FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

An Ex-Cop Talks About Police Shootings

The graphic video from the killing of Daniel Shiver was released after the jury decided to acquit ex-Mesa police officer Philip Brailsford of second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter. The Mesa police department and Mesa police union both supported Brailsford, but it’s important to receive feedback from police sources who don’t have a vested interest in the case.

Norm Stamper, a former police officer who served for 28 years with the San Diego police force and six years as the chief of police in Seattle, gave his thoughts on Twitter. He responded to the tweet by the journalist Shaun King who stated, “Sadly I’ve studied 100s of videos of American police executing non-violent, unarmed people. This is one of the worst I’ve ever witnessed.” Stamper wrote, “One of the worst I’ve seen, as well. Heart-stopping, stomach-turning. No room in policing for cops this scared and ill-prepared.”

Is that a fair criticism? After all, police were called to the La Quinta Inn where Shaver was staying because witnesses saw him pointing a gun out of the window of his room. Unknown to the six officers who arrived at the scene, it was a pellet gun that Shaver used for his work in pest control. He was showing it to a woman he had met earlier in the day.

However, Shaver and his female guest clearly tried to follow the verbal commands from Mesa Police Sgt. Charles Langley, which were highly confrontational and contradictory. At one point, Daniel Shaver was face down on the floor of the hallway with his hands on the top of his head and his feet crossed.

Instead of ordering one of the six officers to handcuff Shaver, Sgt. Langley yelled for Shaver to rise to his knees. That decision ultimately cost Shaver his life as any unforeseen moment by his hands were considered threatening by the officers. While on his knees, Daniel Shaver put his hands behind his back, which led Sgt. Langley to scream, “Put your hands up in the air! You do that again and we’re shooting you!” A sobbing Shaver begged them to not shoot him.

Sgt. Langley then ordered Shaver to crawl towards the officers on his knees with his hands in the air. He also told Shaver to not move his hands, even if it meant falling on his face. That command essentially acknowledged that it’s really difficult to crawl forward on your knees with your hands in the air, especially for someone who was drunk like Shaver.

While crawling, Shaver tragically did make a quick movement with his right hand toward his hip. And in fairness to ex-Mesa officer Philip Brailsford, that movement could easily have been interpreted as someone reaching for a gun. However, Shaver didn’t have a gun and he was shot dead in reaction to that movement. Most likely, Shaver was trying to pull his pants up.

Should one twitchy movement by an unarmed man justify a police shooting?

Raeford Davis, a former police officer who is an outspoken critic of modern law enforcement, adamantly disagrees. Davis, watched the video and acknowledged that it was truly frightening when Shaver quickly reached toward his hip. However, he stressed that caution needed to be exercised.

“Cops have to wait. You have to see that gun…I know that you might get killed, but that’s what it is to be a professional. We talk about cops sacrificing, that’s what you sacrifice…Especially in that particular situation, no way should they fire just on that movement. No way. You’ve got to wait for him to bring something out. And even then, you’ve really got to wait to give him an opportunity (to throw the gun away.)”

Obviously, that’s not the typical sentiment from the police community.  However, Raeford Davis isn’t speaking from a theoretical point of view. On multiple occasions, he had a gun pointed at him during his four years a patrolman in North Charleston, SC. (An injury forced him to permanently leave police work.)

Without firing a shot, Davis once had to physically subdue an attacker at point-blank range who was trying to shoot him. On another occasion, he was chasing a suspect who grabbed a gun from his pocket. Davis reacted by pulling his gun and aiming it at the young man. However, he didn’t pull the trigger because the suspect didn’t turn around. Instead, the suspect ditched the gun and kept running. In Davis’s experience, the majority of these types of run-ins result in the person throwing away the gun and fleeing the scene.

Given that experience, Davis was exasperated by the performance of the officers in Mesa, AZ and noted that there was no actual danger, only perceived danger. “They put Daniel Shaver in a position where it was impossible to comply and then they killed him with no gun ever seen,” he said.

Davis gave several critiques. For instance, he acknowledged that Sgt. Langley was probably concerned that an armed gunman could have been present in the hotel room. However, there were clearly enough officers available to handcuff Shaver with adequate backup.

Also, if the officers insisted upon ordering Shaver to approach them, rather than cuff him while he was on the ground, it could have been done in a much safer manner for both parties. Shaver should have been instructed to walk slowly backward while facing away from the officers with his hands behind his head and fingers interlaced.

In addition, Davis stressed the importance of de-escalating the situation. These stressful moments require a calming influence and the highest-ranked officer, Sgt. Langley, should have filled that role. Instead, his threats clearly added to Shaver’s nervous behavior. Davis also pointed out that by ratcheting up the adrenaline in the room, it made his fellow officers more likely to have a quicker trigger finger.

(Based on the video, it’s easy to assume that the shooter was the person screaming out commands, Sgt. Charles Langley. However, the shooter was his subordinate, Philip Brailsford.)

With that said, Raeford Davis feels this is part of a much larger problem with the “warrior mindset” of police culture. It starts at the academy. “The training is very fear-based and it creates more of these types of situations than it prevents,” says Davis.

Trainees are forced to watch videos of officers who have been killed in action. It demonstrates how quickly their lives can be taken away in an instant, but it also creates a “scenario fulfillment” in which innocuous movements by ordinary citizens can result in a fatal police shooting.

Davis did receive some training in de-escalation, but it was only a fraction of the firearms training. He notes that police officers are trained to look forward to that “moment of ‘glory.’” They’re also unofficially taught the legalese and verbiage if they need to protect themselves from liability.

This poor training, along with other systemic factors such as low accountability and a militaristic culture, contribute substantially to America’s unjustifiably-high police shooting statistics. To be specific, there were 963 people shot and killed by police officers last year, according to The Washington Post’s database.

Despite Davis’s lengthy criticisms of the culture, he hopes that Americans don’t generalize all police officers as bloodthirsty tyrants. In Davis’ estimation, he encountered situations roughly every two months in which he could have shot someone on duty and the shootings would have been deemed justifiable according to his training and police policy.

That’s six potential shootings every year and Davis considers his experience to be in line with most other officers. Consequently, Davis believes that there would be a much higher number of police shootings if every officer blindly followed their training and protocols. Hence, the vast majority of officers seem to be using a great deal of restraint, especially when there are so many systemic forces encouraging them to pull the trigger and ask questions later.

“It is not because of the training. It is despite the training. It’s the humanity of the police officers that prevents a lot more shootings.” However, to be clear, that wasn’t meant as a reassuring measure. It should be concerning, particularly for the people who give unconditional support for law enforcement.

After all, this is an institution that overtly and inadvertently encourages the use of lethal force. Hence, if an individual officer is prone to violence, that person is operating within an institution that will, in most cases, sanction that behavior.

Brian Saady is a freelance writer who focuses on a number of human rights and criminal justices issues. He’s also the author of four books, including a three-book series, Rackets, which is about the legalization of drugs and gambling, and the decriminalization of prostitution.

 

More articles by:
July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail