Mimesis Law
21 August 2017

The Death of Brandon Jones: Tragic, But Not Criminal

October 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) – In March of 2015, Cleveland officer Alan Buford and his partner Greg King responded to a convenience store break in, where they found 18-year-old Brandon Jones exiting the store with a bag of stolen cigarettes, cigars and coins. Jones used a crowbar to break into the store in the middle of the night, and the cash register was found by the door. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department conducted the criminal investigation and turned its results over to District Attorney Timothy J. McGinty.

You may remember McGinty, he was the DA who presented the Tamir Rice case to the grand jury that no-billed officer Timothy Loehmann. McGinty paid a price for making the correct, but unpopular decision, as he was defeated for reelection. Now, as a lame duck, he’s obtained the indictment of Buford for the death of the unarmed Jones. I’m sorry, but while he was right on Loehmann, he’s dead wrong on Buford.

Look, I understand some of the argument. It was the second officer-involved shooting that Buford was connected to—in 2004, Arlington Wilson, Jr. pinned Buford’s partner, Reginald Smith against a house with Wilson’s vehicle, and Smith fired eleven times into Wilson. Wilson then pulled the vehicle away from the house, freeing Smith, exited the vehicle and began to fight with Buford, before he collapsed and died. Smith was absolutely justified in shooting Wilson, but Cleveland settled the wrongful death lawsuit for $10,000. That’s chump change—the cost of taking it to trial would be far greater than $10,000.

I’m sympathetic to the fact that Jones was unarmed and a teenager, but lets face it clearly. Jones was a felon, a person committing the offense of breaking and entering to commit a theft, a fifth-degree felony in Ohio. McGinty has stated that it is not appropriate to use deadly force to protect property, and he’s absolutely correct. But in taking this case to the grand jury and indicting Buford, he’s absolutely wrong.

Let me lay this out for you. When Buford and King entered the convenience store, they did so with their guns drawn. Every halfway sensible cop would do the same because they are investigating a felony break-in and they don’t know if the suspect is still there or if he’s armed. It’s not a chance you take.

In the early part of my career, an officer I know was shot in the neck by his own gun while investigating a burglary. The burglar jumped him, fought with him, and managed to shoot the officer with his own gun. He survived and was lucky to be alive.[1]

That’s the reason that Buford should not have been indicted. Yes, I know that Buford said that he did not intend to shoot Jones, that it was an accident. Yes, I know that this technically matches the elements of the offense of negligent homicide, the lowest level of homicide in Ohio. Right now, Buford is still employed by the Cleveland Police, assigned to restricted duty while under indictment.

The police union is supporting Buford, as they should. Last year they held a fund-raiser for Buford, raffling off a Glock 26 pistol[2] and a 40-inch smart TV. That infuriated Paul Cristallo, the Jones family lawyer who was suing the department for wrongful death.[3] Union president Steve Loomis blew off Cristallo’s comments. He pointed out that Buford was not able to work off-duty jobs and was having difficulty paying his bills. Loomis can be an ass, but he’s right in this case, and this is one reason to have police unions.

Buford has entered a not guilty plea. I think McGinty is wrong here. He should, but won’t, drop the case. Unless there is some evidence that I’m not aware of, Buford is going to win, because he should win.

If you decide to fight with the police while committing a burglary at night, and you end up dead, that’s just nature’s way of thinning the herd. Try working for a living instead of thieving. You’ll likely live a lot longer.

[1] In an interesting twist, over 25 years later I found myself as a law-school classmate of his daughter, a bright young woman who is going to be a very good lawyer.

[2] Cleveland detectives carry the Glock 26, a sub-compact 9mm. Patrol officers carry either the full-size Glock 17 or compact Glock 19, also in 9mm.

[3] The suit claims that Jones was already in custody, which is at odds with what the officers reported, that Jones was actively struggling with Buford.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Brad
    28 October 2016 at 10:11 am - Reply

    Society is better off when we have criminal trials in situations like this. I have not yet formed a firm conclusion about whether Buford* is not guilty or guilty. But I would like to.

    • Greg Prickett
      28 October 2016 at 11:46 am - Reply

      Brad, if Buford intentionally fired his pistol into Jones chest, I would agree, but that would be a higher charge, either murder or manslaughter.

      Negligent homicide has no intentional or knowing component, it is based on the gun being accidentally fired. And when a felony suspect is fighting with you, it’s very possible that in your efforts to maintain control of the gun, it will discharge. It shouldn’t be a crime for an officer to retain his gun while fighting with a felon.

      This shouldn’t have been taken to court.

  • DaveL
    28 October 2016 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Yes, I know that this technically matches the elements of the offense of negligent homicide

    But of course that’s not a real, arrestable crime, like flirtatiously stealing french fries off your plate. Because of things that happened to a totally different person some years ago.

    • Greg Prickett
      28 October 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      There are plenty of real, arrestable crimes that are not charged every day. There are even more that get to the DAs office and are dropped.

      This should have been dropped.

  • ken
    28 October 2016 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Where is the video?
    Are we as citizens expected to again take the word of an officer who finds himself in a jam and is supported in his reports by many including attorneys while every citizen is interrogated for endless hours often without an attorney present?

  • Thomas
    1 November 2016 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Greg,

    Thank you very much for writing this. While I may disagree with you and your reasoning, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.