Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dallas chief drops charge against man shot by officer

A CRL&P reader recently brought to my attention this disturbing case in which a Dallas police officer shot a mentally ill man allegedly armed with a knife at what appears to be a distance of more than 10 feet. The article states in part:

According to police accounts, Spencer and Watson responded to the 9400 block of Crimnson Court on Monday afternoon after Bennett’s mother, Joyce Jackson, called police for help in dealing with her son.

Authorities have said that she told the 911 operator that Bennett was violent, had a knife and was throwing things at a garage door.

An arrest warrant affidavit listing Spencer as the victim of an aggravated assault said the officer shot Bennett after he walked toward him and his partner with a “knife raised in an aggressive manner.” Spencer fired his weapon four times, striking Bennett in the abdomen.

But a neighbor’s video surveillance recording contradicted that account.

On the video, Bennett, who was seated in a chair, initially rolls back from officers as they advance on him. He then stands up but does not move. His hands remain at his side and he is standing still when Spencer shoots him.

The video shows that less than 30 seconds elapsed from the time the officers pulled up in their squad car to when Spencer opened fire.

City Council member Dwaine Caraway called the officer’s actions “coldblooded” and called for “immediate action” of some kind. Otherwise, the national spotlight on the case will cause “a devastating blow to the department,” he said.

The Dallas Police Department has been under mounting criticism for more than a year over officer-involved shootings.

It began in the summer of 2012, when community activists became upset about a string of police-involved shootings. One of those incidents nearly sparked a riot in the Dixon Circle neighborhood when an officer fatally shot a suspected South Dallas drug dealer. That officer was cleared of charges.

The officer allegedly violated several basic tactical rules, which seems clear enough from the video (found here).  Although the officer's attorney claims that unreported facts justify his actions, imagining what those facts might be is certainly difficult. 

Reportedly, the man shot by the officer was mentally ill. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported on the frequency of mental illness among the incarcerated. Given these numbers, police officers reasonably can be expected to be experienced in (or at least trained in) dealing with the mentally ill. I have a hard time believing that this officer's response comports with that training.

Of course, the facts in this case eventually will be revealed and we will be able to better evaluate (or condemn) this officer's actions. But, so long as the unknown facts that ostensibly will change the public mind as to this officer's conduct are withheld, we are left with the video. And the video is disturbing.



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