I wish I could get into the head of the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks because I have a theory about why it turned into a clusterfuck.
I need to admit up front that I haven’t watched all the videos in their entirety, but I’ve seen enough of the initial encounter and the ending to, along with my twenty plus years of doing this job, formulate this opinion.
The first officer on scene initially told Mr. Brooks that he was blocking traffic, and that he had to move his car. I’m sure it’s obvious already to this officer that Brooks is drunk or high or impaired somehow.
The officer goes back to his car and Brooks goes back to sleep.
The officer goes back to the suspect’s car and tells him to pull into a parking space, which Brooks eventually, though not without some difficulty, does.
At this point, the officer is in his patrol car and while seeing things through his body cam I’m imagining this is what’s going on in his head:
Man, I want to leave. I could be done with this call and move on to the next one, but look at all these people in the drive thru. They all know as well as I do that he’s probably drunk.
If I let him go and he wakes up and drives off and kills somebody, I won’t be able to live with myself. They’ll probably fire me or try to find a way to charge me with a crime. The family of the people killed would sue me for sure.
I could give him a ride home, right?
Sure, I would tell him that he’s not going to jail but tell him that he has to ride in the car with handcuffs on because it’s an officer safety issue AND the people who called 911 would think I was arresting a drunk driver and we can all move on.
Well crap. My dash camera and my body camera have both been recording this whole time. If my bosses see me not arresting a drunk driver and just taking him home, they’ll ding me for sure.
Fuck it. It’s just easier to just do the proper thing and arrest him. I’m sure he’ll get off easy anyway. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do…
We all know how this ended, which is not well for anyone.
Just like that, we have another man killed by a police officer in a situation that was wholly avoidable.
In a perfect world, a person, especially a drunk one, should never be able to disarm an officer. We are trained to keep that from happening, but things do happen.
Once Brooks has the officer’s Taser though, should he have still lost his life?
Let me say this up front though. This was a legally justified shooting, and the officer shouldn’t be charged with a crime, and probably shouldn’t have even lost his job.
Now let me digress.
A Taser is by definition an intermediary use of force device in police parlance.
On the use of force continuum in most departments, its use is considered a non-lethal use of force alternative when utilized by a trained officer.
You may have heard the term use of force continuum recently as it is part of what is being called the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms being peddled by the Obama Foundation that many city mayors and departments are adopting at the behest of people demanding police reform.
Most of the eight suggested reforms are honestly already a part of most police agency policies and/or training.
Briefly, the reforms are as follows:
- De-escalation training
- Required use of a force continuum
- Restricting or eliminating chokeholds
- Requiring verbal warnings before using deadly force
- Prohibit shooting at people in moving cars
- Exhausting all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force
- Intervening when an officer sees another officer using excessive force
- Comprehensive reporting of use of force incidents
The idea of a use of force continuum is that the officer using force should use the least amount of force necessary to safely accomplish his or her objective, whatever that may be.
In other words, if an officer is trying to arrest a person and that person is yelling profanities at the officer, hitting the arrestee in the head with a night stick right away is unwarranted.
Verbal abuse with nothing more should be met with verbal commands, which are near the low end of the continuum, and should those fail, then the officer would move up to the next level of force on the continuum.
That doesn’t mean that the officer has to go through each level on the continuum to get to the next higher level, of course.
If an officer encounters a man shooting a gun at him, then he doesn’t have to standby and try to use his words or open hand techniques to save his own life. The officer could go straight to deadly force, so long as he is able to explain his actions.
This officer used a gun when Brooks had a Taser, which you just said was an intermediary device. Why shouldn’t he be fired or charged?
I said that a Taser was a non-lethal alternative for officers trained in its use.
Police officers are wise to not use a Taser on a person with a gun. The only time that’s even an option is when two or more officers are on scene and one of them has his or her firearm ready, in case the Taser doesn’t work on the armed suspect.
If Brooks is able to shoot the Taser at one of these officers, one of the prongs could very easily go through an eye causing serious physical injury or, should the Taser work as intended, this man so hell bent on escaping a simple DUI charge could conceivably take one of the officers’ guns and use it to kill one or both of them. In that sense, the Taser is very much a deadly weapon.
To suggest that this outcome is implausible is unfair to the officers. We’ve all seen enough unbelievable video to know that anything can happen in this world.
The officer who shot Brooks was chasing him with his Taser in his hand, presumably because he hoped to use it instead of his gun to subdue this man and make the lawful arrest.
ONLY when Brooks fired the Taser at the officer did he shoot at him with his pistol, and I suggest he was legally entitled to do so. He dropped his Taser and shot Brooks with his gun to potentially save his life.
What’s legally justified in police work isn’t always what brings about the best or even a remotely desirable outcome, and of course this officer now has to live with his decision. Maybe he’s at peace with it, or more likely, since he appeared to want to let the guy go initially and was chasing him with a Taser before shooting his gun, he’s struggling terribly with what happened.
When I think about these incidents that keep occurring, my struggle is with how we get officers and more importantly, those who are supposed to lead officers, to understand that it’s okay to retreat sometimes and get the bad guy later.
I wonder if this officer had let Brooks run off with the Taser and he ended up escaping how his command staff would take that, even had the officer said he did so instead of shooting him.
Here is part of my department’s police manual, and in fact, it’s literally the first thing in the manual after the index.
The primary responsibility of this Department and each of its members is to protect the lives of the citizens we are sworn to serve. It is also the duty of each member of the Department to honor the established principles of democracy upon which this country was founded. Among these is the most profound reverence for human life, the value of which far exceeds that of any property. In view of this, it is essential that every action of this Department and of each of its members be consistent with that responsibility.
If one of my officers says he let a man he only knew to be wanted for a DUI run off with a TASER because his only other option was to shoot him, I’d fight for that officer to not lose his job, assuming he or she is an otherwise fine officer.
He or she would be punished, of course and subject to more training I’d hope, but I would appreciate the levelheadness of that decision.
I don’t feel as though our training always comports with this ideal, and I have a hunch that this officer’s didn’t either.
He did what he thought he had to do to save his life and probably, with respect to trying to make the arrest in the first place and not losing the Taser, his job.
Those are tough decisions to make in the heat of the moment, but we’re expected to make them all the time.
Ideally, common sense decisions that save lives are supported, but that isn’t always reality.