“A flashlight. A wrench. An L-shaped object under a towel. Even a Chicago Fire Department badge in a wallet. All allegedly have been mistaken for guns in recent cases in which people were shot by Chicago police officers who believed they were under threat, a Chicago Tribune investigation has found.” Well . . .
I know I have something of a rep for being anti-cop, but that’s not true. I’m anti-bad cop. By that I mean, cops who are homophobic, racist, overly aggressive, etc., and poorly trained. While there are police officers who answer to that description, I hardly think the majority are anything other than strictly professional. As for cops who make mistakes, well, sh*t happens.
What sh*t happened here? The Trib fills in the blanks. A bit . . .
Those shootings, in which police said the victim had a gun but one was never found, resulted in seven deaths. But that was not the only cost. Lawsuits have been filed in all 14 shootings, and, even with three cases pending, the city already has settled with plaintiffs for more than $15 million — a hefty price for Chicago taxpayers.
Although none of them had guns, six people who survived the shootings were nevertheless charged with aggravated assault of a police officer. Four were either found not guilty or convicted of a lesser crime. One person shot by police, a paramedic, was not charged.
The question here is the same one that applies to you or me after any defensive gun use: did the police officer reasonably believe that they or other innocent life were in imminent danger of grievous bodily harm or death? Who decides that? The police, the prosecutor, a judge and/or jury.
Which leaves us wondering whether or not the police who fired the fatal bullets were properly investigated and treated fairly by the resulting police investigation and judicial process.
The law, [MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law professor David] Shapiro said, “provides a whole lot of insulation for officers to act unreasonably. It’s designed to keep officers from being too cautious, but the net effect makes it so there are almost no consequences.” . . .
[University of Missouri at St. Louis law professor David] Klinger also said it is not necessarily uncommon that a police oversight agency, criminal court and civil court arrive at seemingly different conclusions about a shooting.
Klinger pointed to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo by police in New York City. Diallo was shot 19 times after officers thought he was raising a gun — which turned out to be his wallet — in their direction. The four officers involved in the shooting were placed on desk duty, indicted in state court but then cleared in a criminal trial. The city settled a civil suit with Diallo’s family for $3 million.
While three of the four officers involved retired, the one who did not eventually was restored to full duty and given his gun back.
“It is possible to have what you would call a bad shooting that is still not illegal,” Klinger said. “We call it ‘awful but lawful.’ “
Until and unless police lose their civil immunity from prosecution — a debatable proposition — that’s the way it is. As Walter Cronkite (ask your parents) used to say.