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Thursday, September 22, 2016

What police can and cannot do

It's always risky to comment on a developing situation whose facts are uncertain, but I wrote the following in response to a family member who opined on Facebook.

"Police officers are not 'the law' [a quote from the post of my family member]. Police officers serve the law. They are under the law like everybody else. The law grants them powers but also imposes limits and holds them accountable if they don't stay within those limits.

"Whether the dead person had, in fact, a gun is one question that ultimately a jury will have to decide. Beyond that, open-carry in North Carolina has been legal for decades and concealed-carry in North Carolina is also legal with a permit. (No one knows whether the dead person had a permit or not.)

"I'm sure the officer believes the dead person had a gun. Whether or not that was, in and of itself, justification for a command to drop the weapon is a debatable point at law and there have been several court cases about that already. It's also a debatable point at law whether a LEO is justified in shooting someone simply because the person is armed and declines to disarm. There have been court cases about this too. The question is really whether the dead person made a threatening gesture or there was some other legitimate reason for the LEO to open fire.

"It's a borderline case based on the facts that have come to light. In short, LEOs do not have unlimited discretion to open fire — even in situations where a firearm is present. This is far from open-and-shut."