Warning: This is long.
Disclaimer: This is written as a perspective, not official guidance on the law or police procedures. If you have questions on your laws and ordinances, seek professional guidance. This article (nor its author) may not necessarily represent the opinions and thoughts of the Beavercreek Police Department (or any of its members), or the City of Beavercreek, or any agency the author is affiliated with.
By now most of us have seen the video of the shooting that took place in Wal-Mart in Beavercreek back in August. So for those of you who follow me, I want to clear up a few points in this article.
For those of you who don’t know me personally, here is how I come to the following conclusions. I’ve been around public safety since 2008 and a Chaplain since 2012. I’ve spent over 500 hours in a police cruiser with police. I have been in situations that I thought I might have to use a weapon in defense, or almost hit by a passing car in traffic. I have not come to these conclusions lightly, but I have used my training and experiences, experiences that I know most people do not have or understand.
1) This thing about the gun John Crawford was holding was a “toy” or a “BB Gun”. It was neither, it was an “air rifle”, which is very different. There is even a warning on the box “This is not a toy”, it was a MK-177 (.177 caliber) BB/Pellet Rifle, manufactured by Crosman. And while most reports are that it is unlikely that the MK-177 would kill a human, it “can kill squirrels, snakes, rabbits or small birds if aimed properly.” That being said, I think the fact some are overlooking is that the air rife he was holding was DESIGNED to look like it’s assault counter part.
2) That he was not “waiving it around or pointing it at people.” This is only sort of true. First, keep in mind that the video we see, Crawford is out of the picture for over two minutes according to the FBI. A lot can happen in two minutes they we might not be able to see. That being said, he was swinging the weapon around, alternating from pointed up to pointed down. So he WAS waiving it around.
3) “Ritchie should be charged”. Let’s set the stage for the 911 call. Now whether the caller did anything wrong or not it isn’t my call. However, to get a charge for abuse of 911, here is the snippet from the Ohio Revised Code.
(E) No person shall knowingly use the telephone number of a 9-1-1 system established under this chapter to report an emergency if the person knows that no emergency exists.
(F) No person shall knowingly use a 9-1-1 system for a purpose other than obtaining emergency service.
Now I’m not a legal expert, but it appears to get this charge to “stick” you would have to PROVE he called 911 knowing “that no emergency exists” or he was using it “for a purpose other than obtaining emergency service” . He may have thought it was real or there was an emergency at the time, and as long as that is the case, he did not abuse the 911 service. And based on the justice system we have, you are innocent until proven guilty. So what was Ritchie not charged? My conjecture is that given the law above, they can not prove he “abused 911″.
4) “Since the gun was not real, the Beavercreek officers should not have taken the action of assuming Crawford was armed and dangerous.” This is based on a faulty understanding of police tactics. There are two ways to look at this type of call. It can be considered “a man with a gun” or an “active shooter”. While the first can be dangerous, the latter is usually always dangerous to citizens and officers.
Let’s take for example that I am coming from /going to the gun range with a handgun. Places like Wal-Mart and Kroger do not prohibit me from having a firearm on the premises. So I walk in with my holstered firearm on my hip. Someone gets “scared” and calls 911 to report that I have a gun. At this time they are truly concerned and the local police dispatch to Wal-Mart. They see me and knowing my firearm is holstered and I am making no dangerous signs, they feel free to strike up a conversation, they may do nothing at all, or they may hang around for a little to see what I intend to do. For this scenario, I am “a man with a gun”.
An “active shooter” scenario is much different. The FBI defines it as this: “An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, and recent active shooter incidents have underscored the need for a coordinated response by law enforcement and others to save lives.” Now I am headed into a location for the specific reason of taking as many casualties as I can before I exit (usually suicide when they see cops closing in). Active shooters don’t care about money and negotiation is out. To them, the end game is already mapped out for them. The only way to save lives is to “eliminate the threat” before they have the chance to take/take more lives. We see what happens when we wait by looking at Columbine. The training of the day was to lock down the perimeter and wait for SWAT. We know now that costs way too many lives. Then it became a 4 man team (you have to wait for 3 other officers) then to a two-man team, and some places even talk about a solo officer taking out the threat.
So based on the information they had, they thought they were going into an active shooter situation. In which case the procedure is to confront and stop the threat.
In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)
, the United States Supreme Court held that the “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
The Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” inquiry is whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Pp. 490 U. S. 396-397.
Sergreant Darkow and Officer Williams both stated that Crawford was asked to put the weapon down and did not. However, even if that was not the case, if he thought he or someone else was in danger he had the legal right to use deadly force. Then the Grand Jury concluded that he did what he was trained to do and what a reasonable officer would do in the situation. So what we can not do is come behind an officer when more facts or testimony is out and judge based on what “we now know.”. The only thing relevant , based on the law, is the information the officers had at the time and whether or not that acted from the perspective of a “reasonable officer on the scene”. The Grand Jury, determining that fact, declined to charge the officers with any criminal act.
I hope this article is informative and help put the WalMart shooting in perspective.
If you are one of my LEO friends and you have additional thoughts, examples or clearification, please let me know and I’ll update the article.