Fifteen most outrageous responses by police after killing unarmed people

by Bill Quigley

After this April 8 rally at North Charleston City Hall protesting unarmed Walter Scott’s death at the hands of Officer Michael Slager, Slager was fired and charged with murder, a highly unusual step. Slager’s excuse was that Scott ran away from him after being stopped for a broken taillight. – Photo: Richard Ellis, AFP
After this April 8 rally at North Charleston City Hall protesting unarmed Walter Scott’s death at the hands of Officer Michael Slager, Slager was fired and charged with murder, a highly unusual step. Slager’s excuse was that Scott ran away from him after being stopped for a broken taillight. – Photo: Richard Ellis, AFP

Police kill a lot of unarmed people. So far in 2015, as many as 100 unarmed people have been killed by police. Here are 15 of the most outrageous reasons given by police to justify killing unarmed people in the last 12 months.

First, a bit of background: So far in 2015, there have been around 400 fatal police shootings already; one in six of those killings, 16 percent, was of unarmed people, 49 had no weapon at all and 13 had toys, according to the Washington Post.

Of the police killings this year, less than 1 percent have resulted in the officer being charged with a crime. The Guardian did a study which included killings by Tasers and found 102 people killed by police so far in 2015 were unarmed and that unarmed Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police as whites.

Police kill a lot of unarmed people. So far in 2015, as many as 100 unarmed people have been killed by police. Here are 15 of the most outrageous reasons given by police to justify killing unarmed people in the last 12 months. 

One. He was Dancing in the Street and Walking with a Purpose. On June 9, 2015, an unarmed man, Ryan Bollinger, was shot by police in Des Moines after “walking with a purpose” towards the police car after he exited his vehicle following a low speed chase, started when he was observed dancing in the street and behaving erratically. The deceased was shot by the police through the rolled up cruiser window. The murder is under investigation.

Two. Thought It Was My Taser. An unarmed man, Eric Harris, ran from the police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on April 2, 2015. After he was shot in the back by a Taser by one officer and was on the ground, another 73-year-old volunteer reserve officer shot and killed him, all captured by video. While dying, he was yelling that he was losing his breath, to which one of the officers responded “F*ck your breath.” The police said the officer thought he was shooting his Taser and “inadvertently discharged his service weapon.” The officer has been charged with second degree manslaughter. Running away from the police so often provokes police overreaction that the aggressive police response has several names, including the “foot tax and the “running tax.”

Three. Naked Man Refused to Stop. A naked unarmed mentally ill Air Force Afghanistan veteran, Anthony Hill, was shot and killed March 9, 2015, by DeKalb County, Georgia, police after police said he refused an order to stop. The killing is under investigation.

Four. Not Going to Say. On March 6, 2015, Aurora, Colorado, police shot and killed unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant while taking him into custody. For the last three months, while the investigation into the killing continues, the police have refused to say what compelled the officer to shoot Vinzant.

Five. Five Police Felt Threatened by One Unarmed Homeless Man. On March 1, 2015, Los Angeles police shot and killed an unarmed homeless man, Charly Leundeu Keunang, after five officers went to his tent and struggled with him. One unarmed homeless man threatened five armed LAPD officers? Los Angeles police have killed about one person a week since 2000. An investigation is ongoing.

Six. My Taser Didn’t Work. On Feb. 23, 2015, an unarmed man, Daniel Elrod, was shot twice in the back and once in the shoulder and killed by Omaha, Nebraska, police after he tried to climb a tree and jump a fence to escape police who suspected him of robbery. Police said their Taser did not work, he ignored their demands to get down on the ground, he did not show his hands and they felt threatened. Video was not made available and the officer later resigned. This was the second person this officer killed. No criminal charges were filed.

Seven. Armed with a Broom. Lavall Hall’s mother called the police in Miami Gardens Feb. 15, 2015, and asked for help for her son who was mentally ill. Lavall Hall, 5-foot-4-inches tall, walked outside with a broom and was later shot and killed by police who said he failed to comply with instructions and engaged them with an object. The killing is still under investigation.

Eight. Throwing Rocks. On Feb. 10, 2015, an unarmed man, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was fired at 17 times and killed by police in Kennewick, Washington. A video of his killing has been viewed more than 2 million times. Officers said he had been throwing rocks at cars, ran away and then turned around.

Nine. Taser Worked but He Didn’t Stop Moving. On Feb. 2, 2015, a Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, police officer shot unarmed David Kassick in the back with a Taser and, when Kassick went to the ground on his stomach, then shot him twice with her gun in the back, killing him. The officer said Kassick, who was running away from a traffic stop, was told to show his hands and not move but continued to try to remove the Taser prongs from his back and the officer thought he was reaching for a gun. The officer has been charged with homicide.

Ten. Car going 11 Miles an Hour was Going to Kill Me. Denver police fired eight times at unarmed Jessica Hernandez, 17, who was killed Jan. 16 after being hit by four bullets. The police said she drove too close to them and may have tried to run them down as she tried to drive away so they shot into the windshield and driver’s windows. The police said the car may have reached 11 miles per hour in the 16 feet it traveled before hitting a fence. The police were not charged.

Eleven. Armed with a Spoon. Dennis Grigsby, an unarmed mentally ill man holding a soup spoon, was shot in the chest and killed in a neighbor’s garage by Texarkana police on Dec. 15, 2015. The killing is under investigation.

Twelve. Armed with Prescription Bottle. Rumain Brisbon, a 34-year-old unarmed man, was shot twice and killed by police in Phoenix on Dec. 2, 2014, after he ran away, was caught and was in a struggle with the officer who mistook a prescription pill bottle in Brisbon’s pocket for a gun. The police officer was not charged.

Thirteen. It Was an Accident. On Nov. 20, 2014, a New York City police officer fired into a stairwell and killed unarmed Akai Gurley. The officer, who was charged with manslaughter, is expected to say he accidently fired his gun.

Fourteen. Don’t Mention It. On Nov. 12, 2014, an unarmed handcuffed inmate was shot multiple times in the head, neck, chest and arms by officers while fighting with another handcuffed inmate in the High Desert State Prison in Carson City, Nevada. His family was not told and did not know he had been shot until three days later when they claimed his body at a mortuary.

Fifteen. Armed with Toy Gun. John Crawford was unarmed in a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, on Aug. 4, 2014, when he picked up an unloaded BB gun. When officers arrived, they say they ordered him to put down the gun and started shooting, hitting him at least twice and killing Mr. Crawford. In a widely viewed video, Mr. Crawford can be seeing dropping the BB gun, running away and being shot while unarmed. Likewise, Cleveland police shot and killed an unarmed 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy pellet gun on Nov. 22, 2014. Police said they shouted verbal commands from inside their vehicle in the two seconds before they shot him twice. In both these cases, the police story of shouting warnings and orders looks quite iffy at best.

These are the responses of police authorities who face less than one chance in a hundred of being charged when they kill people, even unarmed people. These outrages demand massive change in the way lethal force is used, reported, justified and prosecuted.

Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.