Thou­sands Dead Few pros­e­cuted

Among all the fa­tal shoot­ings by on-duty po­lice since 2005, 54 of­fi­cers have faced charges, a Post anal­y­sis found. Most were cleared or ac­quit­ted in the cases that have been re­solved.


On a rainy night five years ago, Of­fi­cer Cole­man “Duke” Brack­ney set off in pur­suit of a sus­pected drunk driver, chas­ing his black Mazda Mi­ata down ru­ral Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car fi­nally came to rest in a ditch, Brack­ney opened fire at the rear win­dow and re­peat­edly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ah­ern, in the back. The gun­shots killed Ah­ern.

Pros­e­cu­tors charged Brack­ney with felony man­slaugh­ter. But he even­tu­ally en­tered a plea to a lesser charge and could ul­ti­mately be left with no crim­i­nal record.

Now, he serves as the po­lice chief in a small com­mu­nity 20 miles from the scene of the shoot­ing.

Brack­ney is among 54 of­fi­cers charged over the past decade for fa­tally shoot­ing some­one while on duty, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The Wash­ing­ton Post and re­searchers at Bowl­ing Green State Uni­ver­sity. This anal­y­sis, based on a wide range of public records and in­ter­views with law en­force­ment, ju­di­cial and other legal ex­perts, sought to iden­tify for the first time ev­ery of­fi­cer who faced charges for such shoot­ings since 2005. Th­ese rep­re­sent a small frac­tion of the thou­sands of fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings that have oc­curred across the coun­try in that time.

In an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the cases where an of­fi­cer was charged, the per­son killed was un­armed. But it usu­ally took more than that.

When pros­e­cu­tors pressed charges, The Post anal­y­sis found, there were typ­i­cally other fac­tors that made the case ex­cep­tional, in­clud­ing: a vic­tim shot in the back, a video record­ing of the in­ci­dent, in­crim­i­nat­ing tes­ti­mony from other of­fi­cers or al­le­ga­tions of a coverup.

Forty-three cases in­volved at least one of th­ese four fac­tors. Nine­teen cases in­volved at least two.

In the most re­cent in­ci­dent, of­fi­cials in North Charleston, S.C., filed a mur­der charge Tues­day against a white po­lice of­fi­cer, Michael T. Slager, for gun­ning down an ap­par­ently un­armed black man. A video record­ing showed Slager re­peat­edly shoot­ing the man in the back as he was run­ning away.

“To charge an of­fi­cer in a fa­tal shoot­ing, it takes some­thing so egre­gious, so over the top that it can­not be ex­plained in any ra­tio­nal way,” said Philip M. Stin­son, a crim­i­nol­o­gist at Bowl­ing Green who

stud­ies ar­rests of po­lice. “It also has to be a case that pros­e­cu­tors are will­ing to hang their rep­u­ta­tion on.”

But even in th­ese most ex­treme in­stances, the ma­jor­ity of the of­fi­cers whose cases have been re­solved have not been con­victed, The Post anal­y­sis found.

And when they are con­victed or plead guilty, they’ve tended to get lit­tle time be­hind bars, on av­er­age four years and some­times only weeks. Ju­rors are very re­luc­tant to pun­ish po­lice of­fi­cers, tend­ing to view them as guardians of or­der, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense lawyers.

The def­i­ni­tion of “of­fi­cers” used in the anal­y­sis extends be­yond lo­cal po­lice to all gov­ern­ment law en­force­ment per­son­nel who are armed, in­clud­ing sher­iff ’s deputies and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers. The anal­y­sis in­cluded some shoot­ings that of­fi­cers de­scribed as ac­ci­den­tal.

There is no ac­cu­rate tally of all the cases of po­lice shoot­ings across the coun­try, even deadly ones. The FBI main­tains a na­tional data­base of fa­tal shoot­ings by of­fi­cers but does not re­quire po­lice de­part­ments to keep it up­dated.

Over the past year, a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sial po­lice killings of un­armed vic­tims — in­clud­ing Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleve­land and Eric Gar­ner on Staten Is­land — has raised ques­tions over what it takes for of­fi­cers to face crim­i­nal charges. Of­ten, the public is di­vided over whether the po­lice went too far. Only in rare cases do pros­e­cu­tors and grand ju­ries de­cide that the killing can­not be jus­ti­fied.

Such cases in­clude a Michi­gan state trooper who shot and killed an un­armed home­less man in Detroit as he was shuf­fling to­ward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The in­ci­dent was cap­tured on video, and the of­fi­cer, who said he thought the man had a gun, was charged with sec­ond­de­gree mur­der. A jury ac­cepted the of­fi­cer’s ac­count and found him not guilty. He re­mains on the job.

They also in­clude a po­lice of­fi­cer in Dar­ling­ton County, S.C., who was charged with mur­der af­ter he chased an un­armed man wanted for steal­ing a gas grill and three U-Haul trail­ers into the woods, shoot­ing him in the back four times. A jury, be­liev­ing that he feared for his life, found him not guilty.

Two At­lanta plain­clothes of­fi­cers opened fire and killed a 92year-old woman dur­ing a mis­taken drug raid on her home. As they pried the bars off her front door, she fired a sin­gle warn­ing shot with an old re­volver. The po­lice re­sponded by smash­ing the door down and shoot­ing at her 39 times. One of the of­fi­cers tried to dis­guise their er­ror by plant­ing bags of mar­i­juana in her base­ment. The two of­fi­cers pleaded guilty and re­ceived un­usu­ally stiff sen­tences of six and 10 years in a fed­eral pri­son.

A rap mu­si­cian, Killer Mike, wrote a song to memo­ri­al­ize the death of this African Amer­i­can grand­mother at the hands of white of­fi­cers, com­par­ing her killing to “the dream of King when the sniper took his life.”

Af­ter the death of Michael Brown last sum­mer, con­cerns about racism in polic­ing have ex­ploded in public de­bate, in par­tic­u­lar whether white of­fi­cers use ex­ces­sive force when deal­ing with mi­nori­ties and whether the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem protects the vic­tims’ rights.

Among the of­fi­cers charged since 2005 for fa­tal shoot­ings, more than three-quar­ters were white. Two-thirds of their vic­tims were mi­nori­ties, all but two of them black.

Nearly all other cases in­volved black of­fi­cers who killed black vic­tims. In one other in­stance, a Latino of­fi­cer fa­tally shot a white per­son and in an­other an Asian of­fi­cer killed a black per­son. There were a to­tal of 49 vic­tims.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the ex­act role of race in fa­tal shoot­ings and pros­e­cu­tions is dif­fi­cult. Of­ten, pros­e­cu­tors pur­sued charges against a back­drop of protests ac­cus­ing po­lice of racism. Race was also a fac­tor in court when fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors stepped in and filed charges against of­fi­cers for al­legedly vi­o­lat­ing the vic­tims’ civil rights. Six of­fi­cers, all white, faced fed­eral civil rights charges for killing blacks.

In in­ter views with more than 20 pros­e­cu­tors across the coun­try, they said that race did not fac­tor into their de­ci­sions to bring charges against of­fi­cers. The pros­ecu- tors said they pur­sued cases based on the legal mer­its.

But de­fense lawyer Doug Friesen, who rep­re­sented a white of­fi­cer con­victed in 2013 for fa­tally shoot­ing an un­armed black man, said that “it would be naive” for pros­e­cu­tors to say race isn’t a con­sid­er­a­tion.

“Any­time you have politi­cians that have to make charg­ing de­ci­sions, real­is­ti­cally that is part of their de­ci­sion-mak­ing process,” Friesen said. “They are ask­ing them­selves, ‘Is there go­ing to be ri­ot­ing out in the streets?’ ”

Both Of­fi­cer Duke Brack­ney and his vic­tim James Ah­ern, shot dead in his Mi­ata, were white.

Brack­ney, 32, re­called in an in­ter­view that he be­lieved Ah­ern was about to back his car up and run over him. The en­gine was rac­ing and the backup lights flashed, Brack­ney said.

A video, cap­tured by a cam­era mounted on his cruiser’s dash­board, in­di­cated that the sports car was not mov­ing when the of­fi­cer opened fire. The ex­is­tence of that video was the key rea­son why pros­e­cu­tors de­cided to bring charges, they said.

“In my mind, it was the third time he tried to run me over,” Brack­ney said in an in­ter­view with The Post. “His right hand came up in this sweep­ing mo­tion, and I thought he was go­ing for a gun. I don’t know what a jury would have be­lieved— and that’s the prob­lem. There was this risk, so en­ter­ing a plea, I viewed it as a busi­ness de­ci­sion.”

Af­ter plead­ing to a re­duced charge of neg­li­gent homi­cide, a mis­de­meanor, Brack­ney served 30 days in jail as part of a plea agree­ment. The judge de­ferred the con­vic­tion, and if Brack­ney ful­fills the terms of his pro­ba­tion, the case will be dis­missed.

“No one wants to take a life, but at the end of the day, I re­al­ize that I’m the one who got to go home,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t change what I did.”

He was fired by the Bella Vista Po­lice Depart­ment, where he worked at the time, but was given an­other chance by the city of Sul­phur Springs, Ark. Two years ago, city of­fi­cials hired him to run the po­lice depart­ment, where he man­ages a force of four of­fi­cers who spend much of their time pa­trolling quiet streets and ar­rest­ing small-time drug deal­ers.

Most of the time, pros­e­cu­tors don’t press charges against po­lice — even if there are strong sus­pi­cions that an of­fi­cer has com­mit­ted a crim­i­nal of­fense. Pros­e­cu­tors in­ter­viewed for this re­port say it takes com­pelling proof that at the time of the shoot­ing the vic­tim posed no threat ei­ther to the of­fi­cer or to by­standers.

Jay Hodge, a for­mer South Carolina pros­e­cu­tor, said the ques­tion boils down to this: Can the ev­i­dence dis­prove the of­fi­cer’s story that he was de­fend­ing him­self or pro­tect­ing the public. Hodge re­counted one case he had pros­e­cuted in which a sher­iff ’s deputy said he had opened fire on an un­armed sus­pect who grabbed for his gun. The au­topsy re­port, Hodge said, told a dif­fer­ent story.

“You don’t shoot some one in the back four times and then claim self-de­fense,” he said. “They can’t be go­ing for a gun if they are run­ning away.”

In­half the crim­i­nal cases iden­ti­fied by The Post and re­searchers at Bowl­ing Green, pros­e­cu­tors cited foren­sics and au­topsy re­ports that showed this very thing: un­armed sus­pects who had been shot in the back.

Not that long ago, po­lice had wide lat­i­tude to shoot flee­ing felons. But a 1985 Supreme Court de­ci­sion changed that. In Ten­nessee v. Gar­ner, the jus­tices ruled that it was not jus­ti­fi­able for of­fi­cers to shoot sim­ply to pre­vent a sus­pect’s es­cape. The sus­pect had to pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat of death or se­ri­ous harm to ei­ther law en­force­ment or in­no­cent by­standers for the shoot­ing to be legally jus­ti­fied.

In a third of the cases where of­fi­cers faced charges, pros­e­cu­tors in­tro­duced videos into ev­i­dence, say­ing they showed the slain sus­pects had posed no threat at the mo­ment they were killed. The videos were of­ten shot from cam­eras mounted on the dash­boards of pa­trol cars, stan­dard equip­ment for most po­lice de­part­ments.

In nearly a quar­ter of the cases, an of­fi­cer’s col­leagues turned on him, giv­ing state­ments or tes­ti­fy­ing that the of­fi­cer opened fire even though the sus­pect posed no dan­ger at the time.

Such tes­ti­mony car­ries al­most un­equalled weight with judges and ju­ries be­cause po­lice of­fi­cers are con­sid­ered highly cred­i­ble eye­wit­nesses as well as ex­perts in the proper use of force, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense at­tor­neys. More­over, be­cause of­fi­cers so rarely cross the “thin blue line” to tes­tify against a col­league, their ev­i­dence can be es­pe­cially pow­er­ful.

And in 10 cases, or about a fifth of the time, pros­e­cu­tors al­leged that of­fi­cers ei­ther planted or de­stroyed ev­i­dence in an at­tempt to ex­on­er­ate them­selves — a strong in­di­ca­tion, pros­e­cu­tors said, that the of­fi­cers them­selves rec­og­nized the shoot­ing was un­jus­ti­fied.

It was late one South Carolina evening 10 years ago, when Dar­ling­ton County Sher­iff ’s Deputy Tim Robert­son fi­nally caught up with Wil­liam Sh­effield, a 45-year-old white man wanted for steal­ing a gas grill and three haul­ing trail­ers. Un­der the dim porch light of a mo­bile home, Robert­son, whois white, urged the man to sur­ren­der, forc­ing him to spread his hands against the cab of his GMC pickup truck.

But as Robert­son pre­pared to put the hand­cuffs on, the sus­pect lunged to the right, turned and then tried to grab the deputy’s gun, Robert­son re­counted in an in­ter­view with The Post. Robert­son, who­said he feared for his life, fired two shots. Sh­effield broke away and ran for the woods. Robert­son gave chase, open­ing fire again. Ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, the deputy gunned down the un­armed sus­pect in the back.

“There was no threat be­cause there was no one around who could get hurt. There was a trail of shell cas­ings that showed the deputy chased him and shot at him as he ran away,” said J.R. Joyner, the lead pros­e­cu­tor in the case. “One shot was point-blank — an ex­e­cu­tion shot.”

Joyner said the foren­sics ev­i­dence was “the strong­est of any case inmy ca­reer.”

Pros­e­cu­tors suc­cess­fully in­dicted Robert­son on a mur­der charge, cit­ing the law that bars an of­fi­cer from shoot­ing a flee­ing sus­pect in the back.

But at trial, ju­rors would go on to ac­quit Robert­son, be­liev­ing his ac­count that he was forced to fire the fi­nal, fa­tal shots be­cause the sus­pect turned back dur­ing the chase, at­tacked him and grabbed for his gun a sec­ond time. Robert­son would keep his job at the sher­iff ’s depart­ment and be put in charge of train­ing deputies in firearms and use of force.

In Cleve­land, Of­fi­cer Michael Brelo, who is white, was in­dicted for killing a pair of black sus­pects af­ter a grand jury re­viewed a wide range of ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing nearly two dozen video record­ings from dash­board cam­eras, traf­fic cam­eras and sur­veil­lance cam­eras mounted at busi­nesses and a school.

The deadly en­counter be­gan when the pair, Ti­mothy Rus­sell, 43, and Malissa Wil­liams, 30, drove past the Cleve­land po­lice head­quar­ters on a Novem­ber night in 2012 and their Chevy Malibu fate­fully back­fired. Of­fi­cers mis­took the sound for gun­fire and went in pur­suit. Soon, 62 po­lice ve­hi­cles were chas­ing the Chevy through city streets at speeds of up to 110 mph.

The cam­eras cap­tured the fu­ri­ous pur­suit with of­fi­cers’ Dodge Charg­ers rock­et­ing past re­peated red lights and weav­ing through traf­fic at break­neck speed, tires squeal­ing as pan­icked driv­ers peeled onto the shoul­ders.

The sus­pects, later found to be un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs, came to a stop in a mid­dle school park­ing lot. Eleven of­fi­cers got out of their cars and formed a semi­cir­cle around the Chevy, court records show. Although two po­lice ra­dio broad­casts had re­ported that the pair was un­armed, ac­cord­ing to trans­mis­sions com­piled by state in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the of­fi­cers opened fire, shoot­ing 139 times.

Brelo him­self fired 34 shots at the car and then climbed onto the hood of the Chevy and fired 15 more times “at close range” through the wind­shield, state in­ves­ti­ga­tion records show.

In a state­ment to in­ves­ti­ga­tors with the Ohio at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, Brelo did not deny fir­ing the shots but said he be­lieved gun­fire was com­ing from in­side the ve­hi­cle. “I’ve never been so afraid inmy life,” he said. “I thought my part­ner and I would be shot and that we were go­ing to be killed.”

A grand jury in­dicted Brelo on two counts of vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, say­ing he acted in a “fit of rage” and “un­der the in­flu­ence of sud­den pas­sion.”

A lawyer for Brelo, whose trial be­gan Mon­day, de­clined to com­ment.

Stin­son, the Bowl­ing Green crim­i­nol­o­gist, said it is of­ten the case that ques­tion­able po­lice shoot­ings are an act of pas­sion. Some­times, he said, the en­coun­ters start with some­thing as sim­ple as a traf­fic stop and es­ca­late when some­one fails to obey the of­fi­cer’s di­rec­tions.

“They are used to giv­ing com­mands and peo­ple obey­ing,” said Stin­son, who pre­vi­ously worked as a po­lice of­fi­cer. “They don’t like it when peo­ple don’t lis­ten to them, and things can quickly be­come vi­o­lent when peo­ple don’t fol­low their or­ders.”

Levi Ran­dolph, a black po­lice of­fi­cer in Gary, Ind., fa­tally shot a black 16-year-old rob­bery sus­pect in the back of the neck af­ter the flee­ing teen climbed a fence to es­cape, court records show.

Pros­e­cu­tors charged Ran­dolph with reck­less homi­cide.

But when the case went to trial, his at­tor­ney told ju­rors that Ran­dolph had felt threat­ened by the 6-foot, 200-pound teenager, Vince Smith Jr. Twice dur­ing the chase, Ran­dolph said in a de­po­si­tion, Smith turned around to con­front him, both times reach­ing into the front pocket of his black hooded sweat­shirt. He said he thought the teen was go­ing for a gun.

Although Smith turned out to be un­armed, it took ju­rors only two hours of de­lib­er­a­tion to ac­quit Ran­dolph. Ran­dolph could not be reached for com­ment.

“Ju­rors tend to be sym­pa­thetic to­ward po­lice of­fi­cers,” said Ran­dolph’s at­tor­ney, Scott King. “For ev­ery movie like ‘Train­ing Day,’ there are 10 movies where cops are un­der­paid, hard-work­ing, strug­gling against in­sur­mount­able odds and on the side of good.”

The out­come of Ran­dolph’s case is more the rule than the ex­cep­tion and demon­strates the daunt­ing task fac­ing pros­e­cu­tors in those rare in­stances when they do charge of­fi­cers in con­nec­tion with fa­tal shoot­ings.

Of the 54 of­fi­cers who were charged for fa­tally shoot­ing some­one while on duty over the past decade, 35 have had their cases re­solved. Of those, a ma­jor­ity— 21 of­fi­cers — were ac­quit­ted or saw their charges dropped.

Ju­rors usu­ally see the of­fi­cer as “the good party in the fight,” said David Har­ris, a Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh law pro­fes­sor and ex­pert in po­lice use of force. “To get them to buy into a story where the of­fi­cer is the bad guy goes fun­da­men­tally against ev­ery­thing they be­lieve.”

Most ju­rors, ex­perts say, view of­fi­cers as those who en­force laws, not break them. And un­like civil­ians, po­lice of­fi­cers are al­lowed, even ex­pected, to use force.

“It’s a ques­tion of whether it was too much force,” Har­ris said. “It’s a very flex­i­ble stan­dard that has to be in­ter­preted in ev­ery case. All this makes it very dif­fi­cult to con­vict an of­fi­cer.”

Most laws that ap­ply to on-duty shoot­ings re­quire ju­rors to es­sen­tially ren­der a ver­dict on the of­fi­cer’s state of mind: Was the of­fi­cer truly afraid for his life or the lives of oth­ers when he fired his weapon? Would a rea­son­able of­fi­cer have been afraid?

That’s what Clay Rogers says he was asked to do when he served as a ju­ror for the 2009 trial of a Hart­ford, Conn., nar­cotics of­fi­cer

charged with fa­tally shoot­ing a flee­ing black sus­pect.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to prove an of­fi­cer is not jus­ti­fied be­yond a rea­son­able doubt, be­cause you al­most have to get in­side their head to know what he was think­ing and feel­ing,” Rogers said in an in­ter­view with The Post.

The of­fi­cer, Robert Lawlor, who is white, had fired five shots at a car as it sped away. Two bul­lets struck a pas­sen­ger, 18-year-old Jashon Bryant, in the back of the head, killing him.

The of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied be­fore a grand jury that he had ini­tially ap­proached the car, a black Nis­san Max­ima, be­cause it matched the de­scrip­tion of a ve­hi­cle used in a homi­cide. He said he opened fire at the car be­cause he be­lieved that Bryant had a gun and that the ve­hi­cle was bar­rel­ing to­ward an­other of­fi­cer.

Although no weapon was found, Rogers said he and his fel­low ju­rors had to take se­ri­ously the of­fi­cer’s claim that he be­lieved his life and that of his part­ner were in jeop­ardy.

Rogers said the jury was also in­flu­enced by the tough ques­tions di­rected at the car’s driver on the wit­ness stand. The of­fi­cer’s at­tor­ney grilled the driver about his crim­i­nal past, bring­ing up the co­caine found in the car and mar­i­juana he had in his jacket on the day of the in­ci­dent.

“The way the de­fense made it look was there were th­ese two gang­sters out there, rid­ing around and sell­ing crack,” Rogers re­counted. “You had an of­fi­cer us­ing deadly force, but he was up against danger­ous drug deal­ers. It worked.” The jury ac­quit­ted Lawlor. His at­tor­ney, Michael Ge­or­getti, said in an in­ter­view that he worked to build what he sees as a nat­u­ral al­liance be­tween ju­rors and of­fi­cers to win the case. “You don’t get peo­ple on a jury with a crim­i­nal record,” Ge­or­getti said. “If a po­lice of­fi­cer says stop, they stop. They don’t put their car in drive and speed away.”

As hard as it is for pros­e­cu­tors to win a con­vic­tion or an ad­mis­sion of guilt, it’s even harder to per­suade a judge or jury to give an of­fi­cer sig­nif­i­cant pri­son time.

For the nine of­fi­cers con­victed in state pros­e­cu­tions, sen­tences ranged from six months to seven years, The Post anal­y­sis shows. One of the other cases, the shoot­ing death of the 92-year-old woman in At­lanta, was taken up by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, who added civil rights vi­o­la­tions to man­slaugh­ter charges and won stiffer sen­tences, ul­ti­mately send­ing the two con­victed of­fi­cers to pri­son for six and 10 years.

Six of the of­fi­cers who faced state pros­e­cu­tions were con­victed af­ter go­ing to trial. On av­er­age, they got 31/ years.


But pros­e­cu­tors were ea­ger at times to dis­pense with cases with­out a trial by ne­go­ti­at­ing a plea agree­ment. Win­ning a con­vic­tion against an of­fi­cer is tough. Andthe cases can come with bruis­ing head­lines and strained re­la­tions with the very po­lice depart­ment that pros­e­cu­tors rely on daily to help build other crim­i­nal cases.

In at least six cases, lawyers for the of­fi­cers were able to get the charges re­duced, re­sult­ing in lighter sen­tences. Th­ese cases in­cluded con­vic­tions as well as in­stances in which judges de­ferred con­vic­tions and put of­fi­cers on pro­ba­tion for their ac­tions. Th­ese of­fi­cers on av­er­age did about 21/

2 years be­hind bars.

An­to­nio Ta­harka, a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer in Sa­van­nah, Ga., fa­tally shot a pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tor as he scram­bled over a fence, try­ing to es­cape ar­rest. He ended up spend­ing three months in a county jail.

The grand jury that in­dicted Ta­harka on vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter charges, which can bring up to 20 years in pri­son, said the of­fi­cer had killed the sus­pect “while act­ing solely as the re­sult of a sud­den, vi­o­lent and ir­re­sistible pas­sion.”

But mem­bers of the lo­cal African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity ral­lied around Ta­harka, re­called for­mer pros­e­cu­tor David Lock, who had pre­sented the case to the grand jury. “He was an African Amer­i­can

of­fi­cer and was beloved,” Lock said. “There was more of an out­cry about why he was be­ing charged ver­sus why not.” At the same time, Lock said, there was lit­tle public sym­pa­thy for the 41-year-old vic­tim, An­thony Smashum, a black man who had a long rap sheet, in­clud­ing con­vic­tions for rape and as­sault.

Lock said he be­lieves th­ese fac­tors de­layed the pros­e­cu­tion and ul­ti­mately con­trib­uted to less­en­ing the charge against Ta­harka.

Chatham County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Meg Heap, who re­placed Lock in the elected post, down­graded the charges from vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, agree­ing that Ta­harka could plead guilty in­stead to the less-se­ri­ous charge of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, which car­ries a max­i­mum of 10 years. Heap said in an in­ter­viewthat the lesser charge was a bet­ter fit for the facts of the case. But she said her of­fice made no prom­ises about a re­duced sen­tence, leav­ing that up to the judge.

At sen­tenc­ing in 2009, Su­pe­rior Court Judge John E. Morse Jr. said he had to strike “the most del­i­cate bal­ance.” In as­sess­ing the fa­tal in­ci­dent, he said, “All I can glean from what I have read and heard up to this par­tic­u­lar point is that it was not ma­li­cious and ill-wan­ton.” He told Ta­harka mo­ments later, “What you have to deal with from a day-to-day ba­sis as an of­fi­cer of the law, no one can stand in your shoes other than you.”

Morse or­dered Ta­harka to spend three months in jail and nine months con­fined to his home ex­cept when he was work­ing. If he fol­lows the terms of his pro­ba­tion of nine years, his record will be wiped clean.

Mes­sages left for Ta­harka’s lawyers were not re­turned, nor were a se­ries of e-mails re­quest­ing com­ment. Ta­harka re­signed from the po­lice depart­ment about a year af­ter the 2007 shoot­ing.

Ge­or­gia Fer­rell’s daugh­ter is a po­lice of­fi­cer. Her son was shot dead by one. “My daugh­ter loves be­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer, but she knows that the uni­form doesn’t make you a good per­son,” she said.

Of­fi­cer Randall Ker­rick of the Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg po­lice depart­ment is sched­uled to face trial this sum­mer on charges of vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter aris­ing from a fa­tal en­counter with Fer­rell’s son in Septem­ber 2013.

It was well af­ter mid­night when Jonathan Fer­rell, 24, a for­mer Florida A&M foot­ball de­fen­sive back, crashed his Toy­ota Camry, rolling it into a ditch, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice re­port. Dazed, he kicked out the rear win­dow, crawled from the ve­hi­cle and made his way to a nearby house to seek help.

But when he started bang­ing on the door, the woman who lived there pan­icked and called 911. The of­fi­cers who re­sponded to the call told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they be­lieved that Fer­rell was a threat, records show. When Fer­rell, who was black, did not fol­low their or­ders to get on the ground, Ker­rick, who is white, shot him 10 times, po­lice of­fi­cials said.

Af­ter Po­lice Chief Rod­ney Mon­roe saw the 15-sec­ond dash­cam video of the in­ci­dent, he ar­rested Ker­rick within the day, say­ing the of­fi­cer “did not have a law­ful right to dis­charge his weapon dur­ing this en­counter.”

Ker­rick’s at­tor­ney Michael Green said the video tells a dif­fer­ent story. “Of­fi­cer Ker­rick did his job that night. Although the shoot­ing was a tragedy, it was jus­ti­fied,” Green said. “On the video, you hear the of­fi­cer telling him mul­ti­ple times to get down on the ground . . . and at trial, I think you’ll find folks who say [Fer­rell] wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for help that evening.”

Ge­or­gia Fer­rell wor­ries that ju­rors will be­lieve that ac­count. As some­one who has per­sonal rea­sons to hold most po­lice in high re­gard, she rec­og­nizes how dif­fi­cult it is to con­vict and pun­ish an of­fi­cer.

“So­ci­ety has put it into our heads that the of­fi­cer is al­ways right,” she said. “That has to change.”

An ev­i­dence photo, at top, shows a ChevyMal­ibu that Cleve­land po­lice of­fi­cers rid­dled with bul­lets af­ter a chase that ended in the deaths of two un­armed sus­pects, Ti­mothy Rus­sell andMalissa Wil­liams. Of­fi­cerMichael Brelo, who in­ves­ti­ga­tors say fired 34 shots at the car and then climbed on the hood and fired 15 more through the wind­shield, is on trial on two counts of vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter.




Tim Robert­son, left, trains of­fi­cers at a fir­ing range in Florence, S.C. Now a re­serve deputy re­tired from the Dar­ling­ton County Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment, Robert­son was ac­quit­ted in 2006 of a mur­der charge in the death of a sus­pect who had been shot in the back four times.


At­lanta po­lice de­tec­tives in­ves­ti­gate the fa­tal shoot­ing of 92-year-old Kathryn John­ston, at left, in a botched drug raid at her home in Novem­ber 2006. Two nar­cotics of­fi­cers fired 39 shots at John­ston af­ter break­ing down her front door. The of­fi­cers pleaded guilty to fed­eral civil rights vi­o­la­tions and man­slaugh­ter charges.


An im­age from a cell­phone video pro­vided by a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the fam­ily ofWal­ter Scott, at left, shows Of­fi­cerMichael T. Slager fir­ing at the ap­par­ently un­armed Scott in North Charleston, S.C. Slager, who told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the 50year-old had taken his stun gun, was charged with mur­der three days af­ter the April 4 shoot­ing.


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