Why Do Cops Who Shoot Unarmed People Get Their Guns Back?

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.


Past Member 2 years ago

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Mark White
Mark White4 years ago

It's time we put an end to police violence at any cost.

Chris F.
Chris F.4 years ago

The police should work unarmed.

Michael T.
Michael T4 years ago

@Tia gasps for air: I would be willing to bet you probably collect public assistance or disability and have criminal records.

None of the above is true so be prepared to hand over your money when you make bets like that. What is interesting is that you then claim that people who are on public assistance or disability are somehow unequal to everyone else, are people who should be denigrated.

You really do have some anger management and other emotional issues you are struggling with and losing the battle over controlling. If you have health insurance I am certain you could get treatment for these issues, but you have to take the first step Tia, and apply for help.

@Tia: You have nothing meanigful or worthy to contribute to society. This will be my last post on this subject so feel free to get the last word - I for one one be reading it.

Ha! I don’t believe that for a minute. You’ll read it, and it will be a test to see if you can overcome your anger management issues and hold yourself back from vomiting up more vitriol.

I doubt with your anger management issues that you will be able to resist more of your useless angry rants.

If you do stay away, the people on this thread will be delighted.

Michael T.
Michael T4 years ago

@Tia chokes: Why don't you both go stay in prison (or go back is probably more accurate) so you get the thrill of dropping your soap in the shower. Or better yet as I previously stated, go live in another country since you are so dissatisfied with this one. Yes, people like you make me very angry. You are a waste of air space

I’ve never been in prison. As for moving away to another country why should I? I believe I live in a country that is about freedom and rights and the right to voice my complaints when I see those who are charged with upholding the law are abusing their privileged status and demand that the legal system stop protecting officers who have broken the law and brutalized its citizenry. I believe I have the right and duty to make it right. I believe I have the right and duty to restore justice.

Michael T.
Michael T4 years ago


The people beaten up by a small mob of cops, ordered to put their hands behind their backs while face down on the ground with police purposely standing on their arms, and beaten further for not complying with the order, people of all ages tased to death (or hospitalized as a result), people of all ages shot and killed for no reason, people found sitting in the back of a police car after being frisked multiple times handcuffed behind themselves somehow manage to pull out an undiscovered gun and commit suicide, people’s pets shot & killed, police are confiscating cell phones of witnesses filming police brutality, and if they resist R brutalized and arrested, police turning off their car cams so that what they then criminally do to the subjects of their “investigation” can’t be recorded so that the police can’t be charged with the crimes they commit. None of these people were felons.

Michael T.
Michael T4 years ago

@Tia: The best you can do cite a few cases of "police brutality". I assure you, those cases are the minority rather than the majority.

Again, why am I surprised? You R wrong again. Your assurances R useless as are your claims. While such cases might have been in the minority in days long gone by, the number of cases of brutality unpunished, is on the rise. The number of cases I have collected over the past 2 years would fill a couple dozen Care2 posting windows.

Michael T.
Michael T4 years ago

@Tia: Your rants and arguments are redundant.

The only person ranting here is you. The arguments are hardly redundant and are and should be of gave concern to the citizens of this country.

@Tia: As I have already stated, you are both predjudiced bigots because you take the wrong doings of a few and group a whole profession as evil, corrupt and abusive. Who really is the "name caller" here?

Actually just saying these things doesn’t mean they are true and your posts have demonstrated that the bigotry and prejudice comes from you. You keep heaping insults, asserting claims that others are criminal among other things. How dare they disagree with the great Tia? I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.

@Tia: I choose to stand on the side of the law, not on the side of the criminals.

I choose to stand on the side of right and wrong when those who have chosen to uphold the law do not, and instead violate said law, it is my duty as an American to point it out and work towards alerting my fellow Americans of what is happening and how wrong it is.

Brian Foster
Brian F4 years ago

Tia The FBI murdered over seventy people, and closed ranks, calling them justiable homicides. The FBI murdered the Tsarnov brother after the Boston marathon bombings, and tried to cover up the autopsy, until a leaked photo was released to his father. Our law enforcement quickly close ranks, and are never held accountable for murder. In Oakland, CA at a Bart station, a 22 year old kid was murdered by a police officer. The officer got only two years in prison. Anybody else would have gotten life or the death penalty. Not all cops are bad, but the honest ones are quickly fired, if they question the honest regular corruption at the top. Closing ranks, and covering up illegal shootings, and beatings of people is a routine practice, as we saw in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, the mentally disturbed homeless man in Fullerton, CA.