Written By a Law Clerk for Parker Scheer Lagomarsino: Robert Maxey
Frequently, officers who break the law are sometimes held to lower standards than everyday citizens. The first reason is that often law enforcement escapes punishment by saying they were acting within their duty. A second reason is that law enforcement officers are a close-knit community and many officers refuse to report or arrest each other for crime. Perhaps a third reason could be that a judge or a jury automatically appoints more credibility and flexibility to an officer simply because they are an officer.
For whatever the reasons may be, officers frequently receive less severe penalties and punishments than if a member of the general public had committed the same act. This lower standard of punishment is in direct conflict with the purpose of punishment, which is to reduce crime. A stricter sentence and higher standard develops a healthy law enforcement environment of accountability. When people are allowed to get away with a crime or reduced punishment, laws lose their effectiveness and purpose for existing.
On New Year's Day of 2009, an unarmed man was killed by a BART officer. The man was an African American by the name of Oscar Grant III who was a butcher at a local supermarket. A fight had started in the rail car he was in that did involve him. He was laying flat with his face to the ground when he was shot and killed by the officer. When the officer went into court he claimed that he thought he had pulled out his taser instead of his pistol. The court convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and he was sentenced to two years, however he only served twelve months before he was released. His mother has just settled a civil rights case against BART for $1,300,000.
Numerous problems and questions arise within this case. The first thing to understand was that the officer was white and underlying racial tensions could have played an important role. The most obvious question is how an officer could confuse his pistol for his taser. Certainly a man lying on the ground would not have warranted such a quick response that he could not see he was wielding a gun before he pulled the trigger. A more important and crucial element is even if we allow the officer to have made an honest mistake, the reason for wielding a taser in the first place is unclear. One logical assumption would be that an officer intended to use excessive force against a man who had his back to him and was on the ground. Either way the story is spun, the officer cannot escape that his actions were not in accordance with the law or what is to be expected of an officer.
In this writer's opinion, if a private citizen had done the exact same thing, more serious consequences could have been expected. Releasing those who we should hold to a higher standard early and providing them with reduced punishments sets a bad example of what we want from law enforcement. Our actions should say that we want more, never less.
A full article can be found here: BART settles in wrongful shooting
Our law firm does not represent anybody in this incident. The commentary is for educational purposes only. If you or someone you know has been injured or unjustly suffered brutality from the government and would like to be represented by a Las Vegas Lawyer, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.