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Police Shootings Draw Attention

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The recent police shooting in South Carolina, coming after last year's case in Missouri, has drawn attention again to the use of deadly force by police officers.

When an officer encounters trouble, he is supposed to follow a multi-step procedure that is frequently called the "continuum of force." Essentially, several intermediate steps are mandated to diffuse a potentially violent situation before the officer discharges his gun.

Of course, officers frequently face circumstances that suddenly involve lethal situations. In those cases, they can legitimately use their weapons.

The trouble occurs when the circumstances do not necessitate deadly force. Too often a suspect is killed and no weapon is found upon him. I have personally handled cases with that exact situation. The officer then claims that the now-deceased suspect was reaching for his belt or boot. Or, the officer may say that he saw something shiny.

Courts give a wide berth to such descriptions of the situations offered by officers when they are questioned about the matter. Since "history is told by the survivors," there remains no one to contradict the officers' narrative.

A partial solution to this problem is the use of body-cams. Although they will not capture and resolve disputes about every encounter in which violence is used, they can help three ways. First, with a body-cam, the officer can successfully demonstrate a legitimate use force when it is justified. Second, with video, the suspect or his survivors can challenge an officer's spurious claims when there is a naked, unnecessary shooting, as appears to be the case in South Carolina. Third, the very fact that officers are equipped with body-cams may deter both them and possibly even suspects from committing acts that they know will be recorded for subsequent review. In other words, the use of violence itself may be deterred in some instances. This should be welcome news to all concerned, just as understanding the truth of an incident should be part of evaluating and managing police officers and their departments. It is time to provide body-cams to law enforcement officers.

If you or someone you know has been injured by the use of excessive force, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or toll free at 1-800-870-9584.

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