Officer Patrick Feaster: It’s Not Murder When It’s By Cop
December 15, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Apparently unable to recite the magic words, Paradise, California police officer Patrick Feaster did the next best thing: kept his mouth shut, well, at least temporarily. For his silence, or maybe for his service, he was rewarded.
Walk up to a man. Pull a gun. Take aim. Fire. That’s the making of a murder, unless you’re a cop.
On November 25, 2015, then Officer Feaster was pursuing a truck when the driver rolled the vehicle, ejecting his passenger. The pursuit began when Andrew Thomas and his wife left a local bar. Thomas sped out of the parking lot, failing to turn on his headlights.
On duty that night, Feaster got behind him with his lights flashing and his patrol cruiser’s dashboard camera recording.
The truck veered into the opposing traffic lane, struck a median and flipped onto its side. The force of the crash ejected Thomas’s wife. She died a short time later.
As Feaster approached the overturned vehicle he saw Thomas climbing out of the driver’s side window. Feaster walked up, pull his gun, took aim, and fired. Thomas fell back into the car. Feaster walked up, holstering his weapon, and looked into the car. After a few seconds, Feaster called out for help.
“I’ve got an unresponsive female,” he said, according to dashboard-camera footage. “I’ve got a man in the car refusing to get out.”
The man refused to get out couldn’t get out of the car. The bullet to the neck paralyzed Thomas causing Thomas to fall limply back into the car.
Over 11 minutes would pass before Feaster said a word about discharging his weapon. He hadn’t notified dispatch of any threat. He hadn’t notified dispatch of an officer-involved shooting. He hadn’t requested medical treatment for Thomas, only the unresponsive female. Instead, he acted like the man simply refused to get out of the car. Instead, he walked around the scene, talked to other officers, and collected evidence tampered with evidence.
As another officer tended to Thomas’s dying wife, a third officer spoke to Thomas. Thomas was trying to tell the officer he had been shot. Of course he hadn’t been shot! There was no reason to believe he had been shot. The officer told him he was wrong. Feaster didn’t say a word. Instead he continued his evidence search. After all, he had a spent casing to locate and dispose of.
Paramedics responded. Tending to Thomas’s wife, Feaster again remained silent about Thomas.
Eventually it became clear that Thomas was, in fact, shot. Officers are holding the scene. Firefighters and paramedics are tending to Thomas and his wife. Officers want to go back to the club to find out how Thomas may have been shot. Time to come clean.
At the very end of the YouTube video, beginning at 12:50, Feaster tells a supervisor:
I think I shot him. I wasn’t even pointed at him. The gun did go off.
The supervisor responds:
Oh my fucking god, are you serious?
But it’s ok. All is well, right?
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey initially declined to press charges against the officer. Three weeks after the shooting, Ramsey told reporters that prosecutors couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Feaster intended to fire his weapon.
Yes, all was well! No charges would be filed. This was just an accident and the prosecutor couldn’t prove Feaster meant to fire his weapon.
Whoops; not so fast.
[A]mid the outrage and protests that followed, the district attorney brought the involuntary manslaughter charges.
Involuntary manslaughter. Not intentional. Not murder. He didn’t intend to un-holster his weapon. He didn’t intentionally pull the trigger. He didn’t mean to hide the fact that he had shot a man. After all, he was upfront and honest in the minutes following the shooting, like any honest citizen, right?
So much for the normal prosecutorial theory. If this was an accident, surely Feaster would have called 911 or at least dispatch to report the accidental discharge. If this was justified, surely Feaster would have recited the law enforcement magic words. If he hadn’t meant to fire his weapon, he would have just explained that. If he hadn’t wanted to conceal his shooting, he wouldn’t have removed the spent shell casings from the scene. Normally, these circumstances taken together show intent. That’s the normal prosecutorial theory for murder; the circumstances surrounding the shooting show the shooter’s intent. Except when it comes to a police officer being accused.
Charged and tried for involuntary manslaughter, Feaster was convicted. He faced up to five years in prison. Instead, last week he received 180 days in jail and three-years probation. Like any accused, he is eligible to receive half-time jail credit for good behavior, so he could do as little as 90 days in jail.
Probation. Perhaps it was the right result. After all, most defendants get reduced charges and probation for killing someone, right? Dr. Conrad Murray got probation after being convicted in the death of Michael Jackson, right? My bad. Murray was sentenced to four years behind bars for his involuntary manslaughter conviction. But then again, Dr. Murray wasn’t a cop.