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Today in the Criminal Injustice System

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The grotesque protection of police violence against any limits or consequences continues unabated.

Andrew Scott and his girlfriend were playing video games in their Florida apartment late at night when they heard a loud banging at the front door. Scott, who was understandably disturbed, retrieved the handgun that he lawfully owned, then opened the door with the gun pointed safely down. Outside, he saw a shadowy figure holding a pistol. He began to retreat inside and close the door when the figure fired six shots without warning, three of which hit Scott, killing him. Scott hadn’t fired a single bullet or even lifted his firearm.

The figure outside was Deputy Richard Sylvester. He failed to identify himself as a law enforcement officer at any point. He had no warrant and no reason to suspect that Scott or his girlfriend had committed a crime. He did not attempt to engage with Scott at all after he opened the door; he simply shot him dead. And on Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that Scott’s parents and girlfriend cannot sue Sylvester because the officer’s conduct was not “clearly” illegal.

The court’s reasoning? Qualified immunity, a constitutionally dubious doctrine that bars individuals from suing the government for violating their rights unless those rights were “clearly established.” And what, exactly, constitutes a “clearly established” right? It’s almost always possible to argue the point either way. Consider the events that led up to Scott’s killing. Sylvester had been pursuing a speeding motorcyclist who, he suspected, might be the same motorcyclist who’d recently committed armed assault and battery. (He had no legitimate reason to suspect this particular motorcyclist was the suspect in question.) Sylvester found a motorcycle at Scott’s apartment complex and decided it was the one he was looking for, even though a license plate search revealed no incriminating information. He and three other officers drew their guns and pounded on Scott’s door. When Scott opened it, Sylvester shot and killed him.

Being a cop is a license to kill. It’s no wonder that the profession attracts so many thugs and racists.

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  • Dennis Orphen

    Almost everyone thinks that the definition of an ‘Outlaw’ is a person who breaks the law. That is not what an outlaw is, and never has been.

    An ‘Outlaw’ is an individual who receives no protection from the law, written or otherwise.

    Think about that.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      It’s more like a feudalistic class system, in which the ‘men-at-arms’ work for their lord, and both can do whatever they want to the peasantry (and any small merchants that step out of line) with no fear of reprisal.

      Oh, sure, they haven’t altered the text of the statutes to say “cops can kill anyone they want”, but why bother?

      • Dennis Orphen

        I agree, a study of feudalism and earlier systems was instrumental in realizing the distinction between a criminal and an outlaw.

    • LeeEsq

      That’s how the term outlaw started, somebody removed from protection of the law through the writ of outlawry. Like many words, the meaning changed over time.

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    We’re getting to the point that “Serve and Protect” is positively Trumpian.

  • delazeur

    Is the Castle Doctrine not a clearly established right?

    • Dennis Orphen

      Frank Castle?

      • wjts

        Ha.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        White Castle.

    • mojrim

      Not really applicable here. It’s an affirmative defense against charges of murder or assault.

  • yet_another_lawyer

    Just read the opinion. Depending on which version of the facts is true (it being disputed whether Scott opened the door with his gun pointed at the officer), then the culpability of the shooter is debatable.

    What’s less debatable, in my opinion, is the procedure that got the shooter to that point. Six officers taking up tactical positions for a knock and talk? If it’s so important, have somebody surveill the motorcycle overnight and track down the rider in the morning. If it’s not important enough to bother with that, then it’s not important enough to setup this potentially deadly situation. The optimal rate of criminal apprehension is less than 100%.

    • What’s less debatable, in my opinion, is the procedure that got the shooter to that point.

      The procedure is judge, jury, and executioner. When cops can kill anyone at will, then every infraction potentially becomes a death sentence.

      • Hogan

        And every action, or failure to take action, potentially becomes an infraction.

        • Exactly.

        • Origami Isopod

          Including when the police are issuing conflicting orders. As often happens, so that they can drum up a justification for whatever they want to do.

    • dl

      at the immunity stage, the plaintiff’s version of the facts have to be accepted by the court

    • farin

      I think you’ll find most police believe the optimal rate is closer to 150%.

    • vic rattlehead

      This is Chief Wiggum level competence.

      They really don’t give a fuck. Why should they? They can literally get away with murder. So fuck it, investigate the lazy way. Shoot first, ask questions later. Put all the risk on the citizen because you’re a sniveling coward. Bring 6 cops guns drawn for a knock and talk. Oh no a shadow! BLAM BLAM BLAM oops killed the guy. Fuck it, plant a gun and lets grab some donuts.

      • JdLaverty

        I’m betting the officer, when questioned, employed the time-honored “but black people are scary” defense. The victim was a raging bulletproof creature (possibly a golem of sorts) with “demon eyes”.

  • humanoid.panda

    There is an iron-clad logic to this doctrine.

    1. We want every American to have the freedom to have guns.
    2. It’s deeply unfair to cops to send them into an environment in which everyone can a pull a gun on them at a moment’s notice without strenuous legal and protections.
    3. Therefore officers killing X amount of civillians without penalty is the necessary price we must for the freedom for everyone to own guns.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Excactly. I used to hope that the law enforcement community would be sensible on gun control. Now I realize the LEC is another almost completely compromised platform with no hope of change or reform.

      • I can’t even imagine a way we could reform them, short of exterminating the lot and starting over. (Same problem with fixing conservatism, actually.)

        • humanoid.panda

          Just to clarify: I am not being sarcastic re: cops. It would be deeply unfair to send them to police Florida under same rules of engagement that the Japanese send their cops to police Tokyo, given how many guns circulate here. It’s just that no one seems to be willing to openly make the argument that civillian killings are the price to pay for free circulation of guns …

          • mojrim

            Sure, except it’s completely untrue. They shoot the clearly unarmed, the fleeing, people walking away with knives, whatever. Not to mention that violent crime is at an historic low. If your assertion was valid we’d at least have somewhat fewer of these things by now.

    • Yes. You know, watering that Liberty Tree and all that.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Also, the cops had just previously eaten Twinkies had their fee fees hurt because somebody succesfully ran from them.

    • Dennis Orphen

      The Twinkie Defense

      Every accusation is a confession.

  • Downpuppy

    Looks like the Guardian stopped their Killed by Police tracking at the end of 2016. The Washington Post’s Shot by Police is still going. The slight progress of 2016 (about 4% lower than 2015) seems to be over.

    I’m having to write comments in Word & paste them whole due to some strange Chrome/WordPress issue that shuts down input every time I hit Shift.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Don’t worry, if you make any mistakes, you can come back and ebit it.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Dammit!!

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    Another thing I’ve seen is officers with weapons drawn shouting contradictory commands, which needless to say confuses the guy with the guns pointed at him. But of course, it’s his fault if he fails to comply fast enough.

    I mention in passing the related, in terms of officers not being held liable, to the scalding to death of an inmate by prison guards in Florida.

    • Hogan

      Gale: All right, ya hayseeds, it’s a stick-up. Everybody freeze. Everybody down on the ground.

      Feisty Hayseed: Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if’n I freeze, I can’t rightly drop. And if’n I drop, I’m a-gonna be in motion. You see…

      Gale: Shut up!

      Feisty Hayseed: Okay then.

      Gale: Everybody down on the ground!

      Evelle: Y’all can just forget that part about freezin’ now.

      Gale: Better still to get down there.

      Evelle: Yeah, y’all hear that, don’t ya?

      [Everybody lays down. Gale looks at the now-empty teller windows]

      Gale: Shit! Where’d all the tellers go?

      Teller’s voices: We’re down here, sir.

      Evelle: They’re on the floor as you commanded, Gale.

    • I mention in passing the related, in terms of officers not being held liable, to the scalding to death of an inmate by prison guards in Florida.

      Yeah I saw that. That was some truly barbaric shit. I’m sure we can expect ‘Ole Beauregard Sessions to investigate this injustice.

  • Anon21

    Glad someone is highlighting the injustices caused by qualified immunity. It may be obscure, but its consequences for LEO impunity are frightening.

  • Brett

    They don’t even have to be thugs and racists. It seems to have become embedded in police ideology that they’ve always got a target on their front and back, and the “return home safely” priority is so high that it excuses hair-trigger shootings.

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