What happens to police officers who shoot unarmed citizens while on duty? More often than not, nothing. Even in the most egregious examples of misconduct and bad policing, officers are found not guilty in court (if they even stand trial in the first place) and are free to return to duty… re-armed to potentially cause more harm in the future.
This pattern is a serious miscarriage of justice. By refusing to hold police officers to a certain standard, it signals that cops can pretty easily get away with murder. With no reason to fear consequences, the police can continue to shoot at innocent or not-dangerous suspects without worrying about how it will affect their careers.
Here are five of the most high profile cases that have been cleared in the past year:
1. While on a manhunt for Christopher Dorner last year, LAPD mistook a vehicle carrying two older women delivering newspapers for that of their suspect. (For the record, the truck was a different make and color than the one for which they were searching.) Without even first identifying the car’s driver or passenger, eight police officers fired more than 100 bullets into the car, seriously injuring senior citizen Emma Hernandez.
This shoot first/check later approach cost the LAPD $4.7 million in a settlement, but the officers involved have received a minimal slap on the wrist: “retraining” before being re-armed and put back on the beat.
2. After being involved in two questionable shootings in a matter of a few months, Chicago cop Gildardo Sierra was permitted to continue to patrol the streets. Not even half a year since the first shooting, Sierra fired 16 bullets into an unarmed man. Sierra even admits to being intoxicated at the time of the shooting, though his fellow officers helped him hide the evidence of that by not testing his blood alcohol level until five hours after the incident. Lest you think the third time is a charm in stopping this bad policing, Sierra is still a free man.
Despite some pretty damning video evidence of Sierra firing the fatal shots after the victim was already incapacitated, the prosecution decided not to pursue criminal charges, leaving Sierra to face no punishment for his fatal actions. At the very least, a Chicago police official admit that Sierra should not have still been on active duty after the first two shootings.
3. Technically, the police didn’t use their guns in this incident, but a pair of officers still managed to beat an unarmed schizophrenic homeless man, Kelly Thomas, to death with a baton and stun guns in Fullerton, California. Witnesses to the beating were certain that the officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli used excessive force, but the cops still managed to be acquitted in a trial last month.
As is usually the case, the jurors seemed to take the officers at their word and found them not guilty in less than a day. Not only did this verdict upset Thomas’s family who has called for a federal investigation, but it also has enabled the involved officers to patrol the streets again.
4. In Anaheim, Manuel Diaz, a 25-year-old unarmed man, was gunned down by the police while attempting to flee. The very next day, Joel Mathew Acevedo was shot to death by police during a similar foot chase. Seeing a clear pattern, residents of the city held large assemblies to protest the police killing members of their community. However, it does not appear as though the police department took their complaints too seriously.
Both officers were quickly cleared of any wrong-doing (by their fellow officers, no less) and were back to work as usual — with guns even — within two weeks of the infamous incidents.
5. When a police officer approached Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old holding a toy gun in Santa Rosa, witnesses claim the cop shouted just once before firing bullets at the kid. Without ever having a proper opportunity to prove that he didn’t pose a threat to the officer, Lopez died. Despite public outrage that a police officer would start with such lethal aggression when dealing with such a young person, the officer, Deputy Erick Gelhaus had his job reinstated in under two months.
His superiors in the police department said, “In good conscience, we can’t just let him sit there. Our job is to get him back to work.”
One of the main ways to resolve this situation would be to take the power of investigating police shootings out the hands of police departments themselves as that introduces a clear conflict of interest. Join the Care2 community in signing a petition to reform the way investigations in Dallas are conducted after a police shooting.