Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How Many Bullets?

By now, most of you have heard about the recent tragedy in New York City in which a man was fatally shot by members of the NYCPD.

While neither the public or the NYCPD have all of the facts about the incident yet, the howling rush to judgement has begun.

I'll wait awhile before discussing why the shooting was or wasn't justified until the facts are in, but I would like to talk a few minutes to talk about what we are hearing in the news regarding this particular incident.

We are being bombarded with television images of grieving loved ones and a parade of "community leaders" (not to mention that media whore, Al Sharpton) saying that the number of shots fired was excessive. Even New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has said it seems excessive (thanks for politicizing the case, Mike, you ass!).

From what I can gather, the officers involved in the shooting fired approximately 50 rounds. The two suspects that survived the shooting were hit a total of 14 times. The first was hit 11 times and the other, three times.

While 50 shots seems like an awful lot, please understand that although that number may seem excessive, the number itself doesn't determine whether or not excessive force was used.

In terms of the Use of Deadly Force, and use of Excessive Force, by police officers, there are two pieces of Supreme Court case law that determine when the use of deadly force is justified and how much force is justified in any given circumstance. The relevant case for this situation is Graham v. Connor (1989).

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the use of force by an officer upon a “seized, free citizen” will be based on the standards of what is “objectively reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The court stated that “based on a totality of circumstances the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of the reasonable officer on the scene, rather than the 20/20 vision of hindsight and the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowances for the facts that police officers are often forced to make split second decisions in circumstances which are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”

Since the facts of the case are not in yet, we cannot determine what is or isn't excessive. What we are hearing now are the cries of grief, sadness, anger, and other emotions that, while justified or not, don't make any difference about whether or not these officers were justified in shooting or whether or not the number of shots was excessive.

Please note that the fact that these men turned out not to be armed doesn't enter in to the reasonableness of the use of force at all.

This puts me in mind of the Amadou Diallo case from about 10 years ago. Diallo was an African immigrant that was killed by four NYCPD officers, who had fired 42 shots at the man that they believed was reaching for a gun. Diallo was hit 19 times. The officers were indicted under similar circumstances of community outrage. They were tried and acquitted, based mostly on case law from Graham v. Connor.

Diallo's death, much like this one, was a terrible tragedy, and one that could have benn avoided, but it doesn't mean that the cops were guilty of a crime.

My gut tells me these officers acted appropriately... time will tell as facts are revealed.



Lawyer Mama said...

It is a tragedy. And it makes me so mad when politicians jump on the bandwagon and make things worse.

Gunfighter said...


Why did I know that you would likely be the first to comment?

Zanne said...

I am so glad you wrote about this. It's hard to understand the truth when there's so much apparent spin. I guess the thing I don't understand was that the news said that the man was fired upon while fleeing. If that was the case, was it right to shoot at him? I'll be interested to hear your take on things as more is revealed. In the meantime, my coworkers and I are praying for peace in the midst of the tension and the possibility of it escalating. It's all so sad.

Tasha said...

GF, thanks so much for bringing this up and I appreciate your standpoint. I'm familiar with Graham v. Connor only because so many of my family are in law enforcement (13 in total). While my initial gut reaction lead me to think of excessive force and unnecessary action, I also had to take into account the intensity of the situation. If I were in the same situation as those cops, there is no telling what I would have done or how well I would have adhered to my training.

Great insight!

Bill said...


Regarding use of deadly force when a suspect is fleeing, see the U.S. Supreme Court case, Tennessee v. Garner.


Glad to know that you are keeping an open mind, my young friend.

Elizabeth said...

In all these cases the facts need to come out before anyone places blame.

Although, with the Diallo case, the man was hit 19 times. 19. I plead total and complete ignorance to such things and I completely trust because you're, you know, awesome gun guy, but 19 times doesn't seem excessive to you?

Gunfighter said...

It does sound liek quite a lot, eb, but four people shooting rapidly at the same time, it could have taken as little as 3 seconds to fire all of those shots.

Three seconds isn't much time to engage and evaluate the effect of your shots... especially in the dark.

The officers in the Diallo case were exonerated because of the "reasonableness" standard.

It was determined that despite the fact that Diallo was unarmed, he made a furtive gesture after being told to raise his hands. Reaching into your pocket when the cops say hands up is almost a guarantee for getting shot.

Grimm said...

I was thinking about writing something about this event, but I am glad you did so first as you have much more insight and background on these things. I will also withhold judgement until more facts are revealed as television has skewed viewpoints so far. Great post, GF.

TDJ said...

Thanks for visiting my blog.

I, like you, am waiting to reserve judgement. The media has the ability to slant/skew the facts and mix them with emotion, which makes it hard for the truth to be heard.

I also have many family members in law enforcement, including my father, as an officer in Washington, DC.

I often wonder if folk involved in law enforcement (or those related to them) are typically more open to seeing the big picture. Hmm...

Gunfighter said...

Welcome TDJ!

Perhaps people in law enforcement are just used to looking at things from the other side of the badge.

WordsRock said...

I, too, will defer to your much more informed opinion about the definition of reasonableness.

I do hope I'm never caught on the wrong end of law enforcement "reasonableness" of that nature, however.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I was thinking it was excessive until you explained that with that many officers, that many shots took maybe 3 seconds. Enough time for the one shot to finally fall over so they could quit shooting, I guess.

I'd never want to be in that position, either the perpetrator or the cop.

Eliel Mamousette said...

Yes, it's true that the facts are not known. And one of the things really annoying me about the media portrayal of the case is how they have been leaving out how this tragedy probably started: 3 men get into a car after a bachelor's party and drive into a parked vehicle. And then the driver backs up the vehicle striking another one behind it.

Let's not forget that alcohol is a killer, too.

Gunfighter said...

Welcome, Eliel!