A recent officer-involved-shooting in Phoenix presents a host of lessons we can all learn from. A responding police officer there mistakenly shot a good guy with a gun as he held a pair of shoplifters at gunpoint. Both parties made mistakes, but William Brookins, 39, paid for his well-meaning good Samaritanism with his life.
Brookins, the good guy, apparently observed a pair of shoplifters fleeing a store. Riding passenger in an SUV, he had the driver pursue the pair to a nearby parking lot where he confronted them at gunpoint.
A Phoenix cop nearby heard the commotion and responded. Radio transmissions indicate that the cop assumed Brookins, who is black, was an armed robber and the two white (alleged) shoplifters were victims of an armed robbery attempt.
The police officer shouted for Brookins to drop the pistol and an instant later, opened fire. Brookins went down and after almost a week in the hospital, he has died of his wounds.
Here’s the video from Phoenix PD.
Lessons for all of us
There are a lot of lessens to be learned here for every gun owner.
First and foremost: That gun you carry as a legally armed citizen doesn’t look or function like a badge. You are not a cop. You aren’t even a “junior policeman” like my kids were after a very nice local cop gave them a sticker after responding to a call at my home.
Legal justification (or lack thereof)
Why Mr. Brookins took it upon himself to draw his carry gun to intervene in a shoplifting incident is beyond me. From the very limited information presented by Phoenix PD, Mr. Brookins’ actions were probably in good faith, but they did not seem to be even close to justified.
With very few exceptions, the law justifies the use of deadly force only to stop the imminent infliction of death or great bodily injury to an innocent. In addition, the Supreme Court has ruled on the use of deadly force against fleeing felons (again, it is generally off-limits) as well. I strongly recommend seeking out competent training on the judicious use of deadly force if you own a gun and doubly so if you carry it outside the home.
Competent training doesn’t mean just reading your state’s laws in a Powerpoint presentation. Court precedents, real-world prosecutor politics, and plenty more all play a role in knowing the standards by which you can and should act in order to stay out of prison after deploying a firearm in a particular situation.
For example, in my home state of Illinois, burglary is considered a forcible felony. Under our statutes, deadly force is justified to stop the commission of a forcible felony.
In real world application, if you think that means you can shoot someone who’s stealing a Craftsman lawn mower while burgling your garage (attached or otherwise), that probably won’t work out too well for you, especially in the more populous Land of Lincoln counties. To say nothing of how it will look to a jury that you killed someone’s son or daughter to protect your lawn mower.
Like so many of us, Mr. Brookins seems to have suffered from tunnel vision. That’s a common mistake that, in this case, proved fatal in the end.
He failed to hear a witness (potentially the person with Mr. Brookins) and the police officer yelling at him. Unless you’ve trained to break tunnel vision, it will happen to you, too under stress. The good news is that it also happens to bad guys as well.
We have to acknowledge the appearances here as well. I recall an instructor at one of a couple of Tom Givens’ “Polite Society” Tactical Conferences (highly recommended, by the way) saying that he makes it a point to wear a collared shirt whenever possible when out in public. He indicated that the initial impression of a collared dress shirt is a lot more favorable than someone sloppily dressed.
Yes, that sounds silly and superficial, but that kind of thing can make a difference in the real world.
It reminds me of a retired FBI agent friend of mine telling the story of an undercover FBI agent who was casually dressed in denim back in the 70s. He found himself tailing a well-dressed bank robber who was wearing a suit. One thing led to another and they ended up in a roadside shootout.
The first officer rolling up assumed the guy in the suit was the good guy and turned his fire on Mr. FBI in denim. The agent quickly surrendered and the bad guy got away, but it illustrated a good point.
The lesson isn’t so much that you can’t carry a gun while going out to grab some lunch after working in the yard in the hot sun for hours. But if you look like a bum, as we all do sometimes, you have to be extra cognizant of possibly being mistaken for a bad actor by bystanders (armed or not) or responding officers.
Race & prejudice
Lastly, like it or not, race may have played a role in the Brookins situation. What’s more, the officer’s prejudices may have worked against Mr. Brookins, the good guy with the gun. That’s certainly going to be alleged, rightly or wrongly.
In this instance, the cop assumed the black man pointing the gun was an armed robber. How do we know? Because he radioed dispatch saying that the man he shot was committing an armed robbery (a “2-11” in police lingo in Phoenix) and possibly had committed another just minutes before. In reality, the officer couldn’t have been more mistaken.
If you are black or any other “person of color” carrying a gun legally everyday, good for you. We need more people like you. At the same time, we have to recognize that a third party (cop, concealed carry holder, or otherwise) rolling up on a scene in which someone’s pointing a gun at someone else, the black or brown person may not get as much benefit of the doubt as a white person.
Dressing nicely can at least partially overcome this, but none of us dresses to the nines everyday (see above).
Third party defense
The police officer was likely as well-meaning as he was mistaken. But he rolled up not knowing the particulars and shot someone who didn’t need shooting. As such, he will have to live with that on his conscience for the rest of his days.
The same applies to concealed carriers. Intervening in any confrontation is fraught with danger and doing so with your firearm even more so. Choose your battles very carefully and remember you are risking a lot if you make a mistake with your gun…personal, financial, criminal, and more.
Usually things work out okay, but this incident in Phoenix shows how quickly things can go from bad to worse for a good guy with a gun. A gun doesn’t make you a cop and you don’t have any responsibility to step in and stop shoplifters or other property criminals taking someone else’s money or valuables, particularly if no one is being threatened.
Should you decide to intervene, make sure you’re able to break out of tunnel vision, not only to protect yourself against other potential bad guys, but also from well-meaning good guys (police or otherwise) who might mistake you for a bad guy.