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by Peter Moskos

March 17, 2019

"Stop the car or I'll step in front of it"

This was not a good shooting. And cringe-worthy from an officer's perspective. From the suspect's perspective, well, he's dead.

I'm quoted in this article.

The background is the car popped up on a stolen car list (I think from an automated license plate reader). The officer is told to investigate. The car is in a parking lot. There is no car stop. There was no fleeing that preceded this.

The first problem is Officer Starks stops his car in front of the stolen car. That in itself isn't bad, if you don't care about your police car. But he does so in such a way that he has to get out of the police car in front of the suspect's car. You don't do that by choice.

The second problem is the officer doesn't wait for backup and the third problem is he exits the car with his gun drawn (or immediately does so after exiting the car). If you feel the need to approach the car with your gun drawn (which is fine but not required for a car that comes back stolen), shouldn't you also feel the need to wait for backup? Either there's a potential threat or there isn't. And if there isn't, he shouldn't have had his gun out. And if there is, he should have waited for backup.

There was no good reason to think the driver of the car, later identified as Bradley Blackshire, was armed. Though indeed he might have been. But he wasn't. (Though in an odd but irrelevant twist the passenger later tells cops on the scene that Blackshire "has a gun," even though he doesn't; no gun is found. Turns out she got of jail that day. She asks to get her jacket back, because, you know, it's cold. She's bizarrely calm and compliant after all this.)

But the fourth problem is the biggie. The driver, Blackshire, starts to slowly drive away after not getting out of the car, and the officer shoots and kills. When the car starts moving, Officer Starks is on the driver's side of the car. The car is brushing against him, but it is not going to hit him. There is no threat. Just a dude slowly driving away at gunpoint. Yes, the driver could have complied. Should have, even. But non-compliance is not the issue. Non-compliance is pretty common. More to this point, non-compliance is not a lethal threat. The officer shot four times and killed Blackshire over being in a car reported stolen (it's not clear it ever was) and "failure to obey a lawful order." That's unacceptable. Also likely a convictable criminal offense.

And then, to make matters worse -- who knows, perhaps Blackshire would still be alive if Starks had left well enough alone, but no -- Officer Starks chooses to nominate himself for a Darwin Award. He steps in front of a moving vehicle.

Sure, sometimes police officers end up in a chaotic situation where they find themselves in front of a moving vehicle. Shit does happen. But you don't choose to put yourself in front of a moving vehicle. Especially not if you just shot and incapacitated the driver.

As I say in the newspaper article: "It's just shocking to see. Not getting in front of a car is the rare case where general orders, common sense and officer safety coincide."

It looks like the driver does indeed hit the brakes when Starks steps in front of the car. But then, if I had to guess -- which I don't, but I will -- Blackshire can't keep his foot on the brake, perhaps because, you know, he's been shot and is dying. So the car, as cars do, idles forward. At this point Starks goes up on the hood of the car and fires another 11 rounds.

The car hits and stops against dumpster or something, and then there's the predictable period of curse-filled verbal commands being shouted at a dead or dying man. Blackshire seems to have enough life left in him to raise his hands, until he doesn't.

What makes this situation unusual is that the officer was actually in control of setting the stage for this interaction. Officer Starks chose how to approach, and he chose wrong. And then Officer Starks shot when there was no imminent threat, and then he placed himself in danger and shot again. There never even was a split-second decision that had to be made.

I'd bet this isn't the first time Officer Starks made unwise aggressive decisions in his career. And if I have to bet -- and I don't, but I will -- this time will be his last.


Unknown said...

I didn't need to see the video to know the shooting was bad. In cases where someone really is threatening to run an officer over, common sense and instinct causes the officer to move. Every video of an unarmed, non-shooting, driver gunned down because "he was gonna run me over" turns out to be bad because the car wasn't going to ever run the cop down and the cop shoots from the side (or even behind) or the cop moved into the path of the car to "justify" shooting. There's a reason best practices (and policy in the better agencies) says move out of the way instead of shoot.

john mosby said...

Prof, are you going to post about the minnesota verdict?