A LaSalle, Colorado police officer has been charged with second degree murder after he shot a man in a dollar store parking lot, during an investigation about a car’s suspicious paint job. It was the officer’s third day of training with that police department. Can a police officer shoot a man attempting to flee a suspicious paint job investigation?
There’s a huge update to the case where my client, Darius Lester, was shot by a SWAT team, while trying to sleep in his home. As explained previously, he had no criminal record and had committed no crime. The West Virginia State Police was executing a search warrant for that residence that was entirely unrelated to Darius. They claimed that Darius confronted them and came at them with a hammer, for which they charged him with a felony. That charge has now been to court….
The family of Christian Glass, who was shot and killed by police last year after calling for help from the side of the road, will receive $19 million from the state of Colorado and local authorities as part of a settlement, making it the largest police settlement paid by the state and one of the largest in the country.
Two police officers in Clearwater, Florida, were suspended following an incident wherein they both shot at each other in the darkness. They responded to a call about a man firing a gun in his backyard. They approached silently, in the darkness, positioned themselves, and when the man fired a round, they both essentially mag-dumped at each other. One of the officers was hit.
Reid fired 18 rounds and Woodie fired six, according to internal affairs documents. Reid fired toward where he saw a “muzzle flash,” believing that direction to be Wassman’s location. However, he did not see Wassman, internal affairs documents say.
Woodie told internal affairs he saw a person in dark clothing holding a gun and believed he was firing at Wassman. However, one of Woodie’s bullets grazed Reid’s arm, and officers also found four “projectile materials” from Woodie’s rounds in a neighboring home.
On March 10, the West Virginia State Police Special Response Team executed a search warrant in McDowell County, West Virginia and shot 21 year old Darius Lester multiple times. Yesterday I went and met Darius and his family and examined the scene of the shooting. The truth is far from what the state police gave to the news media. Let me tell you what really appears to have happened. By the way, this is the same state police currently all over the news for being exposed as completely untrustworthy, as I just detailed in a recent video.
Here’s what was given to the news media:
One man was injured Friday during an officer involved shooting while troopers with the West Virginia State Police were serving a search warrant.
At about 5:45 a.m., members of the West Virginia State Police SRT acting in cooperation with the FBI served a search warrant at the residence of Jeremy Lester….
Upon entry, members were confronted by Darius Lester, 22 of Big Sandy, who was armed and attempted to attack the members with a hammer. Members engaged the suspect and shots were fired stopping the threat, Maddy said.
First aid was administered on scene until EMS arrived. Darius Lester was transported to Raleigh General Hospital for his injuries.
Here’s what really happened:
Darius had been asleep on the couch in the home’s living room, where he liked to sleep. Darius was unarmed at the time he was shot and was still on his bed, as indicated by the pool of blood on and underneath the couch where he was sleeping. Darius has no criminal record. He was not under arrest. He was not suspected of having committed any crime. He was merely sleeping on the couch in a house where police were executing a search warrant unrelated to him. Darius works as a coal truck driver. He works the night shift. He had just gotten off work at around 4 a.m. He then went to sleep shortly after getting home. Sometime after 5 a.m. the state police SWAT team showed up. Everyone was asleep, including Darius.
I’ve already examined the actual search warrant that formed the basis of the raid. It did not provide for a no knock entry. It also contained no allegations that anyone inside the home was armed or dangerous. In fact, from my understanding, nobody who lived in the home even had a criminal record at all.
Law enforcement was there to execute a search warrant based on the illegal possession of explicit photographs allegedly downloaded by Darius’ uncle. There were no allegations alleged in the warrant application that executing this particular search warrant posed any threat of danger to law enforcement. So why call out the state police’s SWAT team, the SRT? The allegations against the uncle solely pertained to downloading illegal photographs. There was nothing about violence or physical danger to police officers executing a search warrant. It’s my understanding that the uncle had no prior criminal history. Nor were there any allegations at all against Darius.
The press release said that “upon entry” they encountered Darius, who had a hammer. Well, the photographs I took yesterday show where Darius was when they encountered him: asleep on the couch in the living room, which is quite a ways from where they made entry. They would have made entry and rounded the corner into the living room before encountering him and waking him up, flashlights in his eyes, probably startled and confused.
The photographs of the blood stains show where the violence occurred – right on the bed/couch where Darius had been sleeping.
Why would Darius attack a SWAT team with a hammer? That’s absurd. He wasn’t under arrest. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Perhaps it’s more likely that once they realized they shot an unarmed man, who wasn’t even the target of their investigation, they grabbed a nearby hammer and came up with a cover story for why they shot him. Why would a SWAT team in full body armor be in fear for their lives of a guy, with no criminal record or charges, allegedly holding a hammer – especially one in his own bed. Are they that afraid? I mean, really? A hammer?
I’ve dealt with the West Virginia State Police SRT team before. I had a case in federal court in the Northern District of West Virginia – up in Doddridge County, where the state police SRT busted in on an elderly guy, who likewise had done nothing wrong (they were looking for a third party fugitive who used to work for him) and they literally scared the guy to death.
They put him in handcuffs and made him stand in his kitchen. The old man, in poor health, began having trouble breathing and asked to be released from his handcuffs. The tough guy state trooper, wearing full body armor and holding a machine gun (literally a machine gun, as it was full auto) refused, because as he explained to me when I deposed him, there were officer safety concerns, because they were in a kitchen. And there were sharp knives around. I’m not even joking. The man died and they just put him no the floor and began to take crime scene photos.
That was the case where part of the settlement was that the West Virginia State Police agreed to retrain their entire agency about the constitutional requirement to knock and announce prior to busting in someone’s house on a search warrant execution.
This seems awfully similar. I mean, what’s the point of having a SWAT team if you don’t get to use it from time to time, am I right? In my prior case there were, I believe, 17 different SWAT guys at the scene. I wonder how many they had here, that were so afraid of an innocent guy with a hammer? Even if he did have a hammer, perhaps if you didn’t bust in in the darkness and startle the guy out of a deep sleep, he wouldn’t have grabbed a hammer. Though I highly doubt he ever did. The evidence at the scene points to the gunshots occurring while Darius was still on his bed.
What really happened? Could it have been an accident? A mistake? Maybe they thought he was the uncle and nobody would care, given the allegations against him? One thing’s for sure. If there had been body cam, we wouldn’t have to speculate.
There’s no doubt that the case law would justify the police shooting someone coming at them with a hammer. There have been numerous similar cases with those allegations. The question is, did that even happen?
As discussed in some of the recent state police scandal videos, one of the allegations against the top brass of the state police is that they make the lower tier guys wear and use body cams, while the important people don’t have to. All the street level state troopers now have and use body cams. Why would the state police’s SWAT team not be given body cams? That would make it really easy. Does the footage show a guy running at them with a hammer and refusing to drop it? Or does it not? If the situation is so important and dangerous that they need to use the SWAT team, why does it not justify the use of body cams?
I’ll go ahead and speculate that they chose not to use them just in case they end up shooting someone like this. Then they can just grab a nearby object and say the guy was holding it, and refused to drop it. The South Park “he’s coming right at us” defense. Then, when it gets to court, they’re wearing their uniforms and fancy hats and they hope that the jurors will take their word over the victim’s word. That should be unnecessary. It should have been caught on video. Maybe it was, but the preliminary information suggests that there is no body cam footage.
This is yet another example of a completely unnecessary shooting of an innocent unarmed citizen by our government. For those of you with the thin blue line stickers and all the pro-Constitution stickers at the same time, this is your government. This is who is going to come to your house and confiscate your guns when the time comes. This is how they will treat you as well. NRA sticker on your truck? You better believe they’ll show up to your house at 5 am also, at a time when they think you’ll be asleep. They’ll be trigger happy too, since they’ll have been briefed on how much of a gun nut you are. This is where we are in this country. This is the road we’re headed down.
Then, after your government shoots you, what do they do next? Well, if you survive, guess what? They charge you with a crime to cover their exposure to a civil lawsuit. That’s exactly what they have done to Darius here. They’ve charged him with a felony, for allegedly attempting to harm this poor vulnerable SWAT team with a ball peen hammer. And he was so successful at it that no officers were even injured. To the contrary, the perpetrated was shot multiple times, including two rounds to the chest.
Why do they do this? Because any subsequent civil rights lawsuit is going to be bound by any factual findings contained in the underlying criminal case. So if they convict Darius of attempting to hit a police officer with a hammer, that fact will have to be taken as true by the federal court in the subsequent civil lawsuit.
Also, don’t worry, the West Virginia State Police is investigating themselves. This is the same agency that is currently all over the news for literally refusing to properly investigate themselves.
Again, this is a poor area of West Virginia that has for years been neglected by politicians. Corruption has been rampant in this area for years. That’s why it’s important to bring attention to what’s happening and watch very carefully.
We’ve all seen the recent shooting footage out of Ohio. But that may have overshadowed another recent case where body cam footage was just released from the LAPD. Body cam footage reveals that just before officers shot an unarmed man holding an automotive part, that one of the officers said to the others, “it’s not a gun bro.” Then he was shot with no warning. Indeed, it wasn’t a gun.
Here’s the LAPD’s video:
Here’s the official account as per the LAPD:
On July 18, 2022, at around 7:20 p.m., Southwest Division patrol officers received an “Assault with a Deadly Weapon” radio call. The reporting party advised Communications Division that the suspect was armed with a black, semi-automatic handgun. Uniformed personnel observed the suspect matching the description listed in the comments of the radio call, walking on the north sidewalk of Martin Luther King Boulevard, just east of Bronson Avenue. Officers made contact with the suspect, who they believed was in possession of a handgun. The suspect refused to respond to officer’s verbal commands. As a uniformed supervisor arrived at scene, he also believed that the suspect was armed with a handgun. As the suspect walked away from the officers, he turned multiple times in their direction and pointed a black metallic object believed to be a firearm, which resulted in an Officer-Involved-Shooting (OIS). The suspect was struck by gunfire and taken into custody.
Determining whether an officer’s use of force violates the Fourth Amendment requires balancing “the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion.” Tennessee v. Garner (1985).That inquiry generally involves an assessment of factors such as “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Graham v. Connor (1989).
In the context involved here, the Supreme Court has crafted a more definitive rule: An officer may use deadly force to apprehend a fleeing suspect only if “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.” Garner , 471 U.S. at 11, 105 S.Ct. 1694. A suspect may pose such a threat if “there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm,” or if the suspect threatens the officer or others with a weapon capable of inflicting such harm. Id.
The key questions is whether the officer had an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the suspect posed a threat of serious physical harm, either to himself or to others.
The officer who fired here, fired from behind at a suspect who was running away from the officer. Thus it would be difficult to claim that he did so out of fear for his own safety at the moment the shots were fired. Did the officer therefore have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the suspect posed an immediate threat of serious physical harm to others? The footage shows that no other individuals appear to be in immediate danger at the time the shots were fired. One police cruiser attempts to drive up and block the suspect’s path. Theoretically the officer, or officers, inside could be in harm’s way – though they also clearly were intentionally placing themselves in his path.
Perhaps the best argument for justification is what is known as the “fleeing felon rule” which arose out of Tennessee v. Garner. An officer can argue that permitting the suspect to escape posed a threat to the general public. A fleeing suspect’s escape can pose a threat to the public when police have probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a violent crime. Deadly force to prevent such an escape can be reasonable if the suspect has demonstrated that he was willing to injure an officer who got in the way of his escape or that he was willing to persist in extremely reckless behavior that threatened the lives of all those around. (Orn v. City of Tacoma, Corp. (9th Cir. 2020).
Usually this would involve a vehicle pursuit, or some type of running gun battle situation, where the suspect has already tried to seriously injure someone. Here, however, though it was reported that the suspect pointed a gun at someone, the officers did not know that to be true as of yet. They had not observed him threaten anyone with a gun. They had not positively identified the person by that point. They merely observed that he was holding something that could be a gun, and that he refused to stop and talk with them. There’s no probable cause for the officers to believe that the suspect had committed any serious crime. The suspect was not given a warning of the imminent use of deadly force by the officers, which has been required by the 9th Circuit in prior cases.
To the contrary, here, the officers themselves were unsure of whether they many even had a gun. As we heard on the body cam footage, one of the officers said, “that’s not a gun bro.” And it wasn’t. At the end of the day, there is sufficient evidence here to deny qualified immunity and take the officer before a civil jury on an excessive force claim. The jury can decide whether the officer’s claims, whatever they end up being, are objectively reasonable.