Normally on weird law Fridays we explore some funny or obscure law, but today we are looking at a different type of "weird" law. According to the law, police are given a lot of leeway to decide for themselves the level of threat they are facing, and whether it requires deadly force to counteract. The state prosecutors who would ultimately press charges against a police officer are also closely related to law enforcement, so they may be more sympathetic to an officer who used deadly force.
Just yesterday, a police officer in New York City opened fire on an allegedly unarmed civilian and fatally shot him. The fatally shot man was 28 years old, and he was standing in a darkened stairway at a Brooklyn public housing project.
Witnesses Say the Shot Man Was Unarmed
The officer who shot the man was on patrol with his partner when the shooting occurred. He and his partner made contact with the man at approximately 11 p.m. on Thursday evening at a housing project called the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York. The police record did not indicate whether the deceased man had a weapon at the time of the shooting. However, the New York Times reported that according to witnesses he was unarmed.
The policeman was walking down from the eighth floor of the building and he was standing in a stairwell when the 28-year-old came into the stairwell from the seventh floor. The officer discharged one bullet in the direction of the man and shot him in the chest. He was then rushed to the hospital and, unfortunately, doctors were unable to save him.
What Does the Law Say on Deadly Police Force?
Police can use deadly force in certain situations, even if the person is not armed. Based on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling (Scott v. Harris), a police officer is legally allowed to ram a suspect's car if the suspect is speeding away and therefore threatening the safety of others. The use of such deadly force, therefore, does not constitute a violation of the constitutional rights of the fleeing suspect.
In the case of a deadly shooting, the suspected officer will talk with lawyers and his police union before speaking about the incident to anyone else. This gives the officer a chance to prepare his or her "version" of the story, which could help create a more solid defense against potential charges. If charges do come forth against an officer who used deadly force, they will likely be some kind of reckless homicide charge, like manslaughter or second degree murder. Still, it is likely that family members of the fatally killed suspect will want to investigate the possibility of pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit relating their loved one's death.
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