The family of Craigory Adams wants to know if Fort Worth police officer Courtney Johnson shot their relative by accident. That depends on what you call an accident. From star-telegram.com:
A police officer on trial in a wrongful shooting case testified Monday that he was never trained to compensate for the type of accidental shooting in which he wounded a mentally ill man almost two years ago.
The officer has said he thought Adams was holding a knife, but it was actually a barbecue fork.
Johnson said he had to be ready to shoot [his shotgun] in case Adams tried to run. Johnson testified that there was a chance that Adams might attack someone in the neighborhood.
To retreat and wait for backup could have put residents in harm’s way, Johnson testified. And the way Adams reacted to his commands raised several red flags and put the police officer on edge.
“I need to be ready to fire,” Johnson said. “He dropped the knife directly in front of him. But it took him so long to do it. If he heard me the sixth or seventh time, he heard me the first time. That means he’s picking and choosing what he’s going to do.”
Let’s set aside the fact that Officer Johnson opted for a shotgun instead of his pistol — which would have facilitated a switch to a TASER (assuming no cop in his right mind would set down a loaded shotgun to grab his TASER).
Let’s also set aside debate over about whether or not Officer Johnson should have aimed his shotgun directly at Mr. Adams (as opposed to holding it at low-ready). And the fact that the Texas cop continued to aim his shotgun directly at Mr. Adams after the perp dropped his weapon.
I mean, we could Monday morning quarterback this into next week. We don’t now all the variables and, as always, we weren’t there. The real key to post-game analysis — flawed as it is — comes in the next bit or reporting:
Johnson, who said he was also apprehensive because Adams did not drop to both knees as commanded, disengaged his safety, pumped the shotgun, pointed his weapon at the suspect and held his trigger finger at the ready.
That’s when the gun went off, Johnson said.
To me, that means one thing: Officer Johnson’s finger was on the trigger. And despite Mr. Adam’s compliance — however belated — Officer Johnson decided that was time to disengage the safety and rack the shotgun.
I suspect the shotgun “went off” as Officer Johnson racked the shotgun. His boss pins the blame elsewhere:
Cmdr. Albert Rodriguez, who has trained Texas Department of Public Safety troopers on use-of force issues, testified Monday that Johnson was following standard police training by disengaging the safety and pointing the weapon at Adams.
Rodriguez attributed the unintentional discharge to a physical phenomenon called sympathetic reflex — the tendency of the muscles in one hand to mimic the actions of the other hand, Rodriguez said.
The brain does not even figure into it, Rodriguez explained, and said this is the first time he has ever seen sympathetic reflex related to a shotgun. People are familiar with this type of unintentional discharge happening to officers while they are handling a handgun, Rodriguez said.
Sympathetic reflex is a well-known danger for armed police. But the reaction would have had zero effect on the shotgun if Officer Johnson didn’t have his finger on the trigger.
For some reason, the DA prosecuting Officer Johnson focused on the shotgun’s safety.
Jacob Mitchell, Tarrant County assistant district attorney, asked Rodriguez if other training officers had testified during the trial whether safeties are to be left engaged until the decision to fire is reached.
Rodriguez said yes.
Mitchell also asked Rodriguez if the safety on Johnson’s shotgun had been engaged, wouldn’t Adams have escaped being accidentally shot?
Rodriguez said Mitchell was correct, but also suggested that the number of alternative ways Adams could have avoided being accidentally shot were endless.
Like . . . not having his finger on the trigger until he decided to shoot. Sigh. So simple. So obvious. So important.
In the video at the link (still image above), Mr. Adams’ family say they want the truth about what happened. Well, there it is. All other considerations aside, Officer Johnson wasn’t trained to keep his finger off the trigger until he was ready to shoot.