Perhaps one of the most talked about topics over the past five years has been the repeated and at times incessant and controversial action from police and use of their firearms. The topic is by its very nature incredibly contentious. The police are in place to protect and serve but as you will see in the coming pages, some cops have taken matters much too far. From accidentally pulling their firearms instead of tasers, shooting a groom on his wedding day, and killing 12 year old boy, Tamir Rice. These cases of police using their firearms in the line of duty beg to be described as police brutality, at the very least they deserve some undivided attention.
These cases run the risk of being blown out of proportion (in favor of the victims or towards police) from the start, stories get altered and the truth can become a fickle friend. Thanks to modern technology, more and more of these cases have been broadcast for the world to criticize because of smartphones and their ability to morph into a camera in a moment’s notice. We ask that you approach the following cases with a skeptical eye, remember there are always two sides to each story; and then there is the truth.
That being said, these cases that we have handpicked have a special link to controversy, you may begin to find it difficult or even impossible to defend some of these law enforcement officers. Judges and juries have found the same impartiality; all we ask is that you formulate your own opinion based on the facts presented before you. As we mosey our way through these problematic cases be prepared to embark on a journey that you may find demanding as a citizen of the United States. Whatever conclusion you draw from the facts you are about to be presented with is your right, all we ask is that you do your best to remain impartial, however difficult this may be.
15. Oscar Grant – 22 Years Old
On New Year’s Day, 2009, 22 year old Oscar Grant was a passenger of a public transportation Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train in Oakland, California. Police officers responded to a call about a fight on-board of a BART train, detaining 20 passengers to sort out the confrontation. Grant, a father to a then 4 year old daughter was one of the 20 passengers detained, although a witness claimed Oscar Grant wasn’t involved in the confrontation.
In the controversial video Grant can be seen kneeling and pleading to officers for reasons that are still unknown. Later in the video, Grant, being detained by two police officers, is fatally shot in the back by a third onlooking officer, Johaness Mehserle. Mehserle, who was initially charged with murder but later released by a ruling that the shooting was “an accident”, claimed he meant to grab his taser, but accidentally grabbed his service weapon. The shooting led to riots and protests not only in Oakland, California but across the nation.
14. Timothy Stansbury – 19 Years Old
In a case of devastating circumstance and tragic timing, 19 year old Timothy Stansbury was attempting to enter a party in a local Brooklyn housing project. Attempting to take a shortcut by using a rooftop, Stansbury and two friends tried to enter the party. Stansbury approached the opposite side of the entrance, as the door swung open, startled, the officer fired his weapon striking Stansbury in the chest and fatally wounding him. The police immediately called an ambulance and rushed Stansbury to a nearby hospital, but it was too late. The Commissioner issued a public apology as well as a written letter apologizing for the horrific damage inflicted on his loved ones. One of the most controversial pieces of information regarding the case was that both identities of the officers were kept classified. “At this point, based on the facts we have gathered, there appears to be no justification for the shooting,” the Commissioner said.
13. Sean Bell – 23 Years Old
It appears that justice was properly served regarding the Sean Bell, 50 bullets late, however. In a tragic and brutal scene that took place on Sean Bell’s wedding day, the groom was at a club with some friends of his. After an apparent altercation, the unarmed Bell left the scene of the fight and headed towards his car. Detective Gescard Isnora, who was later fired along with three other officers involved in the overkill, claimed that they believed Bell was “about to take part in a drive-by shooting”. After investigation, which included sifting through 50 shell casings fired at the unarmed civilian, a Police department administrative had this to say, “(Isnora) Had acted improperly in the shooting that killed Mr. Bell on what was supposed to have been his wedding day” and that he should be fired.
12. Michael Brown – 18 Years Old
If you heard the word ‘Ferguson’, we’re guessing that you can think back to the rallies and protests based upon the shooting of an 18 year old, recently graduated Michael Brown. In a confrontation that lasted only three minutes, officer on the scene Darren Wilson approached the teenager and shortly after opened fire, shooting and killing the young African American male. The source of contention originates not only with the nature of the initial crime (shoplifting a pack of cigarillos), as well as the pathology specialist who testified that the bullet wounds were consistent with a position that the victim was in a defensive position. Over sixty witnesses testified to an array of explanations running the gamut, ultimately a grand jury elected not to charge officer Wilson based on testimonies.
11. John Crawford – 22 Years Old
This case demonstrates the contradictory nature of the Officer’s testimony when linked to footage from the convenient stores. This video leaked online shows two officers entering an Ohio Walmart based on a police call that an African American male was pointing an air gun at children inside the store. The officer’s testimony before the video was leaked in which he suggested that he only shot John Crawford after repeatedly ordering him to lay the weapon down. Upon further review of the Walmart security footage it appears that the officer opened fire on Crawford almost immediately after coming in contact with him. Another point of contention raised from the footage was Crawford never aimed the gun at the police, the video shows him quickly retreating and turning his back before being fatally shot. The argument made here is simple, his penalty for the obvious oversight of carrying a ‘fake’ air rifle around a convenient store, should never have been execution.
10. Ramarley Graham – 18 Years Old
When we look upon Richard Haste, the officer who resigned two days before he was to be fired (as ruled by the Judge) at first seems reasonable, although upon further review it appears action to slow this officer’s role could have come sooner. In just one year from 2009 to 2010, the officer had what was considered an ‘unusual’ amount of complaints. He had 10 accusations, including physical force, excessive language, and abusive frisk. Ultimately, 15 months after these allegations, Richard Haste entered Ramarley Graham’s home illegally without a search warrant, and fired one fatal shot killing the 18 year old male instantly. In 2010 Richard Haste was indicted for manslaughter by a grand jury, but a judge called for a new grand jury citing ‘administrative error’. The latter jury decided not to indict Haste. The predicated nature of officer Haste’s decision to resign, allowed him to avoid official punishment for the crime, a move Ramarley’s mother described as “a slap in the face”.
9. Ezell Ford – 25 Years Old
Ezell Ford, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was walking on the sidewalk near his home in Florence, Los Angeles. Two officers in a marked police vehicle, Sharlton Wampler and Antonia Villegas, both gang enforcement officers, approached Ford walking in ‘a gang area’. The officers decided to conduct an “investigative stop” and approached Ford, whom had contact with Wampler and Villegas before. Ford, described by neighbors as “having the mental capacity of an 8 year old”, and “not being able to understand or stop when asked by law enforcement”, got into a confrontation with the officers and made an attempt to reach one of the officers’ guns, the other officer then opened fire and killed Ezell Ford. While the shooting was ruled justified, the main point of controversy is the relationship the officers had with the victim. They both testified to knowing Ford, and having arrested him on an earlier occasion for marijuana possession. If Ford had such a mental handicap having been diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, why did the cops treat him as though he was an average ‘gang-affiliated’ middle-aged male?
8. Walter Scott – 50 Years Old
In one of the most brutal videos linked to an officer involved shooting, Walter Scott, 50 years old, was pulled over for a busted tail light. When Scott realized his license plate would bring up an unpaid child support fee he knew he would be sent to ‘debtor’s prison’. The crux of the problem lies in the background of Walter Scott, a father of four children, and a man who served honorably for his county in the United States Coast Guard. Friends and family described Scott as a loving, outgoing, caring man who was woven into the community and loved by everybody. Michael Slager, the officer accused of murder in the case of Walter Scott, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of deprivation of rights, the guilty plea was a condition that dropped the murder charge. The scary fact about this case is simple, without the bystander’s video showing Scott running away and being shot in the back, a murder charge would have been unlikely at best.
7. Terence Crutcher – 40 Years Old
Less than a year ago Terrence Crutcher, a 40 year old male from Oklahoma, experienced car failure in the middle of the road. After floods of 911 calls come through about a vehicle blocking the roadway, officers reply to the call. Officer Betty Shelby was on her way to a domestic dispute unrelated to the broken down vehicle, when she crossed and approached Crutcher on her way to the other call. As a helicopter above is circling and taking a video, officer Shelby is seen conversing with Crutcher. Officer Shelby orders Crutcher to take his hands out of his pocket and he complies, what happens next is stunning. In a gruesome police video, Shelby opens fire fatally wounding Crutcher. Officer Shelby claimed she had opened fire when she believed he was reaching inside his vehicle. The video shows Crutcher walking to his vehicle, away from the officers with his hands clearly raised above his head. The entire case makes you wonder how some terrorists convicted of unthinkable crimes are simply arrested, but citizens whose vehicles broke down are shot to death.
6. Philando Castile – 32 Years Old
In an absolutely horrifying Facebook Live stream, Philando Castile is seen bleeding profusely through his shirt, with his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter in the back seat. Geronimo Yanez, the officer who pulled over Castile for a broken tail light, opened fire, firing 7 rounds into Philando Castile’s vehicle after he believed Castile was reaching for a weapon. The most shocking portion of the live stream, happens when he speaks his final words “I wasn’t reaching for it”. What Castile was talking about was his legal concealed carry permit for his authorized handgun that was inside the vehicle. The screeching moans from both Castile and his girlfriend are enough to make you want to turn the video off entirely, but then noticing the baby girl in the backseat makes it that much more difficult to watch. Officer Geronimo Yanez is currently awaiting trial, in which he has pleaded not-guilty for a murder charge.
5. Laquan McDonald – 17 Years Old
Another case involving an officer with a riddled history of complaints. Officer Jason Van Dyke, the officer involved in shooting and killing 17 year old Laquan McDonald had an extensive career as an Illinois officer, unfortunately that career included 20 complaints from citizens, ten of which involved excessive use of force. In one case an Illinois jury awarded a man $350,000 for excessive use of force following a traffic stop conducted by Van Dyke. The shooting of McDonald came when witnesses called 911 after seeing a man wielding a knife was seen breaking into cars.
As McDonald began to flee, the dashboard camera of the police cruiser catches officers unloading 16 bullets into the 17 year old boy who was walking in the middle of the street. In a scandalous turn, the microphone on the officer that connects to the dashboard camera was ‘intentionally sabotaged’, which runs in congruence with hundreds of other cases of officers covering or damaging microphones with intent to scramble evidence of what was said. In the video you see bullets being sent into the teenager’s body long after the time he was initially shot, 15 seconds to be exact. The excessive use of force mantra seems to fall in line with what citizens had been complaining about for two decades.
4. Trayvon Martin – 17 Years Old
Chances are if you’ve heard of one of the cases we included in this article, it’s the tragic shooting and killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Neighborhood watch ‘captain’ George Zimmerman called 911 on a suspicious persons report, while on the phone call the 911 dispatcher instructs Zimmerman to stay inside his SUV and not approach the individual. George Zimmerman neglects to follow instructions and takes matters into his own hands, shooting and killing the teenager moments later.
Because of Florida’s controversial ‘stand your ground law’, civilians are allowed to use proper force when they feel their life is threatened or in danger. Most of the outrage involving Zimmerman has come since his acquittal of manslaughter against the young boy. In one instance, Zimmerman used Twitter to post an image of Trayvon’s slain corpse in which he stated “Z-man is a one man army”. Not exactly remorseful words for someone having killed another individual. In an unrelated instance he called then President Barack Obama an “ignorant baboon”, and later that year in 2013 Zimmerman was arrested on aggravated assault charges. Finally, a year later, Zimmerman himself is shot in an altercation with a motorist, who claimed Zimmerman told him he was going to kill him.
3. Kieth Lamont Scott – 43 Years Old
In a parking lot where officers were preparing to serve an arrest warrant to a different individual, Officer Brentley Vinson saw Kieth Lamont Scott rolling a marijuana joint with a gun on his lap. In fear for public safety the Officer shot at him killing him instantly. At first the case seems controversial but understandable for the officer to act against an individual who is armed with possession of illegal drugs. However Scott’s wife claims that her husband has a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and had just taken his meds. The officer claims that Scott has an entranced look in his eyes, which he believed meant the man was preparing to stand off with the officer. In another regrettable circumstance in which not only was the incident taped by the victim’s loved one, you can hear Scott’s wife pleading for the Officer not to shoot her husband.
2. Tamir Rice – 12 Years Old
In arguably the most devastating and incomprehensible killing at the hands of the law comes from Cleveland, Ohio. Timothy Loehmann, the Officer who was eventually fired for the killing of a 12 year old boy carrying a pellet gun; shot the young boy within 2 seconds of his patrol vehicle pulling up to the area where the boy was located. What is even more enraging is that Loehmann had previously worked for law enforcement in Independence, Ohio, where he was fired for insubordination, and “inability to emotionally function”. A grand jury decided not to apply criminal charges against Loehmann which sparked national outrage. Loehmann had not even finished his 6-month probationary period in Cleveland when he shot and killed Tamir Rice.
1. Freddie Gray – 25 Years Old
6 officers in Baltimore, who never fired a shot, but with force so brutal we had to include it, broke the neck of 25 year old Freddie Gray. When approached by police Freddie Gray started to flee, initially approached because he was carrying a switchblade (which was later found to be a legal knife) they wrestled him to the ground. Seen in a video taken by a bystander, two police officers in yellow vests have Gray pinned to the ground. When leg irons and handcuffs are attached to Freddie Gray he became irate, and when he was thrown on his stomach (illegal position) without a seatbelt (illegal conduct) inside the police cruiser, Gray fell into a coma. Negligence from the officers to provide any medical attention is baffling, and while in police custody Freddie Gray passed away.