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by Peter Moskos

December 8, 2017

Dogs, Data, and Dastardly Deeds

Nick Selby and I talk about all this and more on our latest Quality Policing Podcast.

Here's the bad shooting we discuss.

It's not much in the news because there's no racial angle to it. The officer was criminally charged today. I would say this might be third worst shooting of all time (Walter Scott and Andrew Thomas come to mine. Jonathan Ayers, too.) Speaking of Walter Scott. Former Officer Slager, who shot Scott, was sentenced today to 20 years in prison.


Trent McBride said...

Have you ever seen this short doc about the Walter Scott shooting, and if so, what are your thoughts about it?:


Andy D said...

Definitely a bad shoot, but I bet there is an acquittal. He is going to claim he thought there was a knife (which he obviously did from his statement after the shooting.) His lawyer will argue that even though he said he didn't hear the bean bag shotgun go off, that this was due to auditory exclusion and that his nervous system heard it and reacted, assuming that the officer who shot first perceived a lethal threat.

1. That argument is bullshit, since you aren't supposed to shoot just because someone else perceived a threat, and for you to react that quickly you obviously have terrible trigger discipline.
2. A jury might buy it anyway.
3. He made no threatening motion or movement that COULD have been threatening even IF he had a knife.
4. As in the shooting of Shaver in Mesa (which should make your list of worst shootings IMO) the absolutely awful, contradictory commands ("hands up!" vs "drop it" which cause contradictory behavior) caused the majority of the problem here. Maybe instead of "de-escalation" training we just need some good old fashioned training on "contact-cover" and who is supposed to be talking and who needs to STFU on a scene.

Moskos said...

That Shaver shooting is pretty damn awful. But at least in that shooting, at the moment of the shooting, there was a move that makes the shooting not totally crazy.

I don't think that move justifies the shooting, given everything leading up to it, the totality of the circumstances. But apparently the jury had reasonable doubt. I think one problem is that since they're supposed to think of the shooting from a police officer's perspective. And since the jurors aren't cops, well, who are they to question the reasonable sounding officer on the stand who (I presume) said it's reasonable (and there are plenty of cops who think so). Jurors could still think the cop shouldn't have done it, but have enough reasonable doubt enough to not convict.

An acquittal in the lighter fluid case is going to be a lot tougher because I don't think you're going to find many reasonable cops being able to articulate just why that officer had any reason to be afraid when he pulled the trigger. There's no weapon and there's distance. Beanbag? Absolutely, yes.

I think the only chance for the officer is to say he didn't mean to shoot. The sound of the beanbag made him pull the trigger. But that's a tough sell, with five rounds. It's a horrible shooting.

Student said...

Yeah no, Moskos is totally right. There are contradictory commands but they are long before the reach (Shaver's reach is to pull up his shorts, which keep falling down), and it is the reach that triggers the shoot. It is an awful shooting, but it is awful for the reason Moskos says: The totality of the circumstances make it insane to be this keyed up. Man pointing a rifle out of a hotel window is an edgy call, but crying drunk on the floor with his drunk girlfriend (and this isn't a domestic) would make any thinking man chill out a bit. I think the supervisor issuing the commands totally fucked this up. The guy was obviously too drunk to obey commands and has already tried to pull his shorts up once. He is too drunk to override the social impulse to keep your underwear covered in the sight of others.

It is fucking obvious that this drunk crying man might try to pull his shorts up again. The supervisor just doesn't notice or doesn't care, and is happy to let Shaver live with the consequences of disobeying the very clear warning "if you reach to the small of your back again we are going to shoot you." I understand that attitude if the man is a known career criminal in possession of his faculties... but this is just so clearly not that situation. Terrible. Poor kid, and his poor family. Just awful.

The jury did the right thing though... Shaver reached. He was told not to clearly, and the call is an edgy one. I don't think this guy should be a cop, but prison? No, I can't support doing him like that. Shaver reached on a gun call after being given clear instructions. Bad policing, yes. Criminal policing? no.

This lighter fluid shooting is indeed much worse.

ExplodingCabbage said...

@Peter, I can't play the podcast at https://qualitypolicing.com/episode-11-dogs-data-and-dastardly-deeds/; I see "This podcast is unavailable or has been deleted." By changing the URL from a previous podcast I was able to find it at https://www.spreaker.com/user/10235722/episode-11 where it works, but I think maybe there's something wrong with the embed URL you're using? Are other folks currently able to view it?

@Student, with respect I cannot comprehend how you think the jury made the right call. In your own words, you find Brailford's conduct "insane"; how can you then possibly argue that it's right for a jury to find that it was a reasonable use of force?

Frankly, as far as I could see, Brailford wasn't even acting in (deranged, irrational) self-defence. Rather, everything about the his conduct - the arbitrariness of the Simon Says game; the bellowing at somebody who was compliant; the gratuitously insulting tone from the start of the encounter; the pointless demand to crawl around on the floor; the carefully-designed game of giving contradictory commands (he demanded that Shaver cross his legs and put his palms out in front of him, then ordered Shaver to kneel, which was physically impossible without ceasing to hold out his palms and at least partially uncrossing his legs, and then screamed at Shaver as soon as he began to move for uncrossing his legs); and Brailford's own characterisation of what he was doing as giving Shaver instructions with the intent of killing him if he made a "mistake" - all gave a pretty clear impression to me, and to many other commentators, that Brailford was knowingly exercising power over someone for sport, that the instructions were a deliberate method of humiliation, and that he killed Shaver because he wanted to and saw an excuse to take the shot, not because he held any genuine belief that Shaver was a threat. Now, I can see how a jury might have found reasonable doubt about that characterisation, and think that there was at least a slim chance that the shooting was a crazy but genuine attempt at self-defence by an honest cop, rather than the killing for sport by a freakish sadist that many of us believe we saw. But reasonable doubt that it might have been a reasonable use of force in self-defence? That seems like utter madness to me.

Moskos said...

There was something wrong with the audio player embed. I can't figure it out. But I put the link that works and that seems to be good enough for now. Thanks for the head's up.

Student said...


My understanding is that the one giving the admittedly contradictory commands in the admittedly horrible tone is the supervisor, not the shooter. Am I wrong? It would change my take on the case to some extent, but yeah I don't think the voice is the shooter's voice. If I am wrong please tell me.

Yes, the commands are contradictory, but none of the contradictory commands were involved in the shooting. I agree that the commands are horrible, but one command that is not at all ambiguous is "if you do that again we are going to shoot you (after he pulls up his shorts the first time)." They never contradicted that one, and it is the reach to pull up the shorts that causes the shoot.

Student said...

I was right apparently, sorry for the TMZ link, I SWEAR I got there trying to google the relevant terms, TMZ isn't my home page or something. Honest.


So yeah, my major beef here is with the supervisor. The supervisor gives the contradictory commands (although, as previously mentioned, those did not occasion the shooting), is setting the tone, etc. While Fonda was correct when he said that a hanging is any man's business who is around, it really is mostly the supervisor's responsibility to de-escalate this, to realize that none of this appearance and behavior they are seeing looks like a situation in which a cop ends up getting shot at. The supervisor sets up a game where Shaver obeys or he dies, and gives no allowance for shaver being drunk. I think brailford shouldn't have fired, but it IS a reach to the back waistband on a gun call after a warning, and they cannot see the back of his waistband.

People underestimate the complexity of shooting videos. You can't impose your morality on the video until you are done watching it and investigating it dispassionately, or you will make an error in your early thinking and get pulled far afield.

ExplodingCabbage said...

@Student - huh; you're right - I apologise. I had somehow never twigged that the shouter and the shooter were different people; it wasn't clear from the bodycam video, and I somehow failed to understand it when reading media accounts of the case. That does indeed significantly change the case (even though both cops still acted wrongly), render my previous comments about Brailford false and unfair, and make the jury's decision comprehensible to me where previously it was not. Thanks for clarifying the facts.

Student said...

No apology necessary. To be honest, it is refreshing to discuss use of force issues with someone who genuinely wants to understand the world as it is. I 100% agree with you, it is still an awful shooting. Happy holidays to you and yours.