Missouri Cops' License to Kill
The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is not the first time an officer supervised by Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson has killed an unarmed man.
And this is also not the first time that a cop under his command has sparked protests in which Rev. Al Sharpton played a leading role.
Back in 2000, two unarmed young men were shot and killed in a Jack in the Box parking lot in the suburban town of Berkeley adjacent to Ferguson by a pair of officers assigned to a county-wide drug task force where Jackson was deputy commander.
Early reports suggested that a vehicle occupied by Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley moved toward Officers Robert Piekutowski and Keith Kierzkowski, causing them to fear being pinned against another car.
Jackson, then a lieutenant with the St. Louis County Police, told reporters, “I am convinced that the officers were in fear of their lives, that they were in immediate danger.”
Jackson contended that the officers were standing in the driver’s path of flight.
“That's where he was going to escape,” Jackson said. “It was obvious to everyone he was going to go right through them. What they [the officers] said was that it lurched forward. In that instant, they thought, ‘This is it.’”
During the ensuing protests, Sharpton spoke of blocking a major highway, U.S. 40. Local leaders then protested his planned protest and traffic flowed uninterrupted as he went home to New York.
Subsequently, investigators decided that the car occupied by the two men had not in fact begun to move in their direction when the fatal shots were fired. The officers insisted they were in fear for their lives nonetheless, essentially arguing that the car was itself a deadly weapon pointed their way. That was enough for the shooting to be ruled justified under Missouri state law. The cops were not indicted.
That same provision, Chapter 563 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, will no doubt come into play in this new case in which a cop shot an unarmed man.
Under this law, a cop is justified in using deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” if “he reasonably believes” it is necessary in order to “to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony…or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.”
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted on Monday, this law was also cited in a 2005 incident, after police in Lincoln County, Missouri, shot another unarmed young man named Michael Brown.
This other Michael Brown was 23 years old and riding with four friends in a pickup truck driven by 22-year-old Tyler Teasley when a sheriff’s deputy clocked them going well over the 55 mph speed limit. Deputy Nic Forler sought to pull them over, and Teasley tried to elude him by pulling into a driveway and shutting off the truck’s lights.
In his panic, Teasley apparently left the truck in neutral and it began to roll toward Forler down a slope of just 2.1 degrees as he approached. Forler fired repeatedly through the tinted back window, missing three of the occupants, but striking Brown and Teasley in the heads, killing them.
The shooting was not initially found justified and in civil court, Brown’s family subsequently won a $1.2 million settlement. Teasley’s family won $1.1 million at trial.
But after Forler was indicted on manslaughter charges, he was found not guilty in criminal court even though the truck was estimated by the FBI to have been rolling toward him at no more than 3.5 mph.
Now we have another unarmed young man named Michael Brown shot by a cop in Missouri. The present one was not even in a vehicle that a cop could argue was a deadly weapon. But Officer Darren Wilson is almost certain to cite Chapter 563 and say Brown’s size caused him to be in fear for his life when he fired.
If the cop from this latest shooting is either found not guilty or escapes charges altogether, it might be worth considering that the Michael Brown from nine years ago was white.