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by Peter Moskos

February 12, 2017

Sometimes there are good guys and bad guys

A Baltimore police officer shot and killed an armed man who pointed a loaded gun at him.

You'd think this would be cut and dried. But no. It's Baltimore.

I mean really, if any police-involved shooting is clear cut. It's this one. Luckily for police, the cop had a body camera. Luckily it captures (barely) the key moment. Deal, a known violent offender, raises his loaded gun to shoot the cop.

The cop, thank God, is quicker on the draw. Deal is shot and killed. And that's where this story should end.

But no, not in Baltimore, where officers are often criticized for doing the right thing.

Commissioner Davis received flack at a press conference defending the cop, in part because he called Deal a "bad guy." Why besmirch the dead? Because maybe some issues need to be presented without moral relativism. Because if you don't point out there's right and wrong here, people will fill in the void with an alternative facts. Also, you owe it to your officers to support them through tough times.

[Have you killed somebody? Me, neither. But friends of mine have. And it's not easy on them, no matter how justified and necessary the killing was. And it's more difficult if people are saying you made a bad choice, especially when you didn't.]

In this case the City Paper takes aim at the cops in really one of the most idiotic police-related articles I've ever read. I like the City Paper. I've been reading it (admittedly not regularly anymore) for almost 20 years.

According to the story, the reason you don't know about this shooting is because "national news is at a chaotic premium right now." Actually, no. First of all, you are reading about it cause it's in all the papers and on the TV news.

But what's reckless about the City Paper story goes beyond this shooting. You may not follow this as closely as I do, but indeed, many "reformers" do not want police to be proactive at all. The story in the City Paper criticizes police for being part of the system wherein Deal ends up being shot and killed.

Less proactive policing is the goal, the position of the DOJ report on the BPD. The DOJ asserts many things, which others may then take as Gospel because the DOJ said so. This is a real problem. The report says police shouldn't confront/chase/arrest active violent offenders, especially if their identity is known. After all, somebody may get hurt:
The need for the suspect’s immediate apprehension must be weighed against the risks to officers and the public caused by engaging in a foot pursuit. If officers know the identity of the suspect, his or her immediate apprehension is likely unnecessary without exigent circumstances. However, if circumstances require that the suspect be immediately apprehended, officers should contain the suspect and establish a perimeter rather than engaging in a foot pursuit, particularly if officers believe the suspect may be armed.
Let's talk this through.

Man armed with an illegal gun, so you set up a "perimeter." (Sounds cool!) How do you do that?

What if Deal simply turns the corner and goes in a home of a friend and closes the door. (Or worse a stranger's home.) Do you send in the militarized SWAT team? What if you didn't see which house. Do you start banging on all the doors? That's not really community policing. Or maybe, since you know who Deal is, you go back to the station and start filling out an arrest warrant. (Meanwhile, calls for service are backing up until the "perimeter" is called off.)

Or what if Deal puts his gun in his waistband and runs through a vacant building into the alley. Baltimore is not like New York, where blocks are often solid with buildings and there are no alleys. But let's say there happens to be four units at the ready (fat chance) to block off the street and sit in the rear alleys. Then what? Is a cop back there? What does she do? She was given a description of young black male, black hoodie, jeans. How does she know if it's Deal? Does she start stopping all young black males who "match the description"? And what if Deal runs from her? Do you set up a new "perimeter"?

And then what?

At some point police will have to confront Deal.

That's why we have police. Police confront "bad guys" so we don't have to. (Not to say Deal didn't have any redeeming qualities, it's just that I don't think they're particularly relevant in this incident.)

Perimeter or not, assuming Deal doesn't voluntarily put himself in handcuffs, you either chase, catch, and cuff Deal, or you police in such a manner where you do not cross his path. And if you do the latter, it would failure of the fundamental role of police in society. But when police do get the memo (or lawsuit) and police less proactively, crime goes up and people complain police aren't doing their job. Sigh.

I'd prefer to resolve the apprehension of an armed gunman here and now rather than have it play out for hours or days. Especially if I lived on that block. What message does it send it police let Deal walk away? Now that would be a real blow to police legitimacy.

If there is a story here, it's about the failure of society, and in particular Baltimore's criminal justice system that was unwilling or unable to keep Deal off the streets. I mean, how does one even manage to get arrested and released three times in one month? Not only to you have to be a horrible criminal, you have to be kind of bad at it. Even Mosby's often incompetent State's Attorney's office wanted Deal held without bail! From the Sun:
For the third time in a month, 18-year-old Curtis Deal had been arrested on gun or drug charges. Judge Nicole Taylor wanted to be sure the young man understood what was expected if she released him to wait for trial.

"You're not going out at night, you're not going to get food, you're not going to meet your girlfriend. You're in your house," Taylor told him at Monday's bail review hearing, raising her voice.

"I'm giving you an opportunity to go to school and not be in jail pending this trial. The curfew is 1 p.m., 7 days a week."

Deal said he understood. Taylor wished him luck.

The next day about 3 p.m., Deal was fatally shot by a Baltimore police detective
It's worth reading the whole article by Kevin Rector and Carrie Wells in the Sun. It's a fine piece of journalism.


Unknown said...

What I don't understand is how he was able to be arrested 3 times in a month and not put in jail until his trial after the second offense let alone the third. Especially with one of them being a gun charge. That should have been almost and automatic jail sentence. I also what to know what the judge was thinking telling him he had to stay at home after the third time of being arrested. You would think that she would have learned that he wasn't going to change.

Moskos said...

You might think so...

I honestly don't know if his release was, as they say, not a flaw but a feature.

I mean, did he slip through the cracks? (A flaw) Did this judge not know his story? One problem is each judge seems to be unaware of the "warning" a defendant got from another judge, in the courtroom next door, a few weeks prior.

Or (A feature) was he released as part of the movement to end cash bail (unfair to poor) and release pre-trial defendants since, you know, technically, they're all "innocent" until adjudication.

Either way, it should not have happened, given the gun charges.

Mike said...

I do not watch much of the news on TV since it seems to be a repeating cycle of similar stories but this is probably the first story I have sat and read where there is proof that an armed man was shown pointing a gun at an officer, which ends in the officer killing the suspect. When you put an officer in danger, he will take action. Yet, people still do not understand what can happen when you threaten an officer and they still criticize police for doing the right thing like you mentioned in your post. Also, I agree with the above comment about why this guy was not put in jail after being arrested 3 times in one month for gun and drug charges and then released again.

Anonymous said...

I do not like watching the news all the time, because they sometimes show things that happened, but leave out very important details that go along with the story. I cannot believe that in Baltimore there is this much criticizing on police officers who are just doing their jobs. This case never should have been even begun to be criticized, rather the opposite, since it seemed to me it was open and shut.

Anonymous said...

When I watched the video of the chase I immediately put myself in the officer's shoes. I would think I would have done the same thing that he did. The officer did not shoot Deal until the gun was pointed at him, even though he clearly had it in hand throughout the chase. People might think the officer acted too quickly, but there are officers out there that probably would have shot Deal before the gun was pointed at them. The video clearly showed the officer's life was in danger. After reading that Deal had been arrested three times prior to this chase made me more angry than anything. If he had been kept in jail while he awaited trail he would still be alive. The first time he was arrested I could understand letting him have a chance, when he ruined that chance shame on him, but the last two times shame on the criminal justice system. I still believe that the officer did what he had to do but had the judge done what she should have done, Deal would still be alive and the officer would not had to have taken a life.

Unknown said...

The police are always shown in a bad light in the media. It is what gives the News ratings. No one ever shows acts of kindness or the helpful side that the police do. Instead it's all about how evil these men and women are. When in fact they are human like us all and make mistakes, especially in the heat of the moment when their lives are on the line.

Anonymous said...

It seems easy to blame the police because they are supposed to be the shining light in our communities, and a slip up by one officer can cast a dark shadow on the rest in that city/state. Next thing you know, the community is judging their every movement, and the desire by some to show one officers slip up is a pathetic attempt to tarnish the great officers we have. I think what could help is more community involved policing that targets youths. My city, Fort Wayne IN, started a new program where they invite groups of youths, generally those in lower income and predominately minority areas, and put them in controlled scenes that accurately represent an officers daily life on the job. They let these kids "be the officer" so to speak, and they learned how stressful it really is. It seemed to be successful, based on comments by those kids, in teaching them how to respond appropriately to an officer and create respect for our officers.

Unknown said...

Police always get blame for doing things that the public thinks should be handled differently. The news would have painted a different picture than what really happened. They would have said that the victim of the shooting was a good person and that they cop over reacted and did not have to shoot at him even though he had a loaded gun and was pointing it at the officer. With me being a reserved police officer, I would have done the exact same thing this officer had done because at the end of the day this police officer wanted to go home to his family. Police do not start their shift think about killing someone or arresting a person, the only thing that they think about is getting home safe to their families at the end of their shifts. It was a life or death situation and the officer acted on his training and made the community and city safer.

Jkelly3950 said...

How do you feel about the movement to end cash bail and the advent of risk assessment oriented releases of criminal defendants in general? In Baltimore in particular?

Adam said...

Another thing about not chasing and instead setting up a perimeter is that the point of a gun arrest is to, you know, catch the guy WITH the gun. How long do the DOJ lawyers think these guys are going to hang onto that gun while the cops close the perimeter? Even assuming the suspect wouldn't evade capture (as he almost always would), the most the cops could hope for is to end up with a tired, unarmed suspect and a gun they found lying in some alley. Ask me whether that gets you a conviction before a Baltimore City jury.

And as for this not being a cut-and-dried case because it's Baltimore, I'm just going to link to this without further comment.

Moskos said...

That's a great point. Yes, in the real world you need to catch the guy *with* the gun or you got nothing. Same with drugs, as you know. The guy gives his gun to a friend, turns himself in, and now you've got nothing. They wouldn't even press charges based on a cop saying I saw a gun in his hand. (And then when charges are dropped, it would be held against the cop for "making a bad arrest." Like the prosecutor going ahead with a case has much relationship to the facts of what happened on the street, leading to an arrest.) In this case maybe you got the gun on camera. But can that video even be used yet in a statement of probable cause? I doubt it. (Anybody know?) So at best you might a gun possession charge, and we already know that didn't keep him off the streets.

(I actually had a paragraph saying basically what you and I just said, but then cut it for length and focus as I didn't think it was worth it to get distracted with prosecution issues and have non non-cops go, huh?)

Adam said...

Yeah, I thought about the gun being caught on camera in the suspect's hand. That seems like a one-in-a-thousand scenario, but in such a case, you could hope to catch the suspect with the silly perimeter tactic, AND find the gun, AND show that it matches the one depicted on the video. Needless to say I don't think that would work out very often.

I can't think of any reason why the cops couldn't refer to the video evidence in the statement of probable cause. Evidence doesn't have to be authenticated before it goes into a PC statement the way it does before it's admitted at trial. The only limitation would be if they weren't able to retrieve the video within a matter of hours, such that the cop couldn't view it before he had to submit the charging papers. But the officer could say he *saw* the gun with his own two eyes, and that he was wearing an activated body camera. Then the video evidence could be retrieved later and could come in at trial. Have I lost the whole audience yet? Thought so.

Moskos said...

Hell, that's what these comments are for.

You had me on the edge of my seat!

Unknown said...

Even I would say that was a lawful and justified shooting.

Unknown said...

I just don't understand why Police can't see that the Body Cams will support them, in situations just like this.

They ought to be wearing these things all the time, and they should keep them running all the time. If this office didn't have the cam, guess what the story is: "Another back man cut down in his prime be a racist cop".

And I have to point out, when police don't want to wear the cams and turn them off accidentally all the time, that suggests that they are engaging in behavior that is improper. The cameras protect the police and the public.

Moskos said...

I think cops are coming around to that position. But there are still issues about privacy, retention, and data access. Many things police do -- dealing with victims, juveniles, snitches, wild conversational speculation with their partner about who the child molester is -- need to kept secret. But when it's on video, it essentially becomes a public document. Who protects the public from the release of confidential information?

Andy D said...

Peter, when you talk of his release being not a flaw, but a feature, just look up some of the articles about the legislature in Annapolis and what they are doing with the bail system. Basically the decision is that bail cannot be used to protect the community, but *ONLY* to assure appearance in court, and as such, the poorer you are the lower your bail if bail is required at all. I think the only exceptions are crimes carrying possible life imprisonment and registered sex offenders, although sex offenders can be released on bail or PR by a judge just not a commissioner of the court.

On the point of needing to catch him with the gun the reason, in Maryland they won't prosecute for the cop seeing it/the body cam video is because in Maryland to prove a case for any gun charge the state must prove that the gun is functional, i.e. that it actually will fire. This requires the gun going to the lab to be fired. If you don't recover the gun you cannot prove that it is functional.

Moskos said...

Do you know if those rules you're describing are part of the lawor is that just how the system works in reality? I mean, for instance, the functioning gun part? Is that in writing? Because it doesn't have to be the prosecutor's policy to fire a gun to see if it works. And it shouldn't be, if it is.

And the bail thing. In this case, at least as reported, it didn't seem like the judge wanted to keep him in jail. Thought she might have been rationalizing if she had no choice. But it's hard to imagine there's a case where a gun offender couldn't be kept behind bars, pending trial, if the judge so wished. And even if the last case was for drugs, it would be a violation of whatever condition was placed on him in his earlier two arrests.

What I'm saying is I don't know. (Do you?) But it seems like this was a case were the judge used her discretion, and it was a bad choice.

Andy D said...

The bail thing is ongoing in the courts and legislature in terms of what is legal for bail...but anecdotally we have been seeing a HUGE increase in the number of defendants released on PR even for serious crimes. The major push is that high bail is unfair to poor defendants, but those engaged in drug dealing have little/no reportable income so unless the judge wants to hold them no bail, they are getting out quickly and cheaply.

The gun function is a matter of law, at least of case precedent, as far as I know. I'm trying to find a citation for you

Adam said...

You learn something new every day! Thanks for that insight, Andy. All the more reason to chase guys with guns. Interestingly, operability is a requirement to sustain a conviction under the wear/carry/transport statute, but not others, such as use of a firearm in a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person (i.e., convicted felon).

From Brown v. State, 182 Md. App. 138, 168 n.16 (2008):

A weapon must be an operable firearm to sustain a conviction for carrying a handgun. See Howell v. State, 278 Md. 389, 364 A.2d 797 (1976) (holding that tear gas pistol was not a handgun because it was not a firearm, i.e., it did not propel a missile by gunpowder or similar explosive (abrogating Todd v. State, 28 Md.App. 127, 343 A.2d 890 (1975))); York v. State, 56 Md.App. 222, 229, 467 A.2d 552 (1983) (holding that a firearm that is inoperable and not readily rendered operable at the time of use is not a handgun), cert. denied, 299 Md. 137, 472 A.2d 1000 (1983). However, the requirement of operability does not apply to convictions for use of a handgun in a felony or crime of violence; the requirement has been legislatively abrogated. C.L. § 4–204(a) states: “A person may not use ... any handgun in the commission of a crime of violence ... or any felony, whether the ... handgun is operable or inoperable at the time of the crime.”

Andy D said...

Nice to see someone is better at finding the citations than I am!

Unknown said...

"But when it's on video, it essentially becomes a public document. Who protects the public from the release of confidential information?"

Police should be embracing this technology and crafting the framework for how it's used and to make that it is constructive, fair and even-handed. If there are questions, the police should be right at the front of the conversation. There are lot of interests to balance all right - but these technologies aren't going away.

When police resist it, as many are, they will end up having other players set the rules. And resistance will be seen by large segments of society as malign. As for the police unions demanding pay raises to wear body cams, just stop it, please.