The Cop Was Wrong, but How Wrong?

 

Shooting_of_Walter_ScottMy most recent contribution over at PJ Media concerns the police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston. I don’t defend Michael Slager, the now-former police officer who killed Scott, as it’s clear he was wrong on many levels. But there is a question of just how wrong he was. From the piece:

Whatever Slager’s crimes, there is still a moral distinction to be made between a cop who errs, even as catastrophically as he did, and someone who kills in the course of a robbery or a gang feud or some other act of depravity. When the process has run its course, he will have earned the punishment the law prescribes for him. He has tarnished the police profession and made our job more difficult, but I cannot bring myself to hate him.

As happens most often on almost any website you could name — all except Ricochet, that is — the comments quickly became a cesspool into which I choose not to immerse myself. But, as always, I’m grateful for the opinions of the more informed and civilized community to be found here. Please read the whole thing let me know your thoughts.

Image Credit: “Shooting of Walter Scott” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

There are 43 comments.

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  1. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    I read this over at PJ, and what a tragedy, for both of them. One more than the other of course. In the end neither of them thinking correctly.

    • #1
  2. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Jack Dunphy: Whatever Slager’s crimes, there is still a moral distinction to be made between a cop who errs, even as catastrophically as he did, and someone who kills in the course of a robbery or a gang feud or some other act of depravity.

    Agreed.

    As the dashcam video shows and as Jack recounts, Slager was wholly polite and professional with Scott prior to the latter’s decision to run. So, even in this case where we actually have a white police officer shooting an African American man in the back, it still doesn’t fit into the leftist narrative of police officers being congenital racists looking for opportunities to harass and/or murder African Americans.

    Whatever other problems there are and might be in relations between police officers and the public, that one does not hold up.

    • #2
  3. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Here’s where I’m at: I never watched the video.  Couldn’t bring myself to.  The only real article I read on the subject was yours, as I knew it would be informative.

    Two thoughts:

    1. I’m struck by how quickly police officers must make their decisions.  The guy runs.  Do I chase?  One second to decide.  How do I chase — on foot or in the car?  Another second.  I’m sure training is key.

    2. Given the political climate, how wrong the cop was is moot.  They’re going to throw the book at him.

    • #3
  4. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Here’s what is wrong:  our constant need to adjudicate everything that happens in the world and try to fit it into our narrative and conform it so it validates our view of the world.

    • #4
  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I watched the video, and it was disturbing. I think the police have the duty to use deadly force if and only if the subject of their investigation is demonstrably known to be a dangerous criminal.

    And by that, I do not mean that in the course of a hot pursuit, the police officer is informed via his or her cell phone only that there are “outstanding warrants.” He or she needs to know the nature of those warrants and whether they are for violence.

    If the police officer cannot make that determination, he or she is neither authorized nor expected to use deadly or crippling force.

    No knowledge or insufficient knowledge cannot be taken to mean that the object of the pursuit is violent. Rather, the object of the pursuit is assumed to be innocent of actual or intended violence.

    If the officer, in his or her judgment in lieu of an outstanding warrant for violent crime, believes the object of the pursuit is dangerous and the officer chooses to shoot to maim or kill, that responsibility falls on the officer. That is what happens in adult life. You have to make judgment calls every day of the week. That’s true for everyone. And everyone is responsible. If you choose to proceed, it will be considered good if you’re right and the guy has an AK47 hidden under his coat after all, and congratulations all around. Good call. And thank you. If you’re wrong, you’re demoted, at least for a while. You bear the consequences.

    It has to be this way when we are giving people permission to use their best judgment. There is no other way for accountability to work. True for doctors and nurses and lawyers. Our military personnel. You do your best. You make mistakes. You bear the risk too.

    The guy in the video was not known as a violent offender to the police, from what I have read. At least not in any verifiable way for the officers on the scene. And that’s the only place that information matters.

    Sometimes we, as a society, have to say, “Not today.”

    And we as citizens have to be clear to our police departments that that outcome is okay with us.

    The onus is on us as community members to ensure that our police departments understand the language of our expectations of them. “Not today” is okay with us.

    If that had happened in my community, it would be time to revisit our police procedures. There is a misunderstanding somewhere.

    • #5
  6. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    I’m sure the officer was kind to animals and paid his bills on time. But he shot a man in the back who was running away from him who was not an imminent threat. Shot him dead. What crime did he commit that warranted the death penalty from a cop? The officer had the non-lethal option of letting him go or chasing him on foot. Cops always want more and bigger guns to keep up with the criminals. Shouldn’t we expect cops to have a higher level of physical fitness too? Being tired after a foot race isn’t an excuse to shoot someone. Another cop showed up in the video quickly, so help was available nearby. But his decision was to draw his gun and shoot a man in the back. Then he appears to plant evidence next to the body in an attempt to alter the crime scene.

    In your piece you said: “And I suspect he moved the Taser in a panicked attempt to bring the evidence into conformance with his mistaken perception of what had occurred.” That means what? Lying and planting evidence. That justification can be used anytime and anywhere a dirty cop wants to “fix” a scene to conform to his ” mistaken perception.”

    Perhaps Slager’s actions were fueled by the perception that cops are rarely held accountable for their crimes? He felt safe shooting someone and planting evidence? Is this a common practice we are just becoming privy too? Cops don’t rat on each other, after all.

    Jack, you have never told a story about a cop who was fired or severely disciplined for anything. You worked in a big city, surely there were bad cops mixed in with the good. Do you have any stories about those bad cops and how they were dealt with? Or were they just shuffled around quietly like wayward priests and federal bureaucrats?

    • #6
  7. Ross C Member
    Ross C
    @RossC

    I am again willing to let this incident wind its way through the system.  I don’t know the just outcome, but it seems like punishment will be warranted if the facts are as they seem.

    If the shooting was motivated by the fear of the taser, I suspect his fear was mostly around how much trouble the he would face if he were found to have lost or lost control of his taser.  Much less trouble than now unfortunately for everyone involved.

    • #7
  8. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Great article.  But to answer the question implicit in your title, one must answer another question raised by this sentence:

    “It took less than three seconds for Michael Slager to fire those eight rounds at Walter Scott’s back.”

    If a civilian in a similar altercation had shot a man eight times in the back, would he be a cold-blooded killer?

    • #8
  9. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Tuck:Great article. But to answer the question implicit in your title, one must answer another question raised by this sentence:

    “It took less than three seconds for Michael Slager to fire those eight rounds at Walter Scott’s back.”

    If a civilian in a similar altercation had shot a man eight times in the back, would he be a cold-blooded killer?

    To be an equal situation where the only difference is civilian/cop then you have to add a condition where the civilian had an expectation his order to ‘stay right there’ would be obeyed.

    My amplification of your circumstance would include:

    The civilian walks into his living room and confronts a man who just came in the door – tells him to stay while he calls the police and then shoots the intruder in the back when he runs for the door.

    Is he a cold-blooded killer?

    • #9
  10. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I’m not sure I find the excuse that the officer panicked to be all that comforting especially considering that he is seen tampering with the crime scene. Is that also an act of panic? The fact of this case as they seem to me today underscore the fact that had there not been an objective third person (the recording) the officer in question would have gotten away with this dereliction Scot-free, because cops are always given so much benefit of the doubt.

    • #10
  11. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Instugator:

    My amplification of your circumstance would include:

    The civilian walks into his living room and confronts a man who just came in the door – tells him to stay while he calls the police and then shoots the intruder in the back when he runs for the door.

    Is he a cold-blooded killer?

    In many states, including SC, the answer would be yes.  I don’t think that’s a good analogy though, as generally any man who points a gun at someone else and issues an order expects to be obeyed, and there’s an implicit exception for someone who’s just committed the crime of breaking and entering.

    Say the civilian was in the park and attempting a citizen’s arrest… I think the answer is a pretty clear “yes”.

    • #11
  12. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    In the end, what killed Scott is the current policy at most if not all police forces- that if a policeman ‘feels threatened’ he is justified in using deadly force.  This policeman said he ‘felt threatened’.  Who can prove he did not?  It is his own personal ‘feeling’.

    As long as that is the standard there will continue to be cases like this, and it hardly seems fair to blame the officer when that is what his training tells him.  Feel threatened?  Shoot.

    There MUST be a much higher standard for justification of deadly force than that. It is just too abstract.  Like, actual shots fired being an indication of a deadly threat, not just ‘saw a gun’ ( like in the multiple airsoft gun killings) or ‘looked like he was going for a weapon’ ( like the driver shot for reaching for his drivers license) or ‘grabbed for my taser’ like in this instance.

    In the end, this is about who’s life is endangered.  Either you think police should shoot at the first hint of a threat, to protect the life of the officer at all costs, or you think that police should hold their fire until they have indisputable concrete evidence of an immediate threat, to protect the life of innocents at all costs.

    I support police, and I don’t want to see any of them harmed.  But I have to put innocents first, as police choose, and are paid to do a dangerous job, and innocents are, well, innocents.  ( and by innocent I do not mean’ those who never committed any crime’, I mean innocent of immediate deadly threats.)

    • #12
  13. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    PHenry:…As long as that is the standard there will continue to be cases like this…

    That’s a great point.  I don’t know how much it’s a question of training, and how much it’s the result of ill-considered court cases and then this behavior becoming the norm in police culture.  I think there are a lot of police cultures where this is not the norm.

    But you’re certainly right that it’s a problem.

    • #13
  14. Jubal Member
    Jubal
    @

    I don’t think we can chalk this up to a well-meaning officer who “errs.” An error would be shooting a person other than the one who presents a threat, or believing himself in danger when he’s not. I share your synpathy for the difficult positions in which cops often find themselves, but I don’t think that your point is applicable here.

    There was no way I can see that Slager could’ve plausibly thought himself in danger. He must’ve known perfectly well that he wasn’t allowed to shoot a suspect just to apprehend him. He didn’t start drawing his gun until Scott had already turned to run, and he took the time to aim properly, so he had plenty of time to realize that he had no cause to shoot. He fired anyway. Police officer or not, I think that’s what an “act of depravity” looks like.

    • #14
  15. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    I afraid the act of planting the taser on the body of a dying man leaves me with little sympathy for the arguments that he “erred” as opposed to committed multiple horrific felonies.

    • #15
  16. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I read it.  As far as i can see there was no reason to shoot the man.  Scott had not committed any serious crime and the police officer’s life was not threatened.  The officer had other options, including just letting the guy go and putting out a wanted request, whatever that’s called.  As far as I’m concerned this cop is guilty of murder, and I’d even support capital punishment for what he did.  He shot the man in the back in cold blood.

    • #16
  17. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    MarciN

    I watched the video, and it was disturbing. I think the police have the duty to use deadly force if and only if the subject of their investigation is demonstrably known to be a dangerous criminal.

    And by that, I do not mean that in the course of a hot pursuit, the police officer is informed via his or her cell phone only that there are “outstanding warrants.” He or she needs to know the nature of those warrants and whether they are for violence.

    If the police officer cannot make that determination, he or she is neither authorized nor expected to use deadly or crippling force.

    No knowledge or insufficient knowledge cannot be taken to mean that the object of the pursuit is violent. Rather, the object of the pursuit is assumed to be innocent of actual or intended violence.

    If the officer, in his or her judgment in lieu of an outstanding warrant for violent crime, believes the object of the pursuit is dangerous and the officer chooses to shoot to maim or kill, that responsibility falls on the officer. That is what happens in adult life. You have to make judgment calls every day of the week. That’s true for everyone. And everyone is responsible. If you choose to proceed, it will be considered good if you’re right and the guy has an AK47 hidden under his coat after all, and congratulations all around. Good call. And thank you. If you’re wrong, you’re demoted, at least for a while. You bear the consequences.

    It has to be this way when we are giving people permission to use their best judgment. There is no other way for accountability to work. True for doctors and nurses and lawyers. Our military personnel. You do your best. You make mistakes. You bear the risk too.

    The guy in the video was not known as a violent offender to the police, from what I have read. At least not in any verifiable way for the officers on the scene. And that’s the only place that information matters.

    Sometimes we, as a society, have to say, “Not today.”

    And we as citizens have to be clear to our police departments that that outcome is okay with us.

    The onus is on us as community members to ensure that our police departments understand the language of our expectations of them. “Not today” is okay with us.

    If that had happened in my community, it would be time to revisit our police procedures. There is a misunderstanding somewhere.

    Kudos.  You said it better than I did.

    • #17
  18. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    I’d forgotten about the details in comments #14 and #15.

    There’s no way you can reconcile that with anything but a cold-blooded killer.  One who apparently knew exactly what to say and do to get away with it.

    Until the cell-phone video surfaced and put the lie to his account.

    • #18
  19. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Instugator- “To be an equal situation where the only difference is civilian/cop then you have to add a condition where the civilian had an expectation his order to ‘stay right there’ would be obeyed.”

    So disobeying police instructions is a capital offense? I’m fairly certain you didn’t mean it this way, but the above comment seems to imply that you think the use of deadly force by police is justified whenever anyone disobeys a policeman’s order.

    • #19
  20. user_45880 Member
    user_45880
    @Eiros

    At distance shots were fired, eight rounds is plenty for even bad marksman to hit running suspect in knee with one of bullets.  I don’t know what weapon he had, but had to be automatic pistol, so he probably had two more rounds also.

    If you are shot in knee, chase is over for you, except for screaming and begging to be taken to hospital.  We see otherwise in movies,  but that is Hollywood and not real life.  Worst pain there is, being shot in knee, I have heard firsthand.  But you will recover and you will live.

    Next question is, should suspect have been shot even in knee? Lots of good discussion here and I don’t have anything to add.

    I think I need to add this, though.  In many countries where I have lived or visited, police shoot people in back always if they run from them.  In some places, shopkeepers pay police in secret, so any person who tries to rob store disappears forever before he gets to police station.  In some places, shopkeepers pay police so inspectors don’t come and close down store.  In some places, police pay politicians for badges, not other way around, and they make good living from bribes and protection schemes.

    In many places, most places maybe, people look up to America as place where law is law and police protect people from bad guys instead of being the bad guys themselves.   America is where police are held up to higher standards than other people.  And most important, America is where police actually live up to them.

    This story went all over world in news.  And all over world people were confused and disappointed.  Because they didn’t see North Charleston police officer in video.  No.  It was Dick Tracy himself who shot unarmed man in back.

    • #20
  21. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Eiros:

    eight rounds is plenty for even bad marksman to hit running suspect in knee with one of bullets.

    Sorry, but it is not at all sensible to expect that anyone, no matter how great a marksman, could consistently shoot a suspect, be he running or not, in the knee.  You have seen too many westerns where the gunfighter can hit a dime in motion at 100 yards.

    No, if an officer is going to shoot, he should be aiming at the center of mass, because anything else is far  more likely to miss than to hit the target.  I would prefer that officers don’t shoot until it is a life threatening scenario, but once they have justification to shoot, they must shoot for the center of mass to have any chance of hitting the target.

    Shooting at moving targets, especially people, under duress, is an extremely hard and inaccurate thing.  To pretend that the average, or even above average marksmen/ policeman can consistently put every bullet in a hand, or foot, or knee, etc, is not realistic.

    • #21
  22. user_7042 Inactive
    user_7042
    @CaseyTaylor

    “Whatever Slager’s crimes, there is still a moral distinction to be made between a cop who errs, even as catastrophically as he did, and someone who kills in the course of a robbery or a gang feud or some other act of depravity.”

    Clever, but no.  Slager, a sworn peace officer, murdered a man whose safety he had a duty to protect.  He didn’t “err,” he didn’t make a mistake, he didn’t slip up.  He took a proper fighting stance, aimed and controlled his breathing, then emptied half his magazine into an unarmed citizen’s back.  Then took the time to develop a story and disturb the scene.  Go back to POST and reevaluate your career if you can’t bring yourself to call that depravity and murder.

    • #22
  23. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Casey Taylor:Slager, a sworn peace officer, murdered a man whose safety he had a duty to protect. He didn’t “err,” he didn’t make a mistake, he didn’t slip up. He took a proper fighting stance, aimed and controlled his breathing, then emptied half his magazine into an unarmed citizen’s back. Then took the time to develop a story and disturb the scene. Go back to POST and reevaluate your career if you can’t bring yourself to call that depravity and murder.

    I don’t think Jack is disputing that Slager should be charged with murder, only that it’s not the most awful kind of murder a cop might commit. In the paragraphs immediately before the passage quoted in the OP, he wrote:

    He had made the decision to fire, and he was unable to process the change in circumstances that made the use of deadly force unreasonable and therefore unlawful… In acting as he did, Slager not only destroyed his own credibility, he tainted the very forensic evidence that might have supported his already weak claim of self-defense.

    • #23
  24. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Casey Taylor:
    Clever, but no.

    If there is evidence that Slager premeditated this, or had ulterior motives, that will be different, but what Mr. Dunphy is staying here is that a policeman who uses bad judgement, or makes a mistake that results in an unjustified death in the line of duty is not the same as a criminal who kills to further his crimes.

    That does not mean that Slager is innocent of any crime and above punishment, but it isn’t the same as cold blooded murder.

    • #24
  25. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    This cop deserves to lose his job and be prosecuted, but I just don’t emotionally feel anger towards him for some reason.  I know, it’s not rational, but I get more angry when I hear people hating on cops than I do over this  kind of thing.  The fact that citizens don’t respect policemen is a much bigger problem, as I see it, than trigger-happy cops.

    • #25
  26. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Manny

    Scott had not committed any serious crime and the police officer’s life was not threatened.

    Sal beat me to it with this:

    So disobeying police instructions is a capital offense? I’m fairly certain you didn’t mean it this way, but the above comment seems to imply that you think the use of deadly force by police is justified whenever anyone disobeys a policeman’s order.

    That exact reasoning has been used repeatedly as an indication of a “threat” to officer safety. My feelings on that are not CoC compliant and my previous expression of them is not in keeping with my normal disposition.

    This cop didn’t wake up and have a bad day causing him to err grievously enough to shoot a man 8 times in the back. No, perhaps he was having a bad day, but it caused him to act in accordance with the mentality of absolute authority over another human being, which I fear is the default mindset of police in general in our society–not because of the police themselves–but because as a society we’ve lost the concept of liberty.

    • #26
  27. user_605844 Inactive
    user_605844
    @KiminWI

    This brought to mind a haunting song written by Sting and recorded by Johnny Cash. It’s always been really hard to listen to because it’s so heartbreaking. And I think it may tell the officer’s story. I don’t doubt he was a perfectly fine citizen and officer, until he did what he did in that moment, in the context of his job, and unfortunately the larger context of the growing divide in this country.

    Especially these lines:

    I see the judge
    High up in the chair
    Explain to the court room
    What went through your mind
    And we’ll ask the jury
    What verdict they find

    Read more:  Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head Lyrics | MetroLyrics  

    • #27
  28. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Tom: “I don’t think Jack is disputing that Slager should be charged with murder, only that it’s not the most awful kind of murder a cop might commit.”

    If that’s the case, the problem with Jack’s argument is that he doesn’t seem to be making much of an argument at all. Of course there are much more heinous ways a police officer could murder someone. I don’t think anyone seriously disputes that, certainly not here. What Jack seemed to be saying was something along the lines of “well sure this was bad, but there are a lot of people who are much worse.” It’s not so much that he’s defending the officers actions as he’s trying to mitigate their severity.

    This is a situation where the only appropriate response is to say the officer’s actions are indefensible, not “the officer’s actions were wrong, but…”

    I understand that police officers have a very difficult job and are often placed into situations where they have to make life-and-death decisions in an instant, but as someone who is generally inclined to be supportive of the police I find it very frustrating that even in cases of police misconduct that are clearly indefensible many on the right seem reluctant to unequivocally condemn the wrongdoing officer.

    • #28
  29. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    I watched the video, read some info about this subject, pulled from my experience of LEO I have known and things do not add up.  Think I will wait for more info before picking a side.  Suspect it would be best if more people did likewise.

    • #29
  30. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    Fake John Galt:I watched the video, read some info about this subject, pulled from my experience of LEO I have known and things do not add up. Think I will wait for more info before picking a side. Suspect it would be best if more people did likewise.

    Great point, thanks.

    • #30

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