Written by: Alek Hidell
I’d like to take a moment to try to analyze the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown by Ofc. Darrel Wilson. I’m getting sick and tired of listening to my cop buddies try to twist what little facts we have to try to make this a good shoot. In reality it might have been. Doubtful, but again we don’t have enough facts to say anything with certainty. Working with what we do know, I will try to lay out what I feel happened and should have happened. Don’t get me wrong, I hate it when people Monday morning quarterback without all the facts, but I’m gonna do it anyway. Jumping right into things, if you see two people walking down the middle of the street, and you feel the need to stop them, you must have a whole lot of nothing to do if that is worth your time as a cop. If you do make a decision to stop out with two people, the first thing that needs to happen is you communicate your location and description of subjects to dispatch. This case would have been called out as a pedestrian violation or a citizen contact. With two people on scene, you need to call for a second unit.
In a town like Ferguson, I’d assume that once called out, you’d probably get a couple of officers showing up. So the first questions to ask are, did Ofc. Wilson call out the stop and Did Ofc. Wilson call for backup? These two things are routine in a situation like this. To take it a step further, this should have been done before his initial contact was made. Anything less is shoddy police work. Can you see how failing to do these things is an officer safety issue of massive concern? Wilson, from within the car, yelled to Brown and his friend, something along the lines of “Get the fuck out of the road!”. Show me a single police policy that allows for this kind of treatment of citizens, especially for doing nothing except possibly committing a pedestrian violation. The alleged “robbery” which I previously explained was nothing more than a simple shoplift, is irrelevant as it is doubtful Wilson even knew about it at this point. At some point, the car door opens and is either slammed shut or bumped off of Brown’s leg, who knows. Next, according to witnesses, Wilson grabbed Brown through the window of his car. A struggle was seen and witnesses stated that Wilson looked as though he was attempting to pull Brown into the car through the open driver side window. If any officer makes the conscious decision to grab someone through the open window of their cruiser, they deserve whatever is coming to them.
Police work, especially safety, is not guess work. There are very specific methods to ensure officer safety, especially in a situation like this where all Wilson had was two J walkers. He should have called for backup, taken his time and addressed the issue when backup arrived. Or maybe if he would have just stopped the car and spoke to them like they were human, that might have helped. What was Wilson thinking when he made the decision to pull Brown into his car through the window or even just grab him, if that was the case? He wasn’t. Of all the shit cops I have met in my years on the force, none of them would ever attempt to grab someone through an open window of a car. This is one factor which leads me to believe that Ferguson Police have either no training or minimal training. For this you can blame the entirety of the City government of Ferguson. I have to assume that Wilson’s “blown out” eye as the media is calling it, occurred during the struggle inside the vehicle. Now at this point, you might have a valid battery on LEO charge, even if Wilson was wrong in his actions.
You can’t hit the police, regardless of what is happening to you. If the police are wrong in their actions, file a complaint by the book, but don’t fight the police. You’re just going to go to jail, most likely in worse shape than you were in before. So, at this point, Brown breaks free and runs. This completely ends the threat for Ofc. Wilson. Here he has many options. I am still unaware of any communications he might have had with dispatch up to this point. As a cop you learn to integrate communications with dispatch in everything you do. You literally can’t take a shit without calling out to dispatch on a “personal.”
So let’s evaluate. At this moment, Brown is running down the street. Wilson, who has already made a series of bad decisions, decides to run after Brown. Not only does he run after him, he runs after him with his gun drawn! Obviously this guy has never heard of the Use of Force Matrix (Model). The Use of Force Matrix is a diagram of sorts which explicitly dictates what kind of force can be used in any given situation. It is a universal standard that all cops must adhere to. Please refer to the chart. If you’ll notice, the middle section is highlighted in yellow. This indicates the type of resistance demonstrated by Michael Brown. He was running. Forget about anything that happened before. This is a new and separate use of force incident. There is a definitive line separating the struggle at the car window and this. Once he broke free, his resistance could now be classified as Active Physical Resistance.
I’ll stipulate for a second that while engaged in the struggle in the car window, Brown may have been engaged in Aggressive Physical Resistance. If he struck Wilson at all, he was engaging in aggressive physical resistance (Assaultive on the chart). Whether or not he was in the right does not matter. You don’t fight the cops. They win. Now, the act of running is an act of active physical resistance. The level of resistance has decreased, therefore the response from the officer is mandated to decrease as well. The corresponding response authorized under the UFM is compliance techniques. Now what are compliance techniques? Pressure points, take downs, escorts, and everything up to and including straight getting your ass kicked, could all be considered compliance techniques. Remember, police can only use force for two reasons: defense and control. Defense is obvious. Control? Well that’s where the controversy lies. When a cop lawfully detains you, he has the right to physically control you as well. He can command you to sit down, stand up, go over there, whatever he feels is necessary for his own safety.
My biggest problem with this whole incident, is that none of Wilson’s actions corresponded to Brown’s level of resistance when looked at using the Use of Force Matrix. This is a big problem for Wilson. Even with the limited facts we have, once Brown took off running, the gun should have been holstered. Brown was unarmed, so there is no argument that he was an imminent danger to the community, which would be the only situation you would ever be justified in shooting a fleeing subject.
Now, I hate when people point out problems without offering solutions. So here is what should have happened. Let us be in agreement, that once Brown started running, the level of resistance decreased and a new use of force incident began. Wilson should find himself in a situation where, from his perspective, he was attempting to detain a resistant subject, was battered in the process and now the subject is fleeing down the street. The only thing that should have happened, without exception, is a communication to dispatch. “Dispatch I have one running.” That’s it. At this point, dispatch will send out an alert tone on the radio and every Ferguson cop is gonna be on their way 10-18 (lights and sirens). You’ll have many options at your disposal in your efforts to capture the fleeing subjects, none of which involve a firearm. I wish I had more to say about a possible alternative action, but this is it. Nothing else should have happened. To give chase is to compromise officer safety. Good cops aren’t cowboys.
Now in the arguments you will hear, there will be talk of Officer Subject Factors. This basically is the relationship in height, weight, sex, age, strength and even sometimes specific knowledge about a person, between the officer and the subject. For example, if a cop comes up against Mike Tyson, and Iron Mike were to lunge at the cop, due to Tyson’s known baddassery, the cop could be justified in shooting him, as a punch from Mike Tyson could kill or cause serious bodily harm. Bad example but you get the point.
To shoot an unarmed subject, one must articulate that due to officer subject factors, they had a reasonable belief that the possibility of death or serious bodily injury was imminent. Furthermore, they must articulate that the force used was necessary to overcome said injury or death. This brings me to the “charging theory.” Think about this. If the charging theory is attempted by Wilson, the officer subject factors are key. What are the OSFs in this incident? Brown’s height, weight and the fact that he had previously struggled with Wilson. So the real question is, after Michael Brown turned around with his hands up, assuming he did take steps toward or even charged at Wilson, did Wilson truly fear for his life? Wilson did not appear to be concerned with the observable officer subject factors when he pulled up next to him and yelled at him to get out of the street. Wilson did not appear to be concerned with the officer subject factors when he tried to grab Brown through his window. Wilson did not appear to be concerned with the officer subject factors when he decided to give chase.
What did Ofc. Darrel Wilson think was going to happen when he caught him? He didn’t think about officer subject factors at any time during this entire incident and all of a sudden he remembers the use of force matrix, realizes that based on officer subject factors his life is in danger and proceeds to utilize lethal force? Really? If a six foot three, three hundred pound man assaulted you in your police car, struggled for your gun resulting in a shot being fired inside the car and you had a genuine fear for your safety, would you really get out and give chase? Fuck no. You’d call for back up and get some help out there before engaging two subjects. The fact that he got out of the car and gave chase with a gun in his hand tells me that he was suffering from tunnel vision and in a state of extreme hypervigilance and had no thought of his own safety. He was in cowboy mode after being defied by a subject. It has happened to us all. The difference here is that a human being is dead.
The one thing that I have yet to mention, is that if Wilson fired a single shot as Brown was running away, everything I have detailed here is irrelevant. If a shot was fired at a fleeing unarmed subject while his back was turned, it’s game over for Ofc. Wilson. If the first shot was fired at Michael Brown’s back, who in the world is going to believe that this was anything other than a hothead cop who lost his temper? Because that’s what I believe. Should Ofc. Wilson take the blame for this alone? Absolutely not. The Ferguson Police Department is absolutely responsible for releasing officers unto the public who demonstrate such disregard for basic officer safety and apparent ill will toward the community. There are more factors involved than I care to cover today. This is the meat and potatoes of the issue. While I do empathize with Ofc. Wilson, and I understand all the emotional, psychological, political, and social pressures that he experienced as a cop up to the moment of this incident; he took a life. That is where my empathy draws the line. Cops make bad decisions all the time. I know I did. But when your bad decisions result in the taking of a life, I can find no reason to forgive. I definitely won’t forget.