Saturday, October 18, 2014
The New York Times is reporting today that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson “told investigators two months ago that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.”
He told them that Brown reached for his gun during a scuffle inside his police vehicle. Two shots were fired. The first shot hit Brown in the arm. The second shot missed.
Forensic testing has determined that Brown’s blood was found on the gun, Wilson’s uniform and the interior panel on the driver’s door.
Wilson claimed that Brown “punched and scratched him repeatedly leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.”
Even if we assume that Wilson’s statement is true, that does not mean the subsequent shooting outside the vehicle was justified.
The applicable legal rule: a police officer may pursue a fleeing felon and shoot him, if he refuses to stop and the officer reasonably believes that he presents a danger to others. However, he cannot use deadly force, if the suspect stops and surrenders to his authority by raising his hands. If the suspect approaches him, he can only use deadly force, if he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of being killed or seriously injured.
The imminent-danger requirement is the key issue to resolving this case and the answer depends on their relative size, the distance between them, and how fast Brown was moving toward him as well as how he was moving (i.e., running toward the officer versus stumbling and falling forward after being shot).
The officer’s statement to the federal investigators does not answer these questions.
We know that Brown’s body was found 95 feet from the officer’s vehicle, not 35 feet as claimed by the police chief.
Independent eyewitnesses have described an execution, so I see no reason why the grand jury has not indicted Darren Wilson for murder.
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