Officer Wilson question for THC

joesxm2011
By joesxm2011 on Wed, Nov 26, 2014 - 3:39pm

Being a police officer, what is your opinion on the following idea?  I am not meaning to be critical of officer Wilson, but I would like to make sure that I understand the police operational policy.

Officer Wilson called for backup before pulling back to engage Brown.  While fighting with Brown through the vehicle window officer Wilson said that he was physically outclassed and completely unable to control Brown.

The District Attorney said that the first backup to respond was 90 seconds after the initial encounter.

It seems that officer Wilson exited the vehicle and attempted to either follow Brown or to apprehend Brown.  I am not clear on which he was planning to do.

As a private citizen, my rules of engagement would lead me to attempt to escape once the initial confrontation in the vehicle had ended.  I realize that a police officer would have a responsibility to capture the criminal, but I was wondering what would the department reaction have been if officer Wilson decided to wait that 90 seconds for backup to arrive and then together go after Brown.

Would 90 seconds have been enough for Brown to lose himself in the neighborhood?  Would there not be a good enough identification to track him down later?

Like I said, I am not trying to be critical.  It seems to me that if officer Wilson were following to keep contact until backup arrived and possible to subdue Brown from a distance that would make sense.  He obviously was not in a position to try to take him down hand-to-hand by himself.  Once Brown changed direction and attacked again it is clear that officer Wilson handled himself correctly.

Would officer Brown have been thought badly of by his peers if he waited for backup?

Thoughts?

Thanks.

Joe

5 Comments

thc0655's picture
thc0655
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Great questions

Great questions Joe!  There's so much misunderstanding about police work and human predators, I'm glad to shed a little light if I can.  Hopefully, this won't be too long (but there is a lot to say).

I am not meaning to be critical of officer Wilson

Being "Monday morning quarterbacked"  is an occupational hazard for police, as jtwalsh pointed out in the original post on Ferguson.  Cops often have to make life and death decisions in 2-3 seconds or even split seconds, but then they get second guessed by Internal Affairs, their peers, the District Attorney, the public, the judges and juries, and so on. And all those people get hours, days and weeks to decide what the best thing to do would've been, in the comfort of their recliners.  Cops know this happens (or they quickly find out) and there's no way to avoid it.  This is not to say cops get a pass, but it does mean those who judge the events must keep in mind the pressures the officer was under and the pace of events. And no one second guesses officers' actions more than other officers, and they are generally unmerciful in their criticisms.

Your questions pertain to proper tactics and judgment calls, mostly.  But it's critically important to remember that the grand jury's one responsibility was to decide if enough evidence existed to charge Officer Wilson with a crime in the state of Missouri.  They decided there was insufficient evidence to make a case.  However, that doesn't mean Wilson was "innocent."  Nor did the grand jury consider whether or not Wilson followed all pertinent Ferguson PD policies, all sound tactics known to police, and made the wisest of decisions possible throughout the incident.

I know Wilson has had sleepless nights since Aug. 9 and that his mind has replayed the incidents of that day for him, unbidden, hundreds of times.  I hope he has wondered over and over what he might have done differently and I hope he regrets the outcome, in spite of his brave comments to George Stephanoplous that he "knows he did his job right."  I hope those things because that's what any normal person would go through.  And I hope he can get over all of this and isn't burdened with PTSD. For instance, I imagine one thing Wilson wishes he had done differently was not pull up so closely to the two suspects in his car so that he didn't and couldn't get trapped inside.  I bet he's been kicking himself for that one over and over.

As a private citizen, my rules of engagement would lead me to attempt to escape once the initial confrontation in the vehicle had ended.  I realize that a police officer would have a responsibility to capture the criminal, but I was wondering what would the department reaction have been if officer Wilson decided to wait that 90 seconds for backup to arrive and then together go after Brown.

90 seconds would be an eternity for Brown to escape, unless they were in a desert with no where to hide. If Wilson had waited (and he didn't know how long he would have had to wait for backup), Brown would've escaped if not into his own house, then into that of any number of friends and acquaintances he knew in the neighborhood. Wilson needed to keep Brown in sight during the foot pursuit and continuously relay his position over radio until his back up arrived and the apprehension could be made.
 
In his testimony to the grand jury when asked why he pursued Brown, Wilson answered that he was concerned that if some other officer attempted to stop Brown based on his radio description that the officer might not escape with his life as Wilson had.
 
Consider other reasons to pursue an obviously dangerous suspect (besides to make an arrest and to protect the next officer that encountered Brown).
 
After getting away, Brown and Dorian Johnson could get together and make up any story they wanted to and go to the media or the District Attorney and tell their tale of unprovoked police brutality.  And even the police would be suspicious of Wilson's story if he hadn't pursued.  "Do you mean to tell me, Officer, that the situation was so serious you fired two shots at the suspect, but then it wasn't serious enough to pursue him and make an arrest?  You just let him get away without even trying?  What really happened out there Wilson?"
 
It would be very easy for a person who's not a cop or hasn't been a soldier in combat to understand how intense the peer pressure is to perform bravely and professionally in the worst of circumstances.  Regardless of Wilson's own personal motivations to perform bravely and professionally, he would've been very mindful that he would have to face his peers for the rest of his career after he did whatever he did.  One cowardly failure to perform could not be lived down over the next 20 years.  Even if he was afraid to pursue Brown, the peer pressure by itself might have been enough to move him to chase Brown on foot.  (Frankly, that's how positive peer pressure is supposed to work.)
 
All police departments have disciplinary codes and Wilson would've been exposed to punishment on two possible counts.  First, failure to perform police duties (make the arrest, or at least try). And second, cowardice.  Not all departments still have cowardice as a punishable offense, but it has traditionally been among the disciplinary codes.  However, I doubt the fear of a five day unpaid suspension would've been by itself enough to make Wilson chase Brown, and I seriously doubt it ever entered his mind.
 
All cops eventually learn that there is a very small percentage of the population (maybe 1%) who are sociopaths, psychopaths, serial killers, apex predators and so forth.  This small number of the worst of the worst account for an astounding amount of violent crime.  Any decent cop lives for the opportunity to run into this kind of ultra violent serial criminal and put him in prison for a long stretch.  The problem is for the ambitious cop these individuals are like a needle in a haystack. You know they're out there, but you can't just look them up in the yellow pages and arrest them.  You just go about your job knowing your next encounter with the public may be with an ultra violent criminal who will try to kill you, and you can't afford to get killed or to let him get away.  The thought that this explosively angry and aggressive 6'4" 290 lb. maniac was one of them would've crossed my mind as I was fighting with Brown and maybe it crossed Wilson's mind too. There'd be no way I was letting him get away and have to wonder the rest of my life how many people he shot, stabbed, raped and killed in the years since I let him get away.  I'm not saying Brown was on his way to becoming one of these ultra violent serial criminals, just that it would've crossed my mind as we fought and motivated me supremely to not let him get away.
Would there not be a good enough identification to track him down later?
Maybe, maybe not.  Personally, I'm terrible at matching faces to photographs so a suspect can be identified, so I would have HAD to chase him if I ever hoped to make an arrest.  Occasionally, an officer attempts to make an arrest of someone he knows from previous contacts/arrests and the suspect gets away.  In that situation, the officer can put out the suspect's name,address and known hangouts over the radio and that may lead to a quick apprehension by other officers.  If that doesn't work, he can get a warrant and find him again in the future.  Wilson testified he never encountered Brown before, so it's an open question whether he could've identified him from a previous arrest picture (if there was even a previous arrest for Brown).
 
For me, what it comes down to is temperament.  Not everyone makes a good police officer, and for a variety of reasons.  ALL stops and arrests are dangerous and potentially life-threatening because you never know who you're dealing with (their capabilities, weapons, mindset, drugs in their system, etc.).  Police rarely have the luxury of standing off at a safe distance and all arrests have to be made at contact distance (bad breath range). The temperament I'd be looking for is someone who is willing to everyday get right up close to potentially very dangerous individuals to conduct interviews, frisks for weapons, and arrests.  You can't subdue someone from a distance.  People whose temperament enables them to do that every day as part of their job generally don't hesitate when a suspect attempts to flee.  In fact a fleeing suspect usually makes cops very angry and determined.  On a lighter note, take a look at this clever 1 minute recruiting video put out by the Baltimore PD, and note how it not so subtly touches on the kind of temperament they're looking for (especially in the last scene during the store robbery).  I'm serious but the humorous approach is valuable.
 
 
What I'm saying is if a cop wouldn't chase a suspect in the Michael Brown situation (at least to keep him in sight until back up could arrive) then s/he has no business being a cop in the first place.  
 
Let's change the setting and see how it feels.  You're a fire fighter on Engine Company #33 and you're responding to a house fire with people trapped.  You and your two partners arrive and see that the house is fully engulfed in flames.  Frantic neighbors tell you there is a mother and two preschool age children in the house and you can hear them screaming for help.  Your two partners are rapidly deploying hose and connecting it to the nearby hydrant.  You know from the Fire Dept radio that two other Engines and a Ladder company are responding, but you estimate the first won't arrive for at least 90 seconds.  You're wearing all your turnout gear and your respirator is running.  The temperature inside the house is at least 600 degrees, visibility is 18 inches on the floor, and the mother and children are screaming for help.  The safest thing would be for you to wait 90 - 120 seconds for the other companies to arrive so you can enter the house with other fire fighters.  What do you do?  Tick, tick, tick - the clock is running and the family is screaming for help.  What do you do?  If you could wait until more fire fighters arrive, congratulations: you're a normal human being (but you're not cut out to be a fire fighter).
 
Likewise, if you stop a robbery suspect and he immediately begins to assault you and then grabs your gun as you draw it, and pushes the barrel into your femoral artery and tries to pull the trigger, what do you do?  You get off two unaimed shots at point blank range which seem to have no effect on the robbery suspect.  Then he runs away.  What do you do?  Tick, tick, tick -- the clock is running.  If you could wait until more cops arrive, congratulations: you are a normal human being (but you're not cut out to be cop).

He obviously was not in a position to try to take him down hand-to-hand by himself.  Once Brown changed direction and attacked again it is clear that officer Wilson handled himself correctly.

 

ME (not a quote - the quote thingy is acting weird tonight): I'm not so sure Joe.  It's clear Wilson acted legally when Brown turned and charged.  He had a legal right to self-defense against a very aggressive and violent suspect.  But I bet this is the second place Wilson's mind has asked him two hundred times if there wasn't something else he could've done besides backpedal and fire.  Maybe he could've run away and got behind a car and made Brown chase him around a car.  At 290 lbs he couldn't have had much endurance.  Letting Brown chase him would've bought him time for back up to arrive.  Brown put his head down and charged.  Couldn't Wilson have sidestepped and stuck a foot out to trip Brown (buying time again)?  Maybe, maybe not.  And to be fair to Wilson he had already lost one hand to hand fight with Brown and wanted to avoid that at all costs for fear of losing control of his gun (again).  But remember: it wasn't the grand jury's decision that Wilson did everything perfectly.  The only conclusion the grand jury drew was that there was insufficient evidence to charge Wilson with a crime.  However, I'm confident that if Wilson could go back in time and do anything besides kill Brown he would.  He's paid, and will pay the rest of his life, an incredible price for "winning" this encounter.  The only way it could've been worse for Wilson would be if Brown had killed him instead of the other way around.

Tom

 

 

 

 
thc0655's picture
thc0655
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Baltimore PD recruiting video

If you can't watch the video embedded here, go to youtube.com and search for: Baltimore police recruiting video.

joesxm2011's picture
joesxm2011
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Posts: 259
Wow - Thanks Tom

That response was above and beyond the call of duty and very well articulated.

You remark about remembering faces makes sense.  I have trouble remembering faces and names of people I just met even if I talk to them for several minutes.

I suspected keeping the subject in view was necessary and your explanation makes perfect sense.

I am glad that officer Wilson was not charged and I hope that he does not have to deal with any federal harassment or civil suit, although I would bet that some lawyers push the Brown family to sue.

My friend who used to be a Brooklyn cop told me about the utter disrespect and aggression that he was constantly exposed to.  People would go out of their way to insult, curse and otherwise abuse them while they were just walking their beat.  He said that when he would point his gun at them they would just laugh at him like officer Wilson said that Brown did.  I had never imagined that someone would have the nerve to act like that towards a cop, even if it was only because they might get their butt kicked.

In the past fiver or six years I have had the opportunity to meet and train with quite a few police officers and I have to say that my impression of the police has taken a huge positive shift,  Before this I had a very poor understanding of what you guys go through on a daily basis.

So, thanks for the detailed response.  Thanks for all you do on this site.  Thanks for your service as a police officer.

Stay safe.

Joe

RNcarl's picture
RNcarl
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Not convinced - But...

Temperament is the important ingredient.

I have police officer friends who always tell me that they would rather respond to a building where, "a man with a gun" is inside instead of one that is on fire. I tell them they are crazy, I know where the fire is and how to eliminate it. A man with a gun can kill me from long range!

But that indeed is the age old cop vs. firefighter rant isn't it? Each thinks the other is crazy for doing their job.

So, Tom, you just about have me when you use this example:

Let's change the setting and see how it feels.  You're a fire fighter on Engine Company #33 and you're responding to a house fire with people trapped.  You and your two partners arrive and see that the house is fully engulfed in flames.  Frantic neighbors tell you there is a mother and two preschool age children in the house and you can hear them screaming for help.  Your two partners are rapidly deploying hose and connecting it to the nearby hydrant.  You know from the Fire Dept radio that two other Engines and a Ladder company are responding, but you estimate the first won't arrive for at least 90 seconds.  You're wearing all your turnout gear and your respirator is running.  The temperature inside the house is at least 600 degrees, visibility is 18 inches on the floor, and the mother and children are screaming for help.  The safest thing would be for you to wait 90 - 120 seconds for the other companies to arrive so you can enter the house with other fire fighters.  What do you do?  Tick, tick, tick - the clock is running and the family is screaming for help.  What do you do?  If you could wait until more fire fighters arrive, congratulations: you're a normal human being (but you're not cut out to be a fire fighter).

There is no question what a real firefighter would do. In fact, I am glad that you added that you could hear their screams for help. However, for one who is properly trained, you don't have to hear the screams nor do you have to rely on bystanders reports - (which are mostly wrong) Every house fire is treated as if there are persons inside until the building is cleared. In 13 years of service in a suburban mostly bedroom community, I only had the privilege to assist in the rescue of one person. A 9 year old boy who had started the fire. I did rescue many cats and dogs over the years that always seemed to draw laughs and jeers of the bystanders that collect at the scene. Then of course there are those who could not be saved. Monday morning quarterbacking is always the norm when that happens. But never does a firefighter hesitate to do what needs to be done. Never. Once you flinch, you can get your brothers killed. In suburbia, 2 man engine companies are the norm. There is no such thing as someone hooking to a hydrant. Set the pump, deploy the hose and head inside - the two of you. You pray no one messes with the pump and help arrives before the water in the booster tank runs out. The nearest help is at least 3 minutes away. Training is what makes the difference. There is also no substitute for experience. And of course, you can't be "normal."

However, lets not kid ourselves. "Normal" folks don't run into burning buildings or pursue the likes of Michael Brown. We all do it for our own reasons.

As a firefighter, I do not have the power of life and death strapped to my side, a cop does. As a firefighter, I can't ruin someone's whole life because of something I say they have done. A police officer can on each encounter they have with the public. And, by making the allegations, the allegation at least costs the individual their life savings trying to prove their innocence.

So, yes, the police and any other "law enforcement" agency should be held to a higher standard. A higher level of scrutiny. Yes, they should be expected to act with better judgment, have the best training and be able to think better than a "normal" person under pressure.

So, I don't buy the, "the job is hard, you don't understand" and "we risk our lives so we should get a pass" argument. If police work is too grueling, too mentally exhausting, and reduces you to poor judgment - don't do it. 

Cut the bravado crap. Bad decisions are made. Houses burn down that shouldn't. People die that should have been rescued. Cops make bad decisions. People get shot that shouldn't. Cops die that shouldn't. It's the job, if you do something wrong, be a man and face up to it. Don't weasel out and hide behind the excuses - or the badge.

Was Wilson "justified" in killing Brown, only 3 people know, Brown, Wilson and god.

All of that nonsense said, what is the real reason Ferguson is such a powder keg? I mean really.

BTW - none of my police friends would take the bet otherwise when I bet them no charges would be filed against Wilson.

capesurvivor's picture
capesurvivor
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Brown

Mas has written a series of five articles on this, with latest, below, the most succinct. True, he most often will be pro-LEO but he is highly respected in legal settings and has a ton of experience with these situations so his perspective is always valuable.

Massad Ayoob
FERGUSON PART V: WHY OFFICER WILSON WAS JUSTIFIED IN SHOOTING AN “UNARMED” MAN
Posted: 28 Nov 2014 06:22 AM PST
Much of America, including CNN’s Attorney Sunny Hostin, can’t seem to grasp how Officer Darren Wilson could have been justified in shooting an ostensibly unarmed man.  If Ms. Hostin got through law school without learning the definition of “disparity of force,” well, she wouldn’t be the first to do so.
 
DISPARITY OF FORCE is the legal principle which recognizes that even without a per se weapon, a violent attacker may have such a physical advantage over the intended victim that if the assault is allowed to continue, the totality of the circumstances indicate that the victim is likely to be killed or crippled. This authorizes the victim to use an actual deadly weapon in self-defense. That situation would exist if the attacker was significantly larger and/or stronger than the victim.  It would exist if the attacker had complete freedom of movement and leverage, and the victim did not, a situation known as “position of advantage.” Another element that could create disparity of force would be that the victim was already handicapped or injured, even in the course of the instant assault, impairing the victim’s ability to fight back, escape, or evade or block continuing blows.  ALL OF THESE WERE PRESENT WHEN THE 292-POUND MICHAEL BROWN WAS SMASHING OFFICER WILSON IN THE HEAD WHILE WILSON HAD VERY LIMITED RANGE OF MOVEMENT INSIDE THE PATROL CAR.
 
(There are other elements of disparity of force as well, such as male attacking female, multiple assailants attacking lone victim, and more, but none of them seem to have been in play in this encounter.)
 
This initial attack warranted Wilson drawing his gun and ordering Brown to get back or be shot. Then, Brown went for Wilson’s gun – as proven by bloodstain evidence and Brown’s DNA on the gun – and something else kicked in.  BROWN WAS REACHING FOR A GUN, and Wilson testified that Brown had turned the muzzle into Wilson and was trying to pull the trigger when Wilson shot him the first time.  This is no longer an unarmed man, it’s a man attempting to kill a cop with his own gun.  Thus, shooting him at that point was justified.
 
Brown ran. Wilson followed police protocol and pursued.  He testified that when Brown stopped and turned toward him, one of Brown’s hands went to his waistband as if to draw a gun of his own. This is apparently confirmed by Brown’s bloody handprint on that area of his own clothing.  This is what is called a FURTIVE MOVEMENT, in this case a movement consistent with going for a gun and not reasonably consistent with anything else, and at law satisfies the requirement of a reasonable belief that the opponent is armed with a deadly weapon and attempting to draw and use it.  This in and of itself, in assaultive circumstances where the opponent is close enough to kill you with such a weapon, justifies deadly force.  Simultaneously, he lunged toward Wilson according to the majority of credible eyewitness testimony, consistent with attempting to disarm him again, and was close enough to do so very quickly.  It was at this point that Wilson fired his second series of shots – and between the furtive movement and the forward attack, WAS JUSTIFIED IN DOING SO TWICE OVER.
 
After a short pause, witnesses for the most part agreed, Brown lunged again: another disarming attempt, which again justified shooting.  Wilson fired his third and final string of shots, Brown fell, and it was over.  Note that each time Brown stopped attacking, Wilson immediately stopped shooting.
 
These are facts which the grand jury must have taken into consideration.  These facts explain why the narrative of “unarmed teen shot by armed jack-booted thug” totally fails the reality test.
 
Feel free to share with others who, like Attorney Hostin, “just don’t get it” … or, perhaps, don’t want to.
 

 

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