Was the Jason Harrison shooting by Dallas police justified?
March 18, 2015 § 1 Comment
Was the Jason Harrison shooting by Dallas police authorized per Use of Deadly Force Policy?
For the shooting video, click here. The department criminal investigation is complete and the case is currently under the DA’s control, who will send it to a grand jury. Internal Affairs also reviews the case to determine if the officers’ actions followed policy.
As a reference to determine if the deadly force was authorized, I use the Dallas Police Department Use of Deadly Force Policy (General Order 906.00). My opinion is based on the information I have–or don’t have, for example, the 911 emergency call. The description of the event per Dallas Police Department website and the full 20 minute video provide sufficient insight to make a judgement call.
Officers are authorized to use deadly force “to protect themselves or another person from imminent death or serious bodily injury.” Section C, “Avoiding the Use of Deadly Force,” is the thesis of UoDF policy. It reads,
At the point when an officer should reasonably perceive the potential exists that deadly force may be an outcome of any situation, the officer must use reasonable alternatives if time and opportunities permit. The reasonableness of the action is based upon the time available, the opportunity of performing the action, and the facts apparent to the officer prior to and during the incident.
UoDF policy defines “reasonably perceive” as “the facts or circumstances the employee knows, or should know, that would cause an ordinary and prudent peace officer to act or think in a similar way under similar circumstances.” The officers responded to a call (Major Disturbance CIT Mental Illness) by the mother complaining of her son’s (Harrison) behavior, specifically for making violent threats, and for assistance in transporting him to the hospital. Prior to arriving at the scene, the officers were unaware that Harrison was armed, though this doesn’t grant an excuse to rash decision making. Given the recent cases of officer involved shootings, then, one cannot conclude another officer would have acted differently; in fact, on the contrary, one would do better to conclude another officer would “act or think in a similar manner under similar circumstances.” For example, Bobby Bennet, who was also schizophrenic, after disobeying orders from DPD (again, responding to a Major Disturbance CIT Mental Illness call) and standing from his chair, suffered the same consequences as Harrison. Fortunately, these officers were terminated and ultimately indicted.
According to UoDF policy, “reasonable alternative” is defined as “an action that may be taken by the officer that may allow the officer to avoid the use of deadly force.” According to the video, a few reasonable alternatives were available to the officers at the time. One reasonable alternative was to increase the distance from the subject. The officers appear to maintain a 4 to 5 feet distance from Harrison throughout the incident. No attempt to increase the distance was made. The second alternative was to use a taser, a less lethal yet effective alternative to deadly force. A taser is the suggested weapon of choice in this scenario, especially because the subject was armed with a screwdriver–an instrument unable to cause serious deadly injury considering the distance.
UoDF policy defines “reasonable belief” as “a belief that would be held by an ordinary and prudent person in the same circumstances as the actor.” An ordinary person would have reacted with alarm and sought to restrain him, but considering Harrison’s distance, an ordinary person, I believe, wouldn’t regard Harrison’s alleged motion as a threat to serious bodily injury or life threatening. No effort to de escalate the incident was tried. The first choice of the officers was to resort to their firearm–despite having the option and adequate time to choose a taser. Mental health awareness–specifically, how law enforcement should deal with the mentally ill–is another aspect that goes outside the scope of this writing. Officers should not expect persons with such conditions to respond to commands or instructions normally. Considerations of Harrison’s mental health and cognitive disability were not taken into account.
My conclusion is that the officers violated departmental policy, failed to follow the philosophy of the DPD, most importantly that of protecting human life, and deserve termination.