Reckless? i don’t know…

I was sitting in a barbershop yesterday when some of the men around me started talking about a recent police involved shooting in the St. Louis area.

Long story short, a black woman, who is alleged to have been shoplifting at a grocery store in a VERY affluent part of our region, was having no part of a white, female officer arresting her, and ran off after one handcuff had been applied to her wrist. This is not unusual, as most resisting arrest incidents happen at this point of contact between a suspect and a police officer.

What is unusual however, is that the officer apparently told the woman that she was going to be Tased if she didn’t comply, and when the woman didn’t comply, she was shot, but not with the officer’s Taser.

She was shot with the officer’s pistol, a Glock nine millimeter.

The woman is still alive and will apparently live, but of course her injuries are painful and severe.

The officer, through her attorney, says that she yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” as we are trained to do, and then, thinking that she was holding her Taser, shot at the woman once, which is completely consistent with using a Taser.

Once the officer realized her mistake, she rendered first aid and called for an ambulance.

The officer was very quickly charged by the new, Progressive County Prosecutor, Wesley Bell, with Assault in the 2nd Degree, a class D felony. Class D felonies can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Back to the boys in the barbershop.

All of the men were white and all of them presumably lived in the area of the barbershop. My assumption is that they all had limited interaction with police officers outside of speeding tickets and the “usual” suburban law-abiding person/police contact.

To a man, each one had it in his head that the shooting was an accident and that the injured woman shouldn’t have been shoplifting in the first place.

Curious to see if this was the general consensus, I spied the local newspaper’s Facebook account and wasn’t disappointed at the varied reactions.

With nearly 600 comments, it’s obviously a hot topic, and, as with nearly everything nowadays, there are two camps.

Camp one would include the likes of the men in the barbershop. They argue that it was simply a mistake on the part of the officer and that the victim brought her injuries upon herself by shoplifting in the first place.

Camp two pundits insist that you’d basically have to be an idiot to mistake a Taser for a pistol and agree that the correct charge was filed against the officer because she acted recklessly.

What should the outcome here be?

I think most sane human beings in the United States could agree that shooting a person who is only suspected of shoplifting is egregious. A couple of years ago, this suspect’s behavior, because she struggled with an employee on her way out of the store, would have been a robbery, but that is no longer the case. Missouri law changed in 2017, so unless the grocery store employee is injured, she would only be guilty of stealing and maybe a minor level assault or peace disturbance, none of which would likely be felonies.

Assuming that the Tasing would have been justified initially, and I have no reason to suspect it wasn’t, if the officer truly thought she was firing her Taser, will the Assault 2nd charge stand?

I think that answer is no.

The prosecutor in this case has alleged that the officer was reckless in discharging her firearm. That word, reckless, is a legal one, and has a distinctly different meaning than I suspect many of the lay people who are calling her reckless are using it to mean.

Reckless is a word used to describe what the law calls a person’s mens rea, which is basically a person’s mental culpability in committing a crime.

We generally don’t charge people with a crime unless there is some iota of criminal intent on the part of the suspect. So, for example, when a person who has never had a seizure suddenly has one while he is driving, and kills a pedestrian, we would chalk that up as a terrible accident. The victim’s family would have to seek redress in a civil suit.

If that same man has another seizure while driving again and kills a second person under the very same circumstances, he could very easily find himself being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. The idea is that he now had notice that he was prone to seizures and consciously disregarded the risk when he went ahead and drove that second time.

The conscious disregard is critical, as that’s what recklessness requires.

Did this officer consciously disregard the fact that she was holding her firearm and not her Taser? If the answer is no, then she cannot be found guilty of Assault 2nd or any charge that requires at least recklessness as its culpable mental state.

If she truly yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and fired just one time, that is consistent with Taser use and would hint that she truly thought she was holding her Taser.

Most officers are trained, because deadly force is meant to stop a threat of death or serious bodily injury to an officer or another person, to shoot a firearm multiple times, usually twice. If it’s found that she did fire twice in this case, which the victim’s family is claiming to be the case in spite of investigators saying otherwise, then maybe there’s merit to the state’s claim.

Mistaking a Taser for a gun is certainly stupid, and probably negligent in this context, but every person deals with stress differently. There will be arguments that the loaded gun is three times heavier than the Taser, and that the Taser is yellow and worn on the opposite side of the body from the firearm, etc.

All of these arguments will help to decipher, in the minds of the judge or jurors, whether she could have possibly not known that she was firing her gun and not the Taser.

Tunnel vision is a very real thing, and it’s entirely possible that this officer became stuck in a cloudy haze with respect to what her body was doing as she focused on the suspect running away. I can’t speak to that, but some have suggested that officers who work in areas with very little crime, especially violent crime, are perhaps more prone to find themselves subject to tunnel vision when they do have to react to a dangerous situation than those of us who can find a reason to chase and wrestle with a suspect everyday, just by leaving the police station.

This case hinges on what a judge or, potentially, jurors, think was going through the officer’s brain when she shot the suspect. I don’t know this woman, but her teary eyed mug shot makes me hope that she’s crying because she made a terrible mistake, not because she can’t believe she didn’t get away with attempted murder. That’s essentially what the prosecutor is saying with this charge.

mug

Tears of regret over a terrible mistake or tears of disbelief that she was caught trying to kill a shoplifter? I think it’s the former.

A woman several years ago was warned that she had to keep her kids away from a certain area near her trailer because there was a duck pond nearby. One day, the woman let her two and four year old kids out to play and didn’t check on them for forty-five minutes, until the four year old came inside to tell his mom that his two year old brother was in the pond.

Forty-five minutes is an eternity to not know what your two year old is doing, right?

Any parent would agree with that.

The two year old was found floating in the pond, dead.

Ask yourself if this mother was reckless.

An appellate court said no, she wasn’t.

The court wanted more than just the duration of time and the warning about the pond, because we try not to incarcerate people for mistakes, even terribly stupid ones.

It’s not easy to prove what’s going on inside a person’s brain, and the shooting in this case happened, I’m guessing, very quickly from the time the suspect broke free of the officer and when the officer fired her gun.

Luckily, this woman will live and undoubtedly, this woman will get paid for her injuries and suffering and whatever else tort law allows.

That’s how the system, imperfect as it can be, is meant to work.

Charging the police officer to placate certain members of society is a travesty, unless the state truly believes it has a good case, and it might here, I don’t know all of the facts.

The officer’s attorney didn’t help her cause, in my opinion, by insinuating that the town would burn, once the officer was acquitted of the charge, which he called overcharging of his client.

People in this area are tired of protests and rioting, so to imply such a result could certainly sway a juror to simply find the officer guilty to avoid that mess.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that sort of statement is reckless.

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to Reckless? i don’t know…

  1. julie says:

    Very enlightening Don. And very complex. I didn’t know many of the things you brought up, although they all make sense, wearing the taser on the opposite side from the gun, the understanding of reckless… I sincerely hope the officer was shook because she truly made a mistake, and feels the pain of her actions. I’d like to know the outcome of the situation.

    I sure do enjoy your posts

    • Thanks as always Julie. I appreciate you. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I truly believe, and this isn’t based on anything, that she just made a mistake, a horrible, avoidable mistake. If that’s the case, we simply cannot condone imprisoning her when we let rapists and other monsters go free or just get probation.

  2. corley598 says:

    I never carried a taser. I spent the last ten years of my law enforcement career in the Detective Bureau and tasers weren’t issued. However, I never liked the idea of wearing another instrument that was worn like a gun, held like a gun and fired like a gun (some of this I’m only surmising) because of exactly what occurred with this officer. I’m appalled,but not surprised, that she has been charged with a crime in this matter and if I were in her shoes, I would be devastated that I’d made such a terrible mistake; that I had seriously injured this person and of course, that I had most probably completely derailed my career. For nothing more than a mistake. We seem to have become a society which demands retribution for each and every wrong and it is never acceptable to consider a mistake a mistake. This woman, the “alleged” shoplifter by her criminal act, will ultimately profit to the tune of most likely, several million dollars.

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