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Blacks Go to Jail for Killing Dogs; Whites Stay Out of Jail for Killing Blacks

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Black-Lives

I was on Twitter last night when I found out that Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby had been acquitted for killing Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man.  There have been so many police killings of unarmed Blacks with so few charges brought or guilty verdicts that I have become numb.  But yesterday’s verdict of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby struck a raw nerve.  As a former prosecutor, I respect law abiding police; I detest those officers who lack the temperament, skills and self-control to wear a police uniform.

 

Terence Crutcher is just the latest unarmed Black victim in a decades long string of Black victims killed at the hands of police without justice.  On September 16, 2016, Betty Shelby stated she fired her gun killing Terence Crutcher out of fear.  That is the standard response by police officers used in these cases.  It’s as if it’s in their police training manual of what to say when you shoot and kill a Black person.  Nine white jurors and three Blacks evidently believed her version.  Crutcher had his hands up when he was shot by Shelby, as evidenced on two videos.

 

After the trial of former police officer Michael Slager, I have come to believe that most police officers can get away with murder of blacks with impunity.  With a video and a bystander filming and watching on, a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in Slager’s trial.  Slager was caught on tape shooting Walter Scott in the back as Scott ran away. Slager gave the same verbatim response as Shelby that he feared for his life.  How one fears for his or her own life as the perceived threat is fleeing –defies logic.  A jury trial ended in a mistrial.  Slager later plead guilty to federal civil rights charges, thereby avoiding a re- trial and a state trial. He will be sentenced later this year.

 

And then there’s the other side of the coin.  Blacks receive jail sentences for killing dogs or stupidly and accidently shooting themselves. NFL quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for harming and killing dogs.  And former NFL player Plaxico Burress received a two year sentence for accidently shooting himself while at a night club.  Due to New York’s stringent gun laws, Burress likely pled guilty.  With both being black, Vick and Burress also likely pled guilty due to the likelihood of a guilty verdict against a Black man, if tried.  A jury will more likely render a guilty verdict against a Black man for killing a dog or almost killing himself that against a white police officer for killing an unarmed Black.

 

While I am not a Black man, I fear for all Blacks who encounter a police officer under circumstances that a white police officer can assert his fear.  That’s just about any circumstance imaginable.  Racial disparities exist in the killings of unarmed blacks versus whites.  According to statistics, African Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed than whites.  In 2015, 40% of all unarmed persons shot and killed by police were Black men. Yet, Black men make up only 6% of the U.S. population.

 

I would like to end on a positive note. But I am outraged at the constant loss of unarmed Black lives by police officers who cower under the guise of  their own innate racism.

 

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.

5 Police Officer Trials to Watch in 2015

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
Baltimore Circuit Court House via Flickr by Kirsch

Baltimore Circuit Court House via Flickr by Kirsch

From Freddie Gray in Baltimore  who ran away from police officers to Jonathan Ferrell who ran towards Charlotte police officers for help, five trials of on duty police officers for killing unarmed victims will likely take place in 2015.

On Wednesday, August 19, a Fairfax, Virginia judge  set   December 14, 2015 as the trial date for former officer Adam Torres accused of shooting and killing John Geer in August, 2013 at his home for a domestic dispute call. In an unusual legal move for police officers, a Fairfax County judge denied bail for Torres—a move that caused the defendant to faint in the court room. Prosecutors refused to offer a plea bargain to Torres—a move that signifies the case will likely head to trial. Although the killing occurred two years ago, the county police initially refused to turn over necessary information on Torres to prosecutors–causing a delay in bringing charges.

The case of the six Baltimore police officers charged on May 1, 2015 with assault and manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray starts October 13, 2015 with motions hearings scheduled for September 2. Gray was found unconscious after being placed in a police van. He died one week later of severe spinal  injuries allegedly as a result of being unrestrained in the police van. Almost as important as the trial date is the motions hearings date where the judge’s rulings will determine crucial decisions concerning evidence in the case, location of the trial and other issues. Motions filed by the defense lawyers contend that the defendants will not receive a fair trial if the trial is held in Baltimore. A fair and impartial jury is possible in Baltimore City as rulings in other high profile cases prove. The recent cases of the Boston Bomber and Aurora Colorado theater shooting case were held in their respective jurisdiction—despite the high publicity and number of persons killed and injured in those cases. Baltimore and the ability to obtain fair and impartial jurors is no different from Boston and Aurora.

 

A judge set November 4, 2015 as the trial for University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing who fatally shot unarmed Samuel Dubose in July in a matter of seconds following a routine traffic stop. The police dash cam caught the incident on camera. Tensing’s lawyers plan to file for a change of venue despite acknowledging that a change of venue rarely occurs in Hamilton County. Tensing is expected to argue that Dubose caused him to fear for his life.

 

A Charlotte jury is deliberating the police officer charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell. Randall Kerrick shot Ferrell ten times as Ferrell ran towards the officer and two other officers for help following an accident and after knocking on a house door for help. Like in most police officer shootings, the jury must decide if excessive force was used or reasonable force. The other two officers present with Kerrick did not shoot. They also did not testify. And like many on duty police killings, the defense blamed the victim. That is also an expected defense in the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore.

 

Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager faces murder charges for the April shooting of Walter Scott eight times in the back while running away for a routine traffic stop. His actions were caught on video tape by a bystander. While no trial date has been set yet, an August 27 hearing on Slager’s bond has been scheduled. He remains in custody awaiting trial.

A judge ruled on Tuesday that two Albuquerque, New Mexico police officers will go to trial for the 2014 murder of James Boyd, a homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia. As with the case of Slager, there is video of the shooting. Boyd appeared to be surrendering following a hours long stand-off with the officers. Boyd like Freddie Gray died later at a hospital.

 

These on duty police killing cases vary in terms of race of the victims, location, how death occurred, charges, video and other factors. Their common denominator is all victims were unarmed. If these cases prove anything, it’s the need for increased and better police training in areas of confrontation, mental illness, domestic violence, race sensitivity and when the use of force is unwarranted. Despite the number of police officers facing trials in 2015, they pale in comparison to the large number of persons who die at the hands of police every year. There must be universal reform in how police departments conduct business. If not, many more unarmed persons will continue to die at the hands of police.

UPDATE:  On August 21, the manslaughter trial of officer Randall Kerrick for  the death of Jonathan Ferrell ended with a deadlock jury of 8-4 in favor of acquittal.  No decision on whether to retry  Kerrick.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.