baton on this big dude (Let's leave his race out of it for the moment.) By the time he was almost to her car she had another officer there and there is less explanation for not going hands-on. In my use of force policy which follows current Taser guidelines, he could NOT be Tased until just about the moment he was shot--which actually IS what happened: the other officer Tased him at the same moment that the female officer shot him. They both perceived a threat at that moment, but she used a firearm while he used a Taser. I think the biggest reasons for the lack of intermediate force is that officers are scared to "beat" people. cameras in cars and cell phone cams and body cams have had that effect on a lot of cops: force is ugly and you will be accused of "beating" someone almost every single time. Because they will get injured. Maybe some bruises, maybe a broken bone. other cops get that. but the media and the lawyers will scream "BEATING!" Many cops, especially those in less than ideal physical shape or who are not of physically intimidating size are genuinely (and with some justification) petrified to use physical force. They rely on the Taser almost solely and when it fails to incapacitate the offender (which happens about 50% of the time regardless of what Taser's marketing propaganda says) they are left with NO CLUE what to do next. Over-reliance on Tasers is a huge problem, but so is the hesitation to use force because of the "bad optics" as they say in politics. Most cops are very poorly trained in hands-on skills. Like, they-haven't-had-hands-on-training-since-the-academy bad.

SDG said...

Thorn, the quote was "That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something." That does not mean he's a big guy.

CollegeCop said...

Deputy Dinkheller waited way way too long. He saw a weapon and still didn't act in time. and he was by himself.

The female officer in this situation wasn't by her self. A Taser was deployed at near the same time she opened fire. From the video i saw, It seemed like she didn't give enough time to see if the taser worked or if another taser hit might have worked (we all know that tasers aren't 100% effective, the 1st one might not have made proper contact).

It reminds me much more of the case that happened in Arlington (Texas) last year at a car dealership.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/02/us/texas-dealership-shooting/

Training officer and (49 year old) officer in training enter the building, the FTO deploys taser while the trainee shoots. Trainee is fired but not indicted, don't now what happened to the FTO.

like most, I'm generally against making judgement from afar, but to me it just seemed like she panicked. Here shots fired call over the radio seemed more than distraught. It might even be possible that the taser going of right next to her ear (it is a loud pop) startled her into firing.

Melissa Zebley said...

I wouldn't necessarily rule out accidentally grabbing her taser instead of her gun, even though she or her lawyer has said that wasn't the case. That may still be CYA. When I was reading about this case, I came across a similar one where the officer admitted grabbing the wrong weapon, and ended up indicted and convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to something like 10 years in prison. With the recent track record for high profile shootings, her lawyer may have felt she had a better chance getting off claiming it was justified rather than admitting a mistake. (And probably right, too.)

Melissa Zebley said...

I wouldn't necessarily rule out accidentally grabbing her taser instead of her gun, even though she or her lawyer has said that wasn't the case. That may still be CYA. When I was reading about this case, I came across a similar one where the officer admitted grabbing the wrong weapon, and ended up indicted and convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to something like 10 years in prison. With the recent track record for high profile shootings, her lawyer may have felt she had a better chance getting off claiming it was justified rather than admitting a mistake. (And probably right, too.)

Adam said...

That seems very unlikely to me, Melissa. Most of those taser/gun mix-up cases (Oscar Grant, Eric Harris, e.g.) involved officers shooting almost immediately after drawing their firearms. From the helicopter video, you can see that Ofc. Shelby had her gun raised and aimed at Crutcher for over 30 seconds before shooting. Could she really have failed to realize, in all that time, that she was holding a gun and not a taser?

Liberaltarian . . . said...

"And Crutcher’s hands were not in the air when he was shot."

I think you may be mistakenly assuming he was shot later than what the audio evidence shows. You can hear the gunshot at 1:38 in the Turnbough dashcam (1:09 in the Dunn dashcam and 1:24 in the Roy dashcam). https://vimeopro.com/user18042709/september-16-2016-tulsa-police-officer-involved-shooting/video/183247072 By comparing where Dunn was and his movements , you can deduce that the gunshot was at 0:35 of the helicopter video. It seems to me that the guy's hands went down *because* he was shot (and maybe simultaneously tasered per news reports).

Liberaltarian . . . said...

As to theories of what happened, I'm leaning toward fear/panic and sympathetic shooting in response to the taser.

Unknown said...

Sad fact of life is when the suspect weighs 100-150 pounds more than the officer (regardless of gender), officer is going to go for weapon more often than getting physical. Policing is not a "stand off" job. It's the officer's job to control the suspect, not shoot him/her because you are incapable of placing him/her on the ground. Another officer was preparing to fire tazer when suspect was shot.

Note that (now) suspect officer never tazes suspect or attempts to control suspect. She simply follows suspect around with drawn weapon until suspect 'makes wrong move' and then officer fires. No PD trains that type of handling of suspects. Regardless of if suspect's window is open or closed or the outcome of this officer's trial, when you send 110 pound officers to police and arrest 300 pound suspects, you end up with more shot dead 300 pound suspects.

...from a family with 4 deputies and 5 cops...

Otis Blue said...

Looks like these coppers got caught in between tactics. When the first cover officer arrives (making two of them) they follow Crutcher but don't take advantage of the fact that he has his hands up and is facing away. With the right partner, my preferred tactic there would be to grab an arm and let the pig pile ensue. That said, I don't have a problem with these officers not going hands on. Crutcher was a big guy and these officers might not have felt they could control him, especially in light of whatever they felt was going on chemically with him. The problem is, if you don't want to go hands-on, gain some advantage and get some distance and cover.

If he takes off and drives away, then deal with that. If he comes out with a gun, shoot him. If he comes out with a knife, you've got distance and cover to deal with that. If he comes out with his driver's license and insurance... well I think we all get the point.