Mimesis Law
11 December 2017

It’s Difficult To Convict A Police Officer For Killing Someone

December 23, 2016 (Fault Lines) – On August 31, 2012, Michael Vincent Allen fled from the police in Garland, Texas. The pursuit reached speeds of over 100 mph and ended in Mesquite, Texas after former Garland Officer Patrick Tuter rammed Allen’s white pickup truck with his squadcar. Tuter then fired 41 rounds into Allen’s vehicle, reloading twice.

Allen, who was unarmed, was struck 3 times, killing him, although his girlfriend, Monica Zabrano, was unharmed. Tuter, the only officer to fire on the vehicle, was subsequently fired and criminally indicted for manslaughter by the Dallas County grand jury. A few days ago, visiting Judge Quay Parker declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked in the case.

This is a unique situation. First, it was handled procedurally about as well as can be expected. The officer’s department (Garland PD) did an internal administrative investigation of Tuter. The Mesquite Police did the criminal investigation. The Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office appointed a special prosecutor, Juan Sanchez, to take the case to trial. An experienced visiting judge was brought in to hear the case. You can’t do it any better than that. And yet the jury still deadlocked, with the white jurors voting for acquittal and the minority jurors for convicting Tuter.

As the video shows, one of the Mesquite detectives testified that he thought the shooting was reasonable, despite the fact that the Garland officers on the scene testified that Tuter was not justified in shooting, and that Allen’s hands were in plain sight on the steering wheel.

Allen’s truck was trapped, blocked in by two squad cars in a cul-de-sac; he wasn’t going to be able to drive away. So Tuter, who later claimed that he was in fear of his life, fired 16 rounds from his Glock 9mm, reloaded, fired another 15 rounds, reloaded, and fired another 10 rounds. The 5 rounds remaining in his pistol formed the basis for one of the Mesquite detective’s testimony that Tuter was acting reasonably, because he didn’t empty the third magazine. At the same time, Garland Police fired Tuter—and they had noted publicly that the claim that Allen rammed Tuter’s car was false, the dashcam showed that Tuter had in fact rammed Allen’s truck.

There’s not going to be a conviction here, even though there probably should be, and you can blame that on the Mesquite Police.

The Texas Tribune did a study on police shootings in Texas from 2010 to 2015, and only took data from the state’s 36 largest cities (all over 100,000 population). There were 656 shooting incidents with 737 people shot at by 880 officers. Allen was unarmed, as were 17% of the individuals in the study.

Of the 880 officers, ten were fired, and fifteen were suspended or reprimanded. Only seven officers have been indicted, and none have been convicted. Those seven officers are:

  • Former Dallas officer Carden Spencer, indicted in the non-fatal shooting of a mentally-ill individual. The city settled the civil lawsuit for $1.6 million. The criminal trial is pending.
  • Former Austin detective Charles Kleinert, charged with manslaughter in the death of unarmed Larry Jackson, Jr. A federal judge dismissed the charges because Kleinert was part of a federal task force. The city settled a civil lawsuit for $1.25 million.
  • Fort Worth officer Courtney Johnson is charged with aggravated assault for the “accidental” shooting of Craigory Adams, who was holding a barbeque fork. The trial is pending.
  • Former El Paso officer Jorge Gonzalez is charged with aggravated assault for the shooting of unarmed Andres Cortez, paralyzing Cortez from the next down. His trial is pending.
  • Former Dallas officer Amy Wilburn is charged with aggravated assault for the shooting of Kelvion Walker, an unarmed passenger in a carjacked vehicle. Her trial is pending.
  • Former Pasadena officer Michael Martin was acquitted of official oppression for the shooting of unarmed Victor Hernandez, despite the discrepancy between Martin’s contention that he could not see Hernandez’s left hand and the video showing the left hand in plain view on the victim’s face.
  •  Former Garland officer Patrick Tuter, covered above.

The data on the shooting of unarmed persons by police gathered by the Tribune is consistent with the data collected by the Guardian newspaper study, the Counted. In 2015, 20% of the people killed by police were unarmed. This year, as of December 21st, 14% have been unarmed. The Tribune’s data showed 17% were unarmed (from 2010 to 2015).

That number is too high, especially when the public is reluctant to convict police officers for shooting or killing unarmed suspects. Louis Hayes, a police officer in a Chicago suburb, points out that police are being trained to fear their fellow citizens instead of to protect them. That’s why almost one in five of the people shot by police are unarmed. If you fear someone, you are more likely to shoot them, and police should be guardians, not warriors.

We’re starting to see more officers being taken to trial for this type of misconduct, but that’s not enough. We have to do two other things. We have to change the training and thereby the police mindset, and we have to educate the public so that they insist on police accountability.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • JAV
    23 December 2016 at 10:40 am - Reply

    “educate the public so that they insist on police accountability”

    You’re right, but the issue has difficulties that on my most optimistic days are only mostly impossible to address. For example

    1. Race, as the jury split in this case exemplifies. I think that BLM had a genuine chance at opening the minds of a lot of people, but it lost focus and became divisive instead.

    2. The narrative from police, unions specifically, that the kind of accountability being suggested will make policing harder and people less safe. I think it’s largely FUD, but FUD is effective.

  • Julian Ramirez
    31 December 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    The best chance to achieve progress toward reducing the number of police shootings, which should be the ultimate goal, will be through changes in police training. Although there will be outliers, the vast majority of shootings will never result in charges, much less convictions. As you accurately point out, police are trained to fear everyone. When an officer follows such training, how can we expect juries hold him accountable? We cannot change self-defense laws that protect everyone, including the police, and Graham v. Connor isn’t going away anytime soon. Thus, if success is to be achieved it must begin in our police academies.