The community of Grand Rapids Michigan is reeling after an officer-involved shooting shows that a suspect was shot in the back of the head while resisting during a routine traffic stop. The events of this shooting are clear as day, but it remains unclear if any officer will be charged with a crime. This comes after police officers involved in the George Floyd murder rejected pleas offered by state prosecutors.
Bodycam footage shows that the officer pulled over a vehicle for having a license plate that did not match the vehicle. The officer pulls over the vehicle and the suspect immediately gets out of the car. The suspect does not have a weapon, looks confused, and tells the officer he has a license, but does not produce one. Later, the suspect can be seen walking away from the officer and then running. The officer pursues, tackles the suspect, and a struggle ensues. The officer draws his taser, the suspect intercepts it with his hands and diverts it. A struggle ensues. The officer is on top of the suspect when he discharges his weapon into the back of the suspect’s head. The suspect dies immediately. An autopsy confirms that the cause of death is a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Police reform advocates are saying this is another example of ineffective policing leading to tragedy. Pro-police advocates say that the suspect was still reaching for the officer’s taser when he fired the weapon.
What both cannot disagree with is that this was an avoidable tragedy and significant changes need to be made to policy to avoid this sort of thing from happening again.
What Will Happen?
The suspect was resisting arrest and public support is behind the officer with the exception of the Black community personally impacted by the mess. While the suspect was indeed resisting, it was never entirely clear that he understood what was happening to him. In a case like that, the officers on the scene could have let the man run, called for backup, cornered him, neutralized him, and then negotiated a surrender. Instead, they escalated the situation, got into a wrestling match with the man, drew a taser close enough that the man could trap the taser in his hands, and eventually shot him in the back of the head.
The department will review the shooting, determine if the officer violated policy, and on that basis, recommend either disciplinary action or no disciplinary action. Prosecutors will review the case and determine if charges should be filed. They will then convene a grand jury which is unlikely to file charges on the basis of the fact that the suspect resisted. Even if the grand jury votes to charge the officer, it will be difficult to get a conviction in front of a jury. However, the officer should be scared that the current political climate will impact public opinion on the matter.
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