Fifteen Most Outrageous Responses by Police after Killing Unarmed People

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Fifteen Most Outrageous Responses by Police after Killing Unarmed People

Police officer Thomas Slager, of the Charleston Police Department in South Carolina, was charged with murder after his shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott in the back was caught on film by a passerby. Because most killings, however, are not captured by video or third-party witnesses, police have a number of ways they've justified killing unarmed people and they nearly always result in no charges being filed or guilt being assigned. (Image: Screenshot)

Police kill a lot of unarmed people.  So far in 2015, as many as 100 unarmed people have been killed by police.  Here are fifteen of the most outrageous reasons given by police to justify killing unarmed people in the last twelve months.

First, a bit of background.  So far in 2015, there have been around 400 fatal police shootings already; one in six of those killings, 16 percent, were of unarmed people, 49 had no weapon at all and 13 had toys, according to the Washington Post.  Of the police killings this year less than 1 percent have resulted in the officer being charged with a crime.  The Guardian did a study which included killings by Tasers and found 102 people killed by police so far in 2015 were unarmed and that unarmed Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police as whites.  

One.  He was Dancing in the Street and Walking with a Purpose.  On June 9, 2015 an unarmed man, Ryan Bollinger, was shot by police in Des Moines after “walking with a purpose” towards the police car after he exited his vehicle after a low speed chase started when he was observed dancing in the street and behaving erratically.  The deceased was shot by the police through the rolled up cruiser window.  The murder is under investigation.

Two.  Thought It Was My Taser.  An unarmed man, Eric Harris, ran from the police in Tulsa Oklahoma on April 2, 2015.  After he was shot in the back by a Taser by one officer and was on the ground, another 73 year old volunteer reserve officer shot and killed him, all captured by video.  While dying he was yelling that he was losing his breath, to which one of the officers responded “F*ck your breath.”   The police said the officer thought he was shooting his Taser and “inadvertently discharged his service weapon.”  The officer has been charged with second degree manslaughter.  Running away from the police so often provokes police overreaction that the aggressive police response has several names including the “foot tax” and the “running tax.”

Three.  Naked Man Refused to Stop.  A naked unarmed mentally ill Air Force Afghanistan veteran, Anthony Hill, was shot and killed March 9, 2015 by DeKalb County Georgia police after police said he refused an order to stop.  The killing is under investigation.

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Four.  Not Going to Say.  On March 6, 2015 Aurora Colorado police shot and killed unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant while taking him into custody.  For the last three months, while the investigation into the killing continues, the police have refused to say what compelled the officer to shoot Vinzant.

Five.  Five Police Felt Threatened by One Unarmed Homeless Man.  March 1, 2015 Los Angeles police shot and killed an unarmed homeless man Charly Leundeu Keunang after five officers went to his tent and struggled with him.  One unarmed homeless man threatened five armed LAPD officers? Los Angeles police have killed about one person a week since 2000.  An investigation is ongoing.

Six.  My Taser Didn’t Work.  On February 23, 2015, an unarmed man, Daniel Elrod, was shot twice in the back and once in the shoulder and killed by Omaha Nebraska police after he tried to climb a tree and jump a fence to escape police who suspected him of robbery.  Police said their Taser did not work, he ignored their demands to get down on the ground, he did not show his hands, and they felt threatened.  Video was not made available and the officer later resigned.  This was the second person this officer killed.  No criminal charges were filed.

Seven.  Armed with a Broom.  Lavall Hall’s mother called the police in Miami Gardens February 15, 2015 and asked for help for her son who was mentally ill.  Lavall Hall, five foot four inches tall, walked outside with a broom and was later shot and killed by police who said he failed to comply with instructions and engaged them with an object. The killing is still under investigation.

Eight.  Throwing Rocks.  On February 10, 2015 an unarmed man, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was fired at 17 times and killed by police in Kennewick, Washington. A video of his killing has been viewed more than 2 million times.   Officers said he had been throwing rocks at cars, ran away and then turned around.

Nine.  Taser Worked but He Didn’t Stop Moving.  On February 2, 2015, a Hummelstown Pennsylvania police officer shot unarmed David Kassick in the back with a Taser and when Kassick went to the ground on his stomach, then shot him twice with her gun in the back, killing him.  The officer said Kassick, who was running away from a traffic stop, was told to show his hands and not move but continued to try to remove the Taser prongs from his back and the officer thought he was reaching for a gun.  The officer has been charged with homicide.

Ten.  Car going 11 Miles an Hour was going to Kill Me.  Denver police fired 8 times at unarmed Jessica Hernandez, 17, who was killed January 16 after being hit by four bullets.  The police said she drove too close to them when she was trying to get away and may have tried to run them down as she tried to drive away so they shot into the windshield and driver’s windows.  The police said the car may have reached 11 miles per hour in the 16 feet it traveled before hitting a fence.   The police were not charged.

Eleven.  Armed with a Spoon.  Dennis Grigsby, an unarmed mentally ill man holding a soup spoon, was shot in the chest and killed in a neighbor’s garage by Texarkana Police December 15, 2015.  The killing is under investigation.

Twelve.  Armed with Prescription Bottle.  Rumain Brisbon, a 34 year old unarmed man, was shot twice and killed by police in Phoenix on December 2, 2014, after he ran away, was caught and was in a struggle with the officer who mistook a prescription pill bottle in Brisbon’s pocket for a gun.  The police officer was not charged.

Thirteen.  It Was an Accident.  On November 20, 2014, a New York City police officer fired into a stairwell and killed unarmed Akai Gurley.   The officer, who was charged with manslaughter, is expected to say he accidently fired his gun.

Fourteen.  Don’t Mention It.  On November 12, 2014, an unarmed handcuffed inmate was shot multiple times in the head, neck, chest and arms by officers while fighting with another handcuffed inmate in the High Desert State Prison in Carson City Nevada.  His family was not told and did not know he had been shot until three days later when they claimed his body at a mortuary.

Fifteen.  Armed with Toy Gun.  John Crawford was unarmed in a Walmart store in Beavercreek Ohio on August 4, 2014, when he picked up an unloaded BB gun.  When officers arrived they say they ordered him to put down the gun and started shooting, hitting him at least twice and killing Mr. Crawford.  In a widely viewed video Mr. Crawford can be seeing dropping the BB gun, running away and being shot while unarmed.  Likewise, Cleveland police shot and killed an unarmed 12 year old boy, Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy pellet gun on November 22, 2014.  Police said they shouted verbal commands from inside their vehicle in the two seconds before they shot him twice. In both these cases, the police story of shouting warnings and orders looks quite iffy at best.

These are the responses of police authorities who face less than one chance in a hundred of being charged when they kill people, even unarmed people. These outrages demand massive change in the way lethal force is used, reported, justified and prosecuted.

Bill Quigley

Bill Quigley

Bill Quigley is Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years. He volunteers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the Bureau de Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port au Prince. Contact Bill at quigley77@gmail.com

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