By Polly Mosendz, Wire, August 19, 2014
At a time when tensions between police and civilians are at an all-time high, and scrutiny of police tactics has never been greater, police in St. Louis shot and killed a man on Tuesday, just miles from where Michael Brown died. This incident involved a St. Louis Police Department officer, where as Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson Police Department officer.
The incident occurred outside of a 5-Star Market just before 1:00 p.m. local time today. According to police, the man was attempting to rob the convenience store and was wielding a knife. The store owner argued with the man and when police arrived, he refused to let go of the knife. He then threatened two officers who fired on the suspect, killing him.
He was pronounced dead at the scene. No police officers were injured during the incident.
Police also say the suspect was acting “erratically” and according to some witnesses, told police to “Shoot me. Kill me now.” The Wire spoke with legal expert Jens David Ohlin, who is a professor of law at the Cornell Law School. He explained that if, indeed, the suspect said “Shoot me” or “kill me now” this would be deemed “death by cop.” “When someone deliberately provokes a cop to get them to kill them, as kind of a suicide rather than killing themselves, that is death by cop.”
Crowds have already gathered at the site of the shooting, adding to an already tense and emotional atmosphere.
The law comes down on the side of the person defending their bodily integrity.’
Ohlin explained that the legality of this situation is murky, depending heavily on what the suspect was doing with the knife. “If the police officer was in danger from the knife attack, he or she is permitted to use lethal force to repel the attack. Normally speaking, it is not permitted to use force against loss of property. You can’t use deadly force to defend your property, but if he was wielding a knife and threatening to use it against the police officer, and the officer reasonably believed they couldn’t disarm the individual using different means, it may have been appropriate to shoot him.”
Questions have arisen about the police officers ability to disarm the suspect, rather than killing him, and details remain few. Others have questioned why the officer did not choose to disarm him by shooting the suspect in the leg or arm:
Ohlin explained that police officers are actually trained not to shoot in the leg. Officers are taught two kinds of defensive force: “non-lethal measures and lethal measures. Once it is appropriate for the police officer to fire their weapon, you are in the territory of lethal measures and it is justified to kill the individual.”
The Wire’s expert specifically addressed the concept of shooting someone in the leg, “A lot of people have a popular misconception of ‘Why didn’t the officer shoot them in the leg?’ It is neither part of their training or a requirement of the law. Once you are allowed to use lethal force to protect from the attack, you are entitled to kill the person. Police officers are trained to repel the attack. They are not trained to shoot people in the leg. Shooting someone in the leg will not repel the attack. You are either entitled to use legal force or you’re not.”