Video evidence has allowed prosecutors to bring criminal charges against officers involved in controversial shootings, but a recent series of acquittals demonstrates its limitations. “It’s not the end-all, be-all,” says the Milwaukee district attorney.
Juries in recent days have acquitted two more cops involved in controversial fatal shootings of black men. One criminologist says jurors are reluctant to convict: “They just don’t want to second-guess officers in those life-or-death decisions.”
A day after a former South Carolina cop pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge for shooting a man in the back, two Baton Rouge cops were cleared in another controversial fatal shooting. A federal prosecutor said of the Louisiana case, “We simply did not have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either officer violated the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
In the past, the Travis County prosecutor presented each police shooting to a grand jury. That will be no longer be the case. A leading civil rights attorney called the move a “double somersault backwards” to protect police.
Next week, Texas legislators will begin examining a package of bills aimed at cooling off the strained relations between cops and civilians, after a year in which the state suffered the deadliest attack on law enforcement in America since 9/11.
The six-officer Critical Incident Response Team will automatically investigate when a state trooper shoots somebody and will be available to other police agencies. State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders said the unit isn’t tasked with determining whether a shooting was justifiable. “Our objective is just to gather the facts,” he said.
It is “very misleading” for the news media to assert that police slayings of civilians in the U.S. are up since the Michael Brown case in 2014 in Ferguson, Bradley Campbell tells the American Society of Criminology. The average number of police killings nationwide has been steady at about 19 per week before and after Brown’s death.
Do you release video footage of the confrontation? Do you deploy officers in riot gear? Do you call in the National Guard? While looking over their shoulder at the punishing riots in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere, Tulsa and Charlotte took very different paths after police officers shot and killed black men in those two cities.