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Texas Shooting Death Shows the High Cost of Police Negligence

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Unread 10.19.19, 09:26 AM
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Texas Shooting Death Shows the High Cost of Police Negligence

On 10.18.19 02:38 PM posted by Amy Swearer

Over the last several days, many journalists andcommentators have reported on the tragicdeath of Atatiana Jefferson, a Fort Worth, Texas, pre-med student who wasshot through a window by a police officer conducting a check on her property.

If witness statements and body camera footage are anythingto go by, Jefferson’s death is the result of an unnecessary and completelyavoidable use of force. The officer failed to follow basic protocol and turned thesituation into a fatal encounter that cost an innocent woman her life.

Here are some reflections on this tragic loss of life.

Atatiana JeffersonActed Reasonably

Jefferson’s death should be ofparticular concern to lawful gun owners. Quite simply, she did what theoverwhelming majority of us would have done in the same situation, and she waskilled because of it.

Based on the most logicalcompilation of existing evidence, the scene from her shoes looked something likethe following.

Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew,who she was caring for, paused their video game playing after hearingconcerning noises that suggested someone might be prowling around the property.

She had no way of knowing thoseapparent prowlers were law enforcement officers. She had not called the police—rather,a neighbor had called the police out of concern for her open front door.

There were no marked police carsin front of her house, and the officers never knocked on her door or announcedtheir presence.

Jefferson almost certainly presumed what most of us would about prowlers on our property at 2 a.m.—these individuals are up to nothing good, and likely looking to break in. In a completely reasonable act, she grabbed her lawfully-owned firearm before investigating further.

Gun in hand, she tried to lookout her back windows. Right outside that window, she saw a man she did notrecognize, wearing dark clothing and holding a flashlight. That man immediatelypointed a gun at her and yelled at her to put her hands up without everidentifying himself as a law enforcement officer.

Faced with what she could only reasonablyperceive as an imminent unlawful threat to her life, Jefferson did exactly whatI and most other people would do in that situation. Accordingto her nephew, she raised her firearm and pointed it out the window,presumably preparing to eliminate the threat.

Had she fired first and killed Officer Aaron Dean, she would have been completely justified under the law of self-defense.

Unfortunately, her eminentlyreasonable act of trying to defend herself resulted in her death.

Murder Is the Correct Charge

Dean has since resigned from the police department. Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus told reporters that had he not resigned, he would have been fired for unprofessional conduct and failing to follow department policies related to the use of force and de-escalation.

Moreover, Dean has been arrestedand charged with murder. While the term “murder” may seem like an inappropriatecharacterization of what many would consider to be grossly negligent orreckless actions, the reality of Texas law means that “murder” is thecorrect—and possibly the only—appropriate charge in this case.

Notably, it is also the charge for which former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger was convicted earlier this year after her highly publicized arrest and trial for killing Botham Jean.

As I noted while covering the Guyger case, according to Texas law, a person commits murder when he or she (1) intends to cause serious bodily injury and (2) commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that (3) causes the death of an individual.

Unlike “capital murder,” which isa much more serious offense, “regular murder” doesn’t require that thedefendant premeditated the killing or acted with malice.

It is clear that Dean, likeGuyger, intentionally pulled the trigger of his loaded handgun—an act clearlydangerous to human life—with the intent of shooting Jefferson, and that thisact killed her. This is, under Texas law, murder.

High Likelihood of Self-Defense Claim

Many have pointed out similaritiesbetween this case and the Guyger case, and while the facts and tragic outcomeare indeed similar, the legal reality is likely quite different.

There is no question that bothofficers acted in unreasonable and grossly negligent ways, inadvertentlycreating the scenarios in which they felt compelled to use lethal force. BothGuyger and Dean bear moral, ethical, and professional responsibility for thedeaths of innocent people.

There is, however, a fundamental legal difference between the two cases that could mean Dean will escape criminal liability in a way Guyger could not. Unlike Guyger, Dean may well have a viable means of arguing that he acted in lawful self-defense.

Under Texas law, a defendant can claimself-defense whenever he “reasonably believes the force is immediatelynecessary to protect [himself] against [another’s] use or attempted use ofunlawful force.”

Guyger was off-duty and fired herweapon into a dark apartment at an unclearfigure she had no discernable or articulable reason to perceive as animmediate threat to her life. Dean was an on-duty officer responding to an “openstructure” call that could have been an active home invasion, and fired hisweapon at an individual pointing a gun at him.

In other words, while both Deanand Guyger unnecessarily created the scenarios that they felt called for lethalforce, at the time of the trigger pull, only Dean’s fear of imminent harm waslikely legitimate—everyone should largely agree that having a gun pointed atyou places you in reasonable fear of death or serious injury.

It seems unlikely that Dean“waived” his self-defense claim by “provoking” the situation. Even though Dean did,indeed, create the scenario in which he feared imminent death, treatises onTexas law indicate that legal provocation necessitates that the defendantcreated the scenario as an intentional pretext for being able to kill thevictim.

There is nothing to indicate thatDean’s failure to follow established protocol was a pretext for getting Jeffersonto point a gun at him so that he could then, in turn, kill her.

To be clear, this is not suggestthat Dean did nothing wrong. It is merely to point out that the criminaljustice system may not provide Texas or Jefferson’s family with an avenue forholding Dean criminally liable for Jefferson’s death.

Lessons About Deadly Force

There is a well-known andoft-repeated saying among gun owners that “it is better to be judged by 12 thancarried by six.”

The point of the saying isessentially that, when faced with an imminent threat to your life, it’s betterto protect your life with lethal force and possibly have to explain youractions to a jury in a court of law than to do nothing in self-defense and loseyour life.

While there is a general truth to that maxim, there is also another truth we find reinforced by the circumstances of Dean and his role in the death of Atatiana Jefferson: It is better to act reasonably to avoid lethal confrontations in the first place than to explain to an angry nation why an innocent young woman is dead in her home because you acted unreasonably.

This is true for law enforcementofficers, but also for gun owners generally.

The decision to take anotherhuman life, even under the belief that you must do so to protect yourself orothers, is perhaps one of the most grave and consequential decisions a personcan make.

Whether law enforcement orcivilian, when you carry a lethal weapon, part of your moral and ethicalresponsibility—to say nothing of your legal responsibility—is to do everyreasonable thing in your power to avoid creating the scenarios in which youhave to use lethal force.

This includes taking basic precautions against misidentifying the nature of threats, as well as using common sense to avoid being reasonably mistaken as a threat yourself.

De-escalate situations when practicable. Thinking quickly does not mean acting rashly or side-stepping inconvenient safety measures. That appears to be exactly what Dean did, and an innocent young woman is dead because of it.

While exercising our fundamental rightto keep and bear arms, we must never forget our corresponding duty to exercisethat right in a wise and prudent manner.

Be armed, but be your best selfwhen armed. The lives of reasonable people depend on it.

The post Texas Shooting Death Shows the High Cost of Police Negligence appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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