Day in Court: Police Killers of Civilians Tried

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg decided to skip the grand jury process and charge the officers who killed James Boyd, a man with psychiatric disabilities, with murder. Grand juries don’t want to indict cops. Juries don’t want to convict cops. But at least there will be a day in court.

Here’s what the defense will say:

A defense lawyer characterized him as an unstable suspect who was “unpredictably and dangerously close to a defenseless officer while he was wielding two knives.”
“I’m looking forward … to the DA’s office presenting one single witness that says this is murder,” said Sam Bregman, a lawyer for Sandy.

Meanwhile, today, testimony began in the killing of a 95-year-old man, John Wrana, by police, in Park Forest, IL. Here is what the defense will say:

Craig Taylor carefully followed police policy and the orders of a superior, his lawyer said
“There was nothing reckless about what he did,” said attorney Terry Ekl. “He had to make an instantaneous decision based on an order from his supervisor and his own assumptions.”

Days in court are necessary, whatever the outcome. Police invocation of hypothetical threats usually, but not always, carry the day. If the police can persuade a jury that it was reasonable for them to fear for their life, they can justify using deadly force. In fact, it is often reasonable. The key is to have fair,  open, civilian-led, assessments of what happened and what the response should be. We give law enforcement enormous powers and that requires accountability and impartial oversight.

The Boyd killing is a pretty stark example of the problems with the Albuquerque PD.  Boyd was surrendering. Moreover, there was never a real threat to begin with. The PD incited this confrontation then responded to it with deadly force, in my reading of the video.

The Wrana case is more complicated. I expect Taylor will be exonerated for following procedure. I think the procedure has problems built into it, but that’s a deeper issue.

What I’m happy about is that in both cases we’ll to hear what a jury thinks, and that’s the key. A system, a trial, an open process. With good attorneys on both sides. A jury of one’s peers. That’s how our system needs to work. 

One Reply to “Day in Court: Police Killers of Civilians Tried”

  1. The Illinois Model says:

    Both cases raise valid questions of reasonableness and necessity. Boyd case is uglier than Wrana case.

    Here is the problem with civilian oversight: We are dealing with high technology with Tasers, NFDD, less-lethal impact projectiles, etc. Let's talk just Taser…Few non-police officers truly understand what Tasers are, how they operate, the technology that controls them, what the insides look like, what controls the pulse or voltage (it changes during a deployment), what the potential failures are (there are probably 4-5 popular ones). I've seen plenty of officers do the right thing, based on absolute necessity (that even David Perry would support!) but who cannot explain their actions to those without this fundamental and subconscious understanding of a Taser. To an officer, the factors are so understood, that the officer sometimes has a difficult time explaining the actions in a logical way that reviewer John Q Public can appreciate.

    John Q Public relies upon sensationalized YouTube videos and overly-opinionated journalism to form an opinion on what a Taser is, how it operates, or how it feels. [Side note: NO ONE has any business to discuss how a Taser feels until they have experienced MULTIPLE exposures of the device to various points on his/her body.]

    Subject Matter Experts are called in for more formal explanations, but generally only for court proceedings (civil or criminal court) to help explain the weapon to jurors…who are still only getting about 1-2 hours worth of material crammed into a trial. The officer has been trained a dozen-fold of understanding, situational issues, context issues, contingency planning.

    Civilian review has to be relied on cautiously. What we need are people in the field of law enforcement who have a deep understanding of the issues (those that David Perry raises: mental health, disability, race, etc)…and have TRUST in these people. Putting the decision into hands that have never touched a Taser is unfair to the system.

    How do we address these disparities in understanding?


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