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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

"Unarmed" Suspects and Un-brained Media

Reporters draw on their own prejudices and political agendas when covering incidents like the Michael Brown shooting rather than asking legally relevant questions about police use of force.

September 02, 2014  |  by Greg Meyer

How can it be, in 2014, with all the media attention to controversial police use-of-force cases in recent years, that the public is still treated to bogus "reporting" of such incidents? The coverage of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., is the worst in memory.

Year after year, such cases get massive, national media coverage. Yet the media folks have learned nothing about how police use of force is reviewed in our American system? 

After an incident occurs, the usual gang of opportunists crawls out of the woodwork to get in front of as many television cameras and microphones as possible to sell their race-based political agenda. For the most part the pseudo-journalists and their bosses give the opportunists free reign to promote a single point of view (and pollute the jury pool) without asking them any hard questions. 

What the media usually fails to discuss is that the law recognizes the speed and complexity of the demands made on officers in these encounters. That is why investigations take time and cool heads. The media has neither, and they are governed by other laws, ones that have more to do with profit and political agendas than with the facts.

How hard would it be for a journalist to ask meaningful questions when they interview someone?

"Thank you for your point of view, Rev. Sharpton and Mr. Family Lawyer. Of course this is a tragedy for the family, the community, but also for the officers. Do you have a comment about that videotape of the 6-foot 4-inch, 292-pound young man committing a violent felony (strong-arm robbery, in the Ferguson case) a few minutes before the shooting? How do you think that officer got his face injured? What are your thoughts about the soundtrack of the video made right after the shooting where a witness said that the guy kept charging at the officer? Do you think the fact that (as of late August) 29 American police officers had been murdered by gunfire so far this year—one per week, a 47% increase over 2013/2014—might have played on the officer’s fear during the struggle? Do you plan to attend any police funerals or organize any demonstrations on their behalf?"

The media’s obsession with "unarmed youth" who unfortunately on occasion do get shot by the police can be charitably described as “ignorant.” No 6-foot 4-inch, 292-pound “youth” is "unarmed." There’s a reason that about 10 percent of police officers who are murdered by gunfire are shot with their own guns. It’s because they get overpowered by someone who decides to kill them. There’s a reason why an "unarmed" suspect who attacks with his or her hands and feet and seriously injures someone is booked and prosecuted for “assault with a deadly weapon.” Because it’s assault with a deadly weapon.

Few if any pseudo-journalists or pseudo-pundits on the nightly news have bothered to mention Graham v. Connor, which for a full quarter century has been the law of the land regarding how to evaluate a police use of force. They are too busy convicting the Ferguson officer without seeing the results of the investigations. Media description and commentary on the law of the land would be useful.

Graham v. Connor states that the legal question is, was the use of force “objectively reasonable” under the facts and circumstances of the incident? To answer that question, one must stand in the shoes of a hypothetical reasonable officer at the scene, with the same training and experience as the involved officer. “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation . . . The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application . . .” 

Let’s be clear. The shooting death of anyone is a tragedy. Police officers are the only people in society who are legally empowered and trained to use force on someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime in the name of the state. Our life-and-death decision-making is not perfect. Usually we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong. As this is written, in the Ferguson case we just don’t know yet. Neither do Rev. Sharpton and Mr. Family Lawyer. Neither do the journalists and pundits.

"Unarmed" suspects and un-brained media really ought to learn how to behave.

Greg Meyer is a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain, a member of the POLICE advisory board, and a frequent use-of-force expert in civil and criminal litigation cases.


Comments (30)

Displaying 1 - 30 of 30

Alan @ 9/2/2014 4:31 PM

Greg my friend, you are absolutely correct. The media and political leaders have created a chilling effect that in my opinion will negatively effect officer and public safety. The rule of law seems of little importance and the court of public opinion seems to be the venue for conviction now. Established law in Graham has withstood the test of time because it made sense.

Capt. Crunch @ 9/2/2014 4:50 PM

We need to see that Officer Wilson, gets a fair trail, no matter what Obama, and his staff say.

Ron @ 9/2/2014 4:59 PM

Greg everyone wants to mention Rev Sharpton. As a former police officer, what happened to common sense with shooting an unarmed suspect. Where is the danger when the unarmed suspect is not in close proximity to commit bodily harm. I guess you just shoot to kill to prevent from investigating, identifying and securing a warrant. I guess the badge and gun is the jury. Graham v Connor authorizes an officer to always kill unarmed suspects rather than securing a warrant.

Concerned Citizen @ 9/2/2014 5:06 PM

USA Today should retract this story http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/michael-brown-no-record/14041457/ It says "Police Say Michael Brown had no Criminal Record". Who put "Words" into LEOs mouths? I bet nobody. Just a Fabrication by the Lamestream Media! They would rather Print a Lie then the Truth! The Media should be held accountable for spreading lies! That lead to more deaths. Like a black guy who charged LEOs with a knife in Ferguson Mo. The Media and the Agitators, find a willing Population like HAMAS finds Terrorist foot-soldiers. Even if the Truth is known. Just more excuses for bad law breaking behavior. What about Racial Harmony and Content of Character? That doesn't matter when you can blame a person for lack of Melatonin in the skin! Not everyone trusts the media, that's the one saving grace. But it's the Sheeple in the rest of the Pop. who are too easy to control. Like Pavlov's Dog.

Pup @ 9/2/2014 6:25 PM

>Ron, I can see why you're a former officer or maybe you were a security guard, who was fired from the job. Upset being fired, you became a follower of Al S. You speak of Greg and common sense. Greg is right. If you had any common sense, you would realize all the facts have to be presented before judgement to anyone or incident. This is what we, in LE, call an investigation.

Longarm9 @ 9/3/2014 4:13 AM

Okay, first off, Ron, are you a complete idiot? How exactly do you propose that an officer "secure a warrant" WHILE BEING ATTACKED? Is he supposed to run around in circles talking to a JP on his cell phone while attempting to dodge his attacker? And what kind of warrant is he supposed to ask for? A warrant to defend himself? Your complete and total ignorance on this subject is painfully obvious. You should probably keep quiet until you get a clue.

Secondly, although this is an excellent article that is right on the money, I have to take exception to this statement:
Police officers are the only people in society who are legally empowered and trained to use force on someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime in the name of the state.
Anyone has the inherent right to use whatever force is necessary, including deadly force, to defend himself from unlawful attack. I may be miscontruing the author's meaning, though, inwhich case, disregard.

Chuck @ 9/3/2014 11:14 AM

Ron (are you sure you are not lenny, because you sure do write like him?)
Let's take you obviously untrained (I don't believe for a second you are a former L.E.) opinions and see if we can dissect them. First you mention Sharpton, of course everyone mentions him, he is a race baiting, race monger, if he doesn't keep stirring the race pot, how do you expect him to stay employed and make money, he doesn't care if he is right wrong or indifferent, he is out to make money so his opinion is moot.

Chuck @ 9/3/2014 11:19 AM

Next up ron, all those of you claiming that this person was unarmed, I would like to see you stand your ground and face off with a 6'4" 300 pound angry unarmed person. I can honestly tell you right now, all those of you running your uneducated mouths would 1) run as fast as your little coward legs would carry you, or you would get beat to death. I would truly like to see what you , Sharpton, Jackson, or holder would really do (not what your mouth and keyboard) if you were sitting in your car and were really attacked by this behemoth. I know what you would do but you, I and everyone else know, you will never admit it, will you?

Chuck @ 9/3/2014 11:29 AM

As for your shoot to kill drivel, I would truly hope that you are just trolling and are not that far down on the evolutionary scale to honestly believe that there is less scrutiny, less investigation, less identifying anything. Please don't try to tell all of us that is what you really believe, this officer that I truly believe was defending his life from not a gentle giant but a giant monster, this officer who was out protecting all the other citizens from this giant that felt the need to prey on those smaller and weaker citizens, his life will never be the same. even if he was to be completely 100% cleared of anything and cleared of all wrong doing, he will be investigated, dissected, judged and convicted in the media and by people like you and your hero's Sharpton and holder for the rest of his life. Again, I want to see you take on some of these unarmed citizens, some of the same ones that are capable of and do kill armed officers.

Nick @ 9/3/2014 9:00 PM

To that "Ron" fellow: Have you ever read Graham v. Conner?

Jack Betz @ 9/3/2014 10:01 PM

When I was in the academy they told me any call you go on is a gun call, yours is present. In those days the number of officers killed with their own weapon was 20%

Veritas @ 9/4/2014 6:04 PM

Ron sounds like he was a member of the OJ jury.

Veritas @ 9/4/2014 6:04 PM

Ron sounds as if he was a member of the OJ jury.

robi @ 9/5/2014 10:44 PM

Perhaps if we began teaching our children to respect authority. If we teach them from a young age that LEOs are working FOR us, & the safety, cohesion & lawful standards which we have chosen to live by in our free society, rather than degrading LEOs by accepting those who break our laws & don't get caught, label them as "cops" & "pigs", & instill in these kids a fear of LEOs instead of respect, then maybe the next generation will have a chance to live peacefully & gratefully with the persons who put their lives on the line every day when they don their uniforms, & work under unbelievably stressful conditions. If this cannot be achieved by the parents or caregivers of our youth, the outcomes will continue to be tragic.

Bill @ 9/16/2014 12:24 PM

There are several comments under this article which talk about 'use of force'. However, there is a much more pertinent topic in this article. The medias' seeming complicity in perpetuating false narratives(or, at least uninformed narratives), which have a profound effect on the public's perceptions.

For instance, in the Ferguson fiasco, the knee-jerk reaction was to call the officer a cold-blooded, murdering racist. Less than a week later, we learned the man shot was massive, and participated in a strong-arm robbery ten minutes prior to being shot.

In the LA riots, Rodney King was beaten. This event was captured on camera(it was later discovered that the whole thing was a setup), and Rodney King's arrest record became a topic of discussion only after LA had burned. (Rodney King's arrest record:http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lapd/kingarrests.html)

The real question that needs to be asked? Why are the media not being held responsible for inciting a riot?
(continued)

Bill @ 9/16/2014 12:27 PM

Freedom of the press does not mean the press can walk into a movie theater and yell "FIRE"! for the purpose of reporting the results(or any other purpose, for that matter).

Likewise, if they are promoting a false narrative that is clearly inciting rioting/looting/mayhem, then that act is not protected first amendment activity. It is a crime.

When will the hyper-liberal media be held accountable?

Devotedtopolice @ 10/9/2014 7:27 AM

Greg,
Your point was very well-stated and I generally agree with you. The media skews the views of the public by creating a distrustful and aggressive image of police. Author of Criminology, J.V Roberts, concluded this: “as a whole, the public knows very little about the complexities of the criminal justice system, yet criminal justice policy is shaped, in large part, by public opinion (1992)”. Police officers have only a matter of seconds to make a decision about which level of force is objectively reasonable at the time of an incident. Tennessee versus Garner clarified the stipulations placed on police when using deadly force, which is important for officers to keep in mind daily. Officers must be within the realms of what both Graham versus Connor and Tennessee versus Garner put forth. To elaborate, it is not a matter of the race of the suspect, either; in fact, studies have shown that there are no significant differences in the use of force by Caucasian&African-American officers.

Devotedtopolice @ 10/9/2014 7:28 AM

“Armed” or “unarmed” is not the deciding factor when deciding to use force or not to use force on a suspect; it is the safety of the officer. However, it is obvious that armed suspects do pose a much greater threat and risk to officers because people’s actions cannot be anticipated. As was said in the original post, it is always a tragic event when any person is killed by any cause, nevertheless, the public should not be so quick to jump on the police officer or to condemn his/her actions. It’s imperative that all of the factors are carefully examined before any one person is blamed for such a happenstance as serious as taking another person’s life. I used various academic sources to substantiate this post. If you would like to see them, please feel free to ask me.

Nicky Baker @ 10/10/2014 3:26 PM

Commenting regarding Ferguson Missouri's shooting.

Nicky Baker @ 10/10/2014 3:58 PM

I am grateful for the opportunity to freely express my opinion and thoughts regarding the Ferguson shooting within this blog forum. I think it is important to have all the facts before placing judgment, we must remember “innocent until proven guilty.” Mr. Myers feels that the media is not giving an accurate of account of what took place in Ferguson Missouri due to their own political agenda. In my opinion the media only reported what actually happened which was an African American male was shot and killed by the police. Although there are a lot of speculations concerning the incident as to who is right or wrong, however the facts are what matter and the burden of proof will be left for the jury to decide.
I think the media has done a great job of giving the public the facts needed in order for them to draw their own conclusion. According to Sholnick and McCoy the media checks to ensure police are doing what they are supposed to do. ”Before citizens can check the police,

Nicky Baker @ 10/10/2014 3:58 PM

cont. they must know what the police department does, and why. The most meaningful criticism is informed criticism and obviously this is the best tradition of a democratic society.” (P. 532);
Some may feel, although Brown was not armed, he was still dangerous due to his prior offense of robbing the convenient store. However the officer had no knowledge of the incident. According to Kenneth Adams, “The amount of forced used should be proportional to the threat and limited to the least amount required to accomplish legitimate police action. (P. 5);
There were eyewitnesses that claimed Brown charged the officer which would certainly justify some use of force. Tennebaum reiterates the law according to Garner’s lawsuit. “We conclude that deadly force may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

Nicky Baker @ 10/10/2014 3:59 PM

Cont. According to the law it does not appear that it was absolutely necessary to shoot him 6 times especially considering some say that, Brown had his hands up to show that he surrendered.
Bibliography

Tennenbaum, A. N. (1994). Criminology: The influence of the garner decision on police use of deadly force. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 85(1), 241. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.guilford.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/218406222?accountid=11235

Adams, K., National Institute of Justice (U.S.), & United States. (1999). Use of force by police: Overview of national and local data. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Police Accountability and the Media
Jerome H. Skolnick and Candace McCoy
American Bar Foundation Research Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Summer, 1984), pp. 521-557

Brookie @ 10/24/2014 2:15 PM

I whole heartedly agree with Nicki Baker that we have to uphold “due process” “which is a tenet of criminal law” (thefreedictionary.com, 2014). This tenet holds that anyone “suspected of a crime be presumed innocent” (thefreedictionary.com, 2014) or in other words innocent until proven guilty. However, when dealing with such a highly publicized occurrence such as Ferguson, I feel you must take out the emotions and feelings and deal with the facts of the event. I have to disagree with Nicki in the respect that the media reported on what actually happened. I feel that the media has not remained impartial and unbiased. According to Jim Kuypers, “controversial issues are news, and for news we look to the press” (Kuypers, 2002). We look to the media to inform us about issues in order for us to determine how we feel about a particular issue. He goes on to state that “the media focus public attention on certain issues over others” (Kuypers, 2002). The media know that racial tensions

[email protected] @ 10/24/2014 2:17 PM

are running high and this creates huge ratings. The media used this situation to play on the fear and anger of Americans because it was a white officer and a black teenager. This is evident by the shooting of an unarmed white teenager in Utah two days after the Michael Brown shooting by a black police officer. There was very little media coverage of this incident even though the situations were quite similar. Why didn’t this incident receive the same attention as the incident in Ferguson? In my opinion, the disparity of the news coverage is because the media could not play the race card and knew it would not garner the same attention as a white on black incident. The media preys on society and uses society to further their greedy political agendas. According to this article in reference to Ferguson, “media overkill actually helped fuel and prolong the unrest” (Richardson, 2014). The news media has already tried and convicted Officer Wilson even before he has his day in court.

[email protected] @ 10/24/2014 2:17 PM

con't.
Before all the facts of what happened were known, the media was reporting what eventually has been proven as wrong information. Forensic evidence such as DNA evidence is what is referred to as definitive evidence meaning beyond reasonable doubt the evidence proves this occurred. Based on the definitive evidence from this case, we have now learned not only was Michael Brown’s blood found in the patrol car but also that he had gun residue on his hands. The media had reported that he was running away from the officer and was never inside the patrol car. This is just a few examples of misinformation reported by the media before they had the facts. In conclusion, I feel that the media needs to be unbiased and only report the facts that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. As citizens we need to deal in the facts as well and disregard any other factors such as race etc. If we are to eliminate racial tensions we need to eliminate the media feeding that fire. Why couldn’t the

[email protected] @ 10/24/2014 2:18 PM

con't.
news have reported the incident as a police officer shot an unarmed teen? Why does race have to be cited? (academic sources utilized, available upon request)

nicky Baker @ 11/4/2014 10:58 AM

NickyBaker

With regards to Brookie’s comment on the Ferguson Missouri shooting of Michael Brown, I feel the media did report what actually happened. They stated “A white police officer shot and killed a Black man” then they gave a detail account of the incident. Unfortunately due to the amount of African American males that have been killed in the United States by the police for decades for no good reason other than the color of their skin will always raise an uproar in the Black communities and in the world at large. Therefore no matter how the media reports the incident if an African American is killed at the hands of a White police officer this will warrant immediate attention. Although both are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It was definitely unfortunate to hear of the shooting of a white male killed by an African American officer, however this is not the norm, so the media probably would not have given this story the same level of attention as an African American male

nicky Baker @ 11/4/2014 10:59 AM

Con't being shot and killed by a White police officer. However “when conducting a meta-analysis of media bias literature (D ‘ Alessio & Allen 2000) have found little evidence of consistent bias in one direction or the other” (Evaland & Shah 2003). But again due to the racial injustice African Americans have encounter from lynching to the Rodney King beating the media feels compelled to report this kind of news because they realize this appears to be yet another story worth reporting of racial injustice and inequality against the Black male. When it comes to other stories I will say that the media does show bias. For an example when someone is running for political office the media has a tendency to show partiality toward the candidate they want in office. Altheide stated” several projects have argued that the media contribute to political agendas as well as to people’s perception and interest in everyday life” (Altheide 1997). The media is also a magnet to stories regarding crime,

nicky Baker @ 11/4/2014 11:00 AM

con't however the police department certainly provide a platform for criticism and scrutiny. The media knows what people like to hear and read about. According to Altheide, the media practices and major news sources (e.g. law enforcement agencies) have cooperatively produced an organizational “machine,” fueled by entertainment and selective use of news sources that simultaneously connects people to their effective environment even if it generates entertainment-oriented profits” (Altheide Michalowski 1977). In order to prevent negative publicity by the media we must ensure that we abide by the social contract which means as citizens we respect people in authority and as law enforcement officers we must enforce the law without racial prejudice.

nicky Baker @ 11/4/2014 11:01 AM

The response is for “devotedtothepolice”

I totally agree with you people should not be quick to judge the officer or the victim until all the facts are known. I realize that the officer has only a matter of seconds to make a decision on whether or not to use force and I understand that just because the suspect was not armed does not mean he did not pose a significant threat. However again both are innocent until proven guilty. The reason why people are in such an uproar is because this is yet another Black male killed by police officer. For an example Amadou Diallo who was shot and killed by New York City police and Michael Bell who was also shot and killed by New York City police. If this were not such a reoccurring situation I believe people would respond differently, however due to the number of incidents where Black males have lost their lives at the hands of police officers people will remain upset until all the fact are given.

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