Tuesday, August 19, 2014

LEGAL OPINION: Was The Killing Of Michael Brown An Act Of Self-Defense? By Richard J. Chrystie

Michael Brown, decedent in Ferguson Police shooting
By Richard J. Chrystie, Aug. 19, 2014

I asked my friend, retired Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Richard J. Chrystie, to comment on the video with enhanced audio of an apparent eyewitness to the shooting in Ferguson. Here is what Chrystie wrote:

I watched the entire video. I played the most relevant portion three times. It does appear that someone is saying that Mike Brown fought with Officer Wilson in the truck (the police vehicle), ran off a short distance and then doubled back and charged Wilson. Assuming that is true, then Officer Wilson can claim self defense -- that he thought Mike Brown was coming back to attack him again, and get his gun and kill him.

I note that Officer Wilson appears slight in build and that Mike Brown is considerably bigger than Wilson. This would justify a reasonable belief in Wilson's mind that the only way he could protect himself was to shoot Brown. After all, Brown had already attacked him once. Moreover, it appears from news reports that Officer Wilson had been injured in the initial confrontation with Brown. So this would support a belief by Wilson that if Brown got to him again, then he (Wilson) would be overpowered and beaten badly or even killed with his own gun.

So, yes -- Officer Wilson appears to have a good case of self defense -- assuming that Brown attacked him initially, injured him and then doubled back and began charging him.

A few side points. First, in the material I sent you regarding the shooting by the 80-year-old man, all of the case law stating the police were justified in shooting arose in the context of a civil suit against the officers for violating the deceased's civil rights. A civil suit requires only a preponderance of the evidence. But even that was not shown by the plaintiffs in those cases. Whereas an officer charged criminally -- either manslaughter or murder -- must be shown guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Assuming this newly alleged scenario in the Wilson/Brown shooting is true, Wilson should not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Point two: When Brown shoved and menaced the clerk of the store where the cigars were stolen, that converted the shoplifting to a robbery -- taking property by force or fear.

Point three: Police departments in communities with large minority populations are always recruiting and hiring minority officers. The problem they have is that a qualified minority officer is in such demand the qualified minorities get poached by a department offering higher pay. Chances are that the Ferguson PD does not pay as well as St. Louis or other big cities. So even if Ferguson hires minority officers, they may not stay with that department. I don't know that for sure about Ferguson PD, but it is a common problem with other small departments.

Point four: Regarding the autopsy performed by Dr. Michael Baden, the results do not change my analysis of the case. In fact, it strengthens it somewhat. Brown would have been fairly close to Wilson for Brown to get hit six times by a man shooting a pistol in a stress situation. Also the line of the shots along the right side indicate that Brown was moving in a straight line towards the officer when shot. If he had been weaving or turning then it would be unlikely the wounds would all be in the same line. Why so many shots? The police are trained to keep shooting until the threat is over. So long as Brown was still upright, Wilson would have kept shooting. So six shots is not unusual. Moreover, I read that Brown was 6'4" and weighed 300 pounds. So it probably took six shots to drop him. Hits to his arm alone would not have done it.

There are many facts yet to be determined and publicized regarding the Wilson/Brown shooting. I'll be interested in particular in more details on the autopsies of Brown. Also, how many shots were fired and at what range? This can all shed light on the case. Right now, there are still many important facts we don't know.

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