In at least nine incidents in the U.S. and Canada, officers have mistakenly drawn their sidearm—thinking they were deploying their Taser—and unintentionally used deadly force against uncooperative suspects.
In at least two cases, the subjects have died, while others have sustained serious injuries. Often in these unfortunate events, the involved officers have become central figures in make-or-break legal action, fighting for their careers or freedom. One such officer was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter, a verdict upheld this month [June 2012] by an appellate court.
Now the first compendium of “weapon confusion” cases has been compiled and discussed in the online Monthly Law Journal published by Americans for Effective Law Enforcement and accessible without charge by clicking here.
It’s a valuable document for trainers, police attorneys, and street officers, drawing on real-world cases to explain how these mistakes have occurred and offering suggestions for how they might be prevented in the future. Among the contributing sources is Force Science Analyst Greg Meyer, former head of the LAPD Academy and an internationally recognized expert in less-lethal weaponry.
Links are provided to four full civil court decisions that reflect the issues typically involved in weapon confusion cases. The article also displays links to more than 20 other resources related to electronic control weapons, weapon confusion, and civil liability, including a report in Force Science News #154 that analyzed the infamous BART shooting in which a California transit officer fatally wounded a suspect by firing his pistol instead of his Taser during an altercation on a train platform.
In the latest development in that case, the California Court of Appeal on June 8 sustained the jury’s verdict that Ofcr. Johannes Mehserle was guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of suspect Oscar Grant. Among those testifying in the original trial as expert witnesses on Mehserle’s behalf were Greg Meyer and Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute.
Although their testimony helped Mehserle avoid a conviction for murder, he was found to have been “criminally negligent” and sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. You can link to the appellate decision, as well as trial court documents in that case, via the AELE article.
Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, and some other observers with expertise in human behavior and a familiarity with the Mehserle case expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling for failing to acknowledge important, scientifically established factors regarding physical and mental performance under stress that could have influenced the officer’s actions. Force Science News intends to explore this decision in greater detail in a future edition.