Tulsa Shooting Perhaps Justified, Even With Closed Window
Could Officer Reasonably Have Believed He Was Trying to Reach In?
Although many have opined, based upon televised videotapes, that the police shooting of an unarmed man in Tulsa was clearly criminal, especially in light of pictures which appear to show that he could not have reached into the car because the driver’s window was up, the shooting may nevertheless be legally justified, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
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Terence Crutcher Tulsa shooting
Photo by Tony Webster
Banzhaf, who has taught the law of self defense for more than 40 years, and also provided legal analysis to justify the shootings of New York’s “subway shooter” Bernhard Goetz, DC’s “jacuzzi shooter” Carl Rowan, and others, reminds us that the issue is not whether the shooting was justified, but rather whether a officer might have believed – even mistakenly – that the victim presented a significant danger.
More precisely, says Banzhaf, the prosecutor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the female officer who fired could not possibly have believed that the victim might have been reaching for a gun, and ethics prohibits a criminal case from even being brought unless the prosecutor has a good faith and reasonable belief that he can prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.
Tulsa Shooting defense
Here are five arguments that any good defense attorney might be able to use to create sufficient doubt to defeat a prosecution, even if the window was up.
First, although it’s not completely clear from the video tapes shown on television, it appears that the female officer approached the victim and his car from almost directly behind the driver’s side of the vehicle. From this angle it is not clear – and arguably isn’t clear beyond any reasonable doubt – that she could from that angle see that the window was up, and be sure it was up, when the victim lowered his hands.
Second, it is certainly possible, if not likely, that the female officer’s attention was very sharply focused on the driver as she advanced upon him after he allegedly refused her demands that he stop.
If so, it’s hard to say beyond any reasonable doubt that she would have noticed that the window was up if, fearful for her own personal safety, her eyes were glued on him.
Third, even if the driver’s window was up, and the female officer knew that and appreciated the significance, it does not appear clear from the video tape that the window of the door behind the driver was likewise up. Especially given the angle from which the female officer seemed to be approaching the victim, it would be hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not believe and/or fear that he might be reaching for a gun through the apparently open window when he lowered at least one hand.
Fourth, the fact that two different officers, both very carefully observing the victim’s behavior from only a few feet away, both fired their respective weapons at virtually the same second suggests that both perceived an immediate danger. It’s hard to argue – much less to prove beyond any reasonable doubt – that both officers acted precipitously and unreasonably; something which might be argued if only one had fired.
Finally, there appears to be no motive and, without a motive, a jury is less likely to convict.
Even assuming for the sake of argument that some police officers – including this female officer – harbor such racial hatred that they would eagerly kill an African American if they could do so unobserved and get away with it, it is quite another thing to argue that such hatred would be so extreme that a racist cop would deliberately and unlawfully kill a black man in broad daylight with another officer only a few feet away, and with a helicopter, probably with a video camera, obviously hovering overhead.
After all, there is no evidence that the victim in the Tulsa Shooting had done anything or even said anything which might anger any reasonable police officer, or that he was suspected of any crime or other wrongdoing.
Without any apparent motive, it is hard to see why even a racist cop would risk prison, huge civil liability, her law enforcement career, etc. just to satisfy some generalized racial hatred.