Shooting from the Pocket
After the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana, I have been asked to provide some insight as to what my thoughts are regarding the legalities surrounding the circumstances of this event which unfortunately ended in death. A cell-phone recorded video of his death (shown below) captured a blurry and obscured view of the events that unfolded as Alton Sterling was shot and killed during an arrest. During this video, one could argue that police did in deed have control of Alton and that he was executed as the officer produced a .40 caliber handgun and shot Alton four times from "compression" distance.
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A second video shows a better view of the encounter and does seem to portray Alton as having gone for his weapon, a revolver which was located in his pocket. It later shows the Officer retrieve the firearm from Alton's pocket and place it away from him as Alton appears to expire. Caution: this video does capture the actual death of Alton Sterling.
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From this angle, it would appear the Officer closer to the legs of Alton Sterling would have had a very upclose view of not only his hands, but also of the firearm. You can actually hear that Officer announce that Alton has a gun, which is when the Officer towards his head draws his weapon. In full transparency, it is not entirely clear if one Officer fired all four shots. I would think that the Officer towards Alton's head fired the first two shots from compression distance. As he retreated, I would think that the second Officer had drawn his firearm and engaged him with the second set of shots. I do not know this, but judging from the video- that is my assumption. Also keep in mind that I am not an attorney, nor am I privvy to any additional information or evidence regarding this case.
So- in my eyes, is this a justifiable and judicious use of force? Judging just by this video evidence and Officer testimony, I would be inclinded to say YES. The Officer that was toward Alton's legs and announced the firearm was in grave danger if Alton were to successfully reach his firearm, even with it still in his pocket. EVEN WITH IT STILL IN HIS POCKET? YES. An unholstered, snub-nose revolver (like the one in Alton Sterling's pocket), can absolutely be fired from that position. Suspect has a gun and an intent to retrieve it while resisting arrest = grounds for lethal force.
Did the Officer(s) have to shoot him 4 times?
As we constantly reiterate in our teaching, handguns suck at killing people. The reason that we advocate the use of handguns for personal defense is because their small stature allows them to be concealed and carried with us. Therefore the chance of us having them with us when needed are substantially higher than that of us having a rifle. With that being said, they are still relatively inefficient at shutting down "the human machine" because of their smaller projectiles and slower muzzle velocities than that of a rifle or shotgun. For this reason, we are constantly trained to fire our weapon into the threat until the threat ceases the action that made us originally start firing at him. (Read that again...) In short, we shoot the threat until it is no longer a threat. As you can clearly see in the second video, Alton Sterling is still moving even after the fourth shot is fired. It is clear he is no longer a threat, and thus- the Officer(s) stopped firing at him. Is it a sad and tragic circumstance? Yes. Is it evidence of police brutality or some inherent racial discrimination? No, it isn't. It's a suspect who is resisting arrest and goes for a firearm which is located directly on his person. The Officer(s) engaged the threat until he was no longer a threat, and removed the firearm from the possession of the suspect.
In conclusion- while everyone wishes this arrest would have gone differently and not ended in the death of the suspect, it is my opinion that the Officer(s) handled the situation legally and effectively.