Arizona officer faces charges after killing suspect and family dog

My first impression was that this is a tragedy, but that if the officer in question felt threatened that the shooting may have indeed been justified. I am also surprised that this officer is facing charges so quickly after the incident, rather than the public being given the routine "It's under investigation" line while the officer is placed on paid leave.

I know I do a lot of "police-bashing" here, but that doesn't mean that I let my own personal bias get in the way of the facts. And the facts are that the officer did not need a warrant, for two reasons. First, he had probable cause because a disturbance had been reported. The mother of the victim had called police after having an argument in the home with her son. But more importantly, not only were police called but she also gave permission for police to enter the home. No warrant is necessary when there is probable cause or permission from a resident.

So understanding those facts will give the officer in question a strong defense. Telling the suspect, "I don't need no warrant motherfucker" may seem a bit vulgar, maybe a bit unprofessional, but nevertheless his statement was correct. He did not need a warrant to be in the home. It should also be noted here for the layman, that police do not need a warrant to detain you and slap the cuffs on for the purposes of investigation. Even if there was no reason for you to be arrested, even if you have committed no crime, you are committing a crime by resiting arrest. Therefore, if the suspect/victim resisted, he was in violation of the law and police had every right to use whatever reasonable force at their disposal to bring the suspect into custody.

What is reasonable force? Most departments use some version of what is called the Use-of-Force-Continuum. This basically means that increasing resistance will be met by increased use of force by police, up to and including the use of lethal weapons and tactics.

So understanding this, we must look more closely as to what actually developed inside the house to determine what force may have been warranted. We know that two officers entered the home. We know that the subject they met in the home was combative, but unarmed. We do not know at what point or for what reason the officer in question drew his firearm and put it to the subject's head, but we do know that the man was tased twice before being fatally wounded. We know too that the officer had to contend with a dog in the house. We do not know the breed of the dog or how ferocious it might have been, but the dog was also shot dead in the melee.

In some jurisdictions, a person's dog can be considered a deadly weapon and/or potentially lethal threat. Justifiably so in my opinion. So, if the subject loosed a dog on the officers, that act may have been seen as an "assault with a deadly weapon." If the dog was simply loose in the house, then that would be less of a justification for the shooting of the suspect even of the shooting of the dog was justified.

I know that dog-lover's are screaming holy hell right now, but try not to be baited by emotional appeal. Oh, the poor doggie got shot for no reason. If the dog was a threat, then yes there was a reason. As we have already established, the police had every right to be in the home and to protect themselves from harm.

Back to the primary shooting now though. At what point did the officer actually kill the subject? As we have said, the person was combative and resisting a lawful arrest. The officer's had already applied non-lethal force to subdue the subject. Can lethal force be justifiably used against an unarmed person? Generally, most folks might answer that it is not justified to shoot an unarmed person under any circumstances, but that is not really the truth.

State and local laws have varying degrees of "reason" to shoot someone, but generally speaking if you as a police officer, or as a civilian carrying a firearm legally, feel that someone is creating an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, you have the right to shoot them. If the person in question is armed it may be easier to justify that determination, but that does not mean that an unarmed person is never a potentially deadly threat.

More to the point, attacking a person who is clearly armed in an open-carry fashion may well indeed constitute a potentially deadly threat, justifying lethal use of force. If you start wrestling with a police officer, and the officer feels that they are being overpowered and may lose the fight, they can kill you. Even if you had no intention of killing the officer or anyone else, even if you did not reach for the gun, an officer might reasonably conclude that if you overpower them physically, you will also gain control of their weapon. An officer has not only a right, but a duty to use whatever means necessary in order to keep his weapon out of the hands of a violent suspect.

What complicates that logic in this case, is that there were two officers at the scene. The primary officer did not necessarily have to use lethal force as the second officer was also there to protect him should the suspect actually overpower the first officer and make an attempt to grab that officer's firearm. Given the fluid dynamics of a violent altercation however, it is not for us to make that determination. We really cannot know without getting into extremely specific blow-by-blow moves and counter-moves that took place in a matter of seconds. And split-second decisions can be justified even if the end result turns out to be less favorable in retrospect.

Since we weren't there it may be impossible for us to ever know if the shooting was truly justified. It certainly seems to me though, that this case is not quite as clear-cut as other cases where a police shooting was blatantly unjustified and yet nothing was ever done about it. So what is different about this case? Why was he so quickly charged with aggravated assault, and now likely to face a murder charge as a result? Why the sudden and unprecedented accountability that is unheard of in cases like these?

Now forgive my cynicism here, but it would almost seem as if this officer had been set up to take a fall for some reason. That he stepped on the wrong toes somewhere along that line and is being deliberately left hung out to dry by his department, his brethren, presumably even his partner at the scene who's statements must have in some way justified these charges. Is this officer a sacrificial lamb of sorts? Is he being undermined and broken down, because of something even more sinister that he may know about? Something that maybe he was going to blow the whistle on?

Even the PBA spokesperson in the interview was not making a very convincing defense of the officer. The whole video just felt as if everyone is really out to lynch this guy in a shooting that is not at all as clear-cut as one would expect to get this sort of reaction.

As a side note though, I can't resist firing back at one comment the PBA guy made, saying that we all have rights and due process. Yup, uh huh. So we are told. Too bad cops didn't get the memo.

(Admin note: This will also be labeled under the "good cops" heading, going by the assumption that the second officer at the scene may have revealed an unjustified shooting. Short of that it is important too to note that not all police shootings are crimes against humanity and this article tries to show how a shooting may be indeed be justified even against our more simple sensibilities as civilians.)


Phoenix Police Officer Charged With Murder

More allegation emerge:

Phoenix Cop Fatally Shoots Domestic-Violence Suspect -- and His Dog -- For No Apparent Reason

In this video you see an incident involving Officer Chrisman years before the shooting. Notice too that the other officers involved were not charged in any wrongdoing.

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