Homicide on Halloween or Justifiable Police Shooting?
FSI Explains Why Investigator’s Actions Did Not Reflect Murderous Intent
FSI Helps Two Officers
Fight Accusations of being “Executioners”
FSI Explains Why Human Perception—Not Deception— Led to Inaccuracies
When an actor is shot and killed during a Halloween party in Los Angeles--and investigations show that several rounds hit him in the back -- the LAPD officer who fired the rounds finds himself faced with accusations of criminal wrongdoing. Family members of the deceased hire high-profile attorney Johnnie Cochran who immediately discounts the officer's claims that at the time he fired, the party-goer was pointing a gun at him and he feared for his life. Instead, Cochran claims that the officer deliberately shot the man in the back.
Dr. Bill Lewinski is called to explain how the officer's rounds could in fact hit the deceased in the back without the officer intentionally firing at a man who has turned away from him. Following Dr. Lewinski's testimony, a jury found that claims that the officer intentionally shot the man in the back were not credible.
The national news program 48 Hours explored this high profile, controversial case.
The investigator, who graduated 1st in his academy class, went to a rural trailer site one moonless night to arrest an ex-con for stealing a cooking grill and some hauling trailers. This suspect had once fired 90 rounds from a MAC-10 into a mobile home with a woman and two kids inside. He was no stranger to violence.
When the officer tried to take him into custody, the suspect said, “I ain’t goin’” and tried to grab the officer’s Sig-Sauer from its holster. A horrific, life-or-death fight for control of the gun ensued. Throughout the battle, the suspect continued to yell, “Shoot me, damn it, shoot me!” Finally the officer did, when he was at the point of exhaustion and feeling that the suspect was about to win the fight for the gun and kill him.
When the suspect’s body was posted, the autopsy showed that he had been shot from behind. The officer, on advice from his attorney, had declined to give an official statement immediately after the shooting. He was badly stressed at the time investigators wanted to talk to him. In fact, he was in the hospital emergency room being treated for a possible heart attack when they wanted to conduct the interview.
Before even speaking with him—before any authority had a formal statement from that officer on his version of what happened—the County Solicitor charged him with manslaughter, which was later upgraded to murder.
The possible penalty this officer faced: LIFE.
“The ‘Rule of Law,’” the prosecutor said, “prohibits any officer from shooting a fleeing suspect in the back.”
Expert testimony provided through the legal division of the Force Science Institute played a major role in that officer’s acquittal. The officer insisted that when he made the decision to fire, the suspect was facing him, presenting a full-front threat.
The prosecution insisted that this had to be a self-serving lie.
Research from the Force Science Research Center has shown that for an average officer to shove a subject away and fire two pistol rounds—which the officer swore he had done—could easily consume a minimum of ¾ of a second. In that small amount of time, the FSRC determined, the average subject can make a 180-degree turn away from a forward-facing position in an effort to run away.
In other words, between the time the officer made an irreversible decision to shoot and the rounds actually impacted, the suspect had turned from front to back…and that’s why he ended up shot in the back.
People think it’s not possible for such radical movement to occur in a split-second, but it is, and Force Science has the studies to prove it.
For more details, read related Force Science Article.
Two officers in London, England confronted a drunk who was carrying what they had been told was a sawed-off shotgun inside a blue plastic bag. Actually—after the fact—it was discovered that what was in the bag turned out to be a wooden table leg. Not knowing that, the officers shot and killed this suspect when he made what they considered to be a threatening gesture with the bag. The rounds they fired hit him in the back.
These officers were crucified…condemned even by some members of their own department as “executioners.”
Criminal charges against them dragged on for more than 6 years before Force Science was brought into the case and was able to reconstruct a reasonable scenario of what happened, leading to the officers’ exoneration. Read related Force Science article.
At about midnight on a bitterly cold and snowy Sunday, a municipal officer led the pursuit of a young gang member who was fleeing in a car from a drug-and-gun bust in a housing project.
The suspect spun out on slippery pavement and threw the rear end of his car into a snow bank. The officer leaped out of his unit and drew down on him. But the car screeched out of the snow and officer swore it came directly at him, even struck him.
Fearing for his life, the officer reported that he fired three rounds and wounded the driver before the car sped away. The suspect was later captured alive.
This officer insisted on giving a formal statement almost immediately…to “get it out of the way.”
Then later, video taken of the incident from another patrol car’s dash-cam showed clearly that the officer had not been hit by the suspect’s car at all. In fact, the officer had fired into the driver’s closed window as the car drove past him…not even close to hitting him.
Investigators quickly concluded he’d falsified his statement. A newspaper columnist said the officer had “...needlessly juiced up his story to validate the shooting." A wild exaggerator at best, a liar at worst.
He was bounced off the job by his department and the country prosecutor charged him with 1st Degree Assault, filing a false report and fabricating physical evidence—2 felonies and a misdemeanor that had him looking at 26 years in prison.
That case had two issues at trial.
1. Force Science was able to explain how the moving car could turn slightly and travel at different angles between the time the threatened officer decided to shoot and the time his rounds actually hit.
A car going at just 10 mph can travel 14.6 feet in a second—more than 3 ½ feet in just a quarter second…so perspective can change quickly.
But there was also the officer’s troubling claim that the car had struck him, which it had not. For that, it took research findings about human memory to explain how the officer could innocently perceive that he was hit when he wasn’t.
His mind played a common trick on him, but it took someone grounded in human psychology to understandably and credibly explain how that could happen.
When that was done—in terms the jury could understand and with scientific research to back it up—the officer was cleared of wrongdoing.