Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day in Court: Police Killers of Civilians Tried

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg decided to skip the grand jury process and charge the officers who killed James Boyd, a man with psychiatric disabilities, with murder. Grand juries don't want to indict cops. Juries don't want to convict cops. But at least there will be a day in court.

Here's what the defense will say:
A defense lawyer characterized him as an unstable suspect who was "unpredictably and dangerously close to a defenseless officer while he was wielding two knives."
"I'm looking forward ... to the DA's office presenting one single witness that says this is murder," said Sam Bregman, a lawyer for Sandy.
Meanwhile, today, testimony began in the killing of a 95-year-old man, John Wrana, by police, in Park Forest, IL. Here is what the defense will say:
Craig Taylor carefully followed police policy and the orders of a superior, his lawyer said
"There was nothing reckless about what he did," said attorney Terry Ekl. "He had to make an instantaneous decision based on an order from his supervisor and his own assumptions."
Days in court are necessary, whatever the outcome. Police invocation of hypothetical threats usually, but not always, carry the day. If the police can persuade a jury that it was reasonable for them to fear for their life, they can justify using deadly force. In fact, it is often reasonable. The key is to have fair,  open, civilian-led, assessments of what happened and what the response should be. We give law enforcement enormous powers and that requires accountability and impartial oversight.

The Boyd killing is a pretty stark example of the problems with the Albuquerque PD.  Boyd was surrendering. Moreover, there was never a real threat to begin with. The PD incited this confrontation then responded to it with deadly force, in my reading of the video.

The Wrana case is more complicated. I expect Taylor will be exonerated for following procedure. I think the procedure has problems built into it, but that's a deeper issue.

What I'm happy about is that in both cases we'll to hear what a jury thinks, and that's the key. A system, a trial, an open process. With good attorneys on both sides. A jury of one's peers. That's how our system needs to work.