In Wichita: a Deadly Non-SWAT Swatting, I told the initial story of the death of Wichita resident Andrew Finch, who was killed for the crime of standing on his front porch while moving his arms. Actually, the case is slightly more complex. It appears, at the moment, multiple police officers, thinking him somehow involved in a hostage situation/murder, were screaming conflicting orders at him, and when he moved an arm, an officer some fifty yards distant shot and killed him. He was unarmed, and posed no apparent threat to anyone. There is now additional information that sheds a bit more light on what likely happened, as Kansas.com reports:
The Wichita police officer who fired the bullet that killed an innocent victim of a hoax appears to have shot prematurely, says a police and legal expert who has reviewed body-camera video and circumstances of the shooting.
According to experts interviewed this past week, a key question is why one of the officers at the scene perceived enough of a threat to shoot when others didn’t.
That fact alone raises the question of whether the shooting meets the ‘reasonableness’ standard used to test whether an officer’s shooting is legally justifiable, they said.
This view does support my original speculation. However, as I noted then, the information available to me is incomplete and remains so. Remember that the “reasonableness” standard applies not to what a reasonable person would do, but what a reasonable police officer would do under the same circumstances. This presupposes a common level of knowledge, training and experience generally not found in non-police citizens. It is a standard established by the Supreme Court.
The Eagle asked Delores Jones-Brown, a retired professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice who spent a decade teaching NYPD officers, to view the 8-second clip of officer-body-camera video of the shooting released by the Wichita department. Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said that video provides the clearest view of the shooting. The city has not released any other video.
‘It does appear to show one of the arms of the target swing downward,’ Jones-Brown said in an email.
In viewing the same video, I could see some movement by enlarging the video to full screen size. However, I have no idea how many times the media-supplied video I saw had been copied, potentially reducing resolution. But I certainly could not see anything that would have caused me to shoot Finch.
Still, she said, ‘If that arm movement is being used as the justification for the single shot, it does not answer the question of why no other officer fired. I also notice that there do not appear to be any officers or civilians who appear in the ‘line of fire’ if in fact the target had a weapon.
‘That being the case, it seems, at least, premature for the officer to have fired.”
Again, precisely the points I made.
Under many police agencies’ policies, officers should, if possible, take cover before using deadly force, Jones-Brown said. ‘In this case, the officers appear to have already shielded themselves from the possibility of being shot if the target was armed. It was too soon to shoot not knowing what the arm movement meant. The fact that no other officers shoot at that time, supports the notion that they felt sufficiently shielded.
These points too, I made. Any competent, experienced analyst should make precisely the same observations.
There are several new details: Finch had no phone with him, yet he was supposed to be the hostage taker and murderer who was speaking with a dispatcher at around the same time. From the arrival of the first officer until Finch was shot, about six minutes elapsed. The caller gave a different description of the house.
The media article questions why officers didn’t realize these discrepancies, but this is not necessarily indicative of incompetence or haste. What is said to a dispatcher and what that dispatcher relays to an officer is often quite different. It’s entirely possible the dispatcher did not tell the officers she was on the phone with the caller. If so, they would have had no reason to be suspicious in observing Finch had no phone–if they could see that at all. Officers would not automatically assume because a person called the dispatcher, they’d be carrying a phone when they arrived. Also, the distance was so great—particularly for the police shooter–I can’t see how they could have identified anything in Finch’s hand. It’s also likely the dispatcher only gave the responding officers an address—normal procedure– not a description of the house. Officers would normally ask for a description only if they had some reason to think the address incorrect, which was apparently not the case here.
The article also reports the weapon fired was an AR-15, and describes the distance as “about 40 yards.” This is also problematic, as I originally suggested. With an experienced shooter, even a hundred yard shot with an AR would not be difficult. Pace off 40 yards—120 feet—and see if you can clearly see someone’s hand, let alone positively identify something they might be holding. Now imagine trying to do it in the dark. If the AR had only iron sights, it would be hard to imagine how the officer could have possibly seen, let alone identified, any threat in Finch’s hand, particularly since they would have been aiming at his body. With iron sights, if properly used, only the front sight of the weapon would be in sharp relief. The rear sight and Finch would have been slightly out of focus.
If he had a red dot sight the same problem applies. Such sights commonly have no magnification, and due to their optics, slightly degrade visual acuity, particularly at night. Also at 40 yards, most dots would completely obscure something the size of a hand. With a scope, it would be potentially be possible to be more accurate, but only if the magnification factor wasn’t too great. And if the officer did have a clearer view, how does he explain shooting when the man was clearly unarmed, when he actually had nothing in his hand? How does he defend shooting at mere movement? This is interesting:
Officers were shouting multiple commands at Finch from more than one position. From where the shooting officer was positioned – next to a pickup truck backed into a driveway – the bullet traveled across a sidewalk, five lanes of the street, over the front yard of Finch’s home and onto the porch. [skip]
In quick succession, someone on the camera audio says loudly and clearly, ‘Show your hands!’ then ‘Walk this way!’ Someone then blurts out an expletive, followed by a string of words that aren’t clear. Then someone starts to give another command, ‘Walk …’ But before the command is completed, the gun fires. The end of the rifle barrel is visible.
If this analysis of the video is accurate, and it comports with what I could detect, though I could not hear everything reported here, the shooting becomes much easier to understand. Finch was apparently trying not only to figure out who was yelling at him and from what direction, he was likely blinded by multiple police spotlights, and was trying to figure out what was going on, who to obey, when and how–and this assumes he could clearly hear every one of the contradictory commands. As I noted in the first article, it’s imperative only one tactically savvy officer issue commands. The article also confirms what I could not see: any exposed officers in imminent danger.
Rod Schaeffer has almost 30 years of law enforcement experience, including as a SWAT commander. He serves as a use-of-force consultant for police agencies with Mitigation Dynamics, in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Schaeffer said he listened to the 911 recording of the hoax call and watched the video. Without knowing all the facts, he said, it’s possible that the officer who fired may have been the one officer who was in a position to perceive a threat and use the force he thought was necessary in that moment. He might have been in the best position to evaluate the situation, and the others ‘may not have seen what that officer saw,’ Schaeffer said.
Apparently the officer thought he saw Finch reaching for something, he said. ‘That is a split-second decision.’
When an officer feels he has to use deadly force, he is trained to ‘fire until the threat ceases.’
Schaeffer noted that the rifle was fired at a considerable distance. ‘At that distance, one shot is probably what he may have felt comfortable with. One shot may have been sufficient in his mind.’
It’s not clear exactly what kind of equipment the rifle might have had to enhance the officer’s ability to fire accurately.
Rifles, he noted, have an important role in emergencies where officers might have to fire from a longer distance.
Schaeffer is obviously trying to give the shooter the maximum possible benefit of that doubt. In so doing he does nothing to resolve the major outstanding issues. Schaeffer’s observations are accurate, as far as they go, but they do not touch on how the shooter could have possibly been certain of what Finch was doing, particularly when there were officers apparently closer and in a better position to see Finch clearly. While rifles are, by design, more accurate for longer shots, we have no idea how the Wichita Police train their officers on rifles. Police marksmanship, as I’ve often noted, tends to be mediocre at best, and dramatically worsens as distance increases. It’s not uncommon of officers to have a reasonable hit rate only at distances of three yards or less. Few, if any, agencies practice at 25 yards, and virtually none at greater distances. At 25 yards, handgun accuracy is generally abysmal. At 40 to 50 yards, virtually all police officers would hit a human-size target only through blind luck. Rifle training and qualifications tend to be done even less frequently than handgun qualifications, which normally happen perhaps once a year.
Consider now the opposite viewpoint, that of an attorney:
James Thompson, a Wichita attorney and congressional candidate who has sued the City of Wichita over shootings by officers, says the latest shooting is troubling for multiple reasons.
Finch was following commands by initially putting up his hands, and it appeared to Thompson that Finch was shot as he was trying to raise his hands back up. Thompson noted that police maintain that Finch was making a ‘furtive movement toward his waistband. I don’t see that in the video.’ What he sees is Finch’s hands go up, down, then back up.
A “furtive” movement, in police jargon, normally means a quick and stealthy movement meant to hide or conceal something. Like Thompson, I saw no such movement.
The fact that only one shot by one officer was fired raises a red flag, Thompson said, because ‘no other officers thought the guy was a direct threat.’ It appears there could have been officers closer to the porch than the officer who fired, he said.
Officers are trained ‘to fire and keep firing until the threat is neutralized,’ he said. ‘Usually when there is a shot, there are multiple shots.’
The circumstances combine to make Thompson wonder whether it could have been an accidental shooting. ‘Without more information, it’s hard to say,’ he said.
The law rests on whether a reasonable officer in the same position as the officer firing would have taken the same action, Thompson said. ‘I think the presence of so many other officers that did not fire gives you the impression that it was not reasonable to fire.
This factor often leads to “me too” shooting, as in the Erik Scott case. In that case, dispatcher mistakes, incompetent and inexperienced officers, abysmal tactics, and unreasonable fear led three officers to murder Eric Scott for doing nothing more serious than walking, unremarkably, out of a Costco store with a crowd of more than 100. When the first officer fired two shots into Scott, killing him, two additional officers fired five more shots into his back as he was falling, dying or dead, face first to the pavement.
In the Finch case, only a single shot was fired. That there were other officers closer to Finch suggests there should have been a multitude of shots, unless none of them saw a reason to fire. If that were the case, I suspect they were all surprised by the gunfire—even shocked—and more surprised when Finch collapsed on the porch. This, would explain why none of them fired, though the likely immediate collapse of Finch may have deprived them of a target, not that that factor always deters officers from firing “me too” shots. Thompson is correct, however. I would not want to be the shooter asked why he, alone, thought it necessary to fire at the moment he did. I suspect after firing a single shot, he realized how badly he’d screwed up, and did not fire again.
We also know the swatter, Tyler Barriss, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and several lesser charges, as The Guardian reports:
A California man accused of making a hoax emergency call that led to the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man in Kansas has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
This too is interesting:
Sedgwick County district attorney Marc Bennett told reporters following the brief hearing that he is still reviewing whether any charges will be filed against the police officer, and once he makes a determination that decision would be made public. He said he was awaiting a final autopsy report.
I would imagine the autopsy report would be pretty unremarkable. Such a report would likely have no bearing on charges. I’m surprised it has not already been completed. It has been three weeks since Finch’s death. Autopsies, particularly in police involved shootings, are normally completed within a few days, not weeks.
Finally, consider this from Kansas.com:
[Attorney James] Thompson said since 2012, 29 people have been shot and 15 killed by Wichita police.
‘You may ask, is that statistically high?’ he said. ‘Yes. It is very, very high.’
He also compared the city’s police shootings to Detroit and Chicago, two much larger cities with much higher crime rates.
In 2012, Wichita had 642 police officers and 27 homicides, including four fatal shootings by police.
In contrast, Detroit had more than 2,000 police officers and 386 homicides in 2012, but only three people killed by the police, Thompson said.
Chicago had nearly 12,000 police officers and 500 homicides, but only eight police shooting deaths that year, he said.
Thompson’s numbers were compiled from FBI uniform crime reporting statistics, court documents and reports from the Detroit Police Department and the Chicago Police Review Authority.
These statistics might be suggestive, but they do not tell us the circumstances of those Wichita shootings. It’s possible the WPD had a run of bad luck in 2012, and homicide statistics generally have not even a correlation to police shootings, to say nothing of causation. Thompson, a Democrat, also said:
He said that training encourages officers to default to a lethal response, especially since Kansas has changed state law to allow anyone who can legally own a gun to carry it concealed in public without any background check or permit.
‘Every single cop in the city can imagine that somebody has a gun.
This speaks more to an apparently anti-gun attitude by Thompson than anything to do with the Finch case, where concealed carry wasn’t an issue. Any competent police officer always proceeds with the belief anyone they meet could be armed. They also understand that the overwhelming majority of people they meet, armed or not, pose no threat to them or anyone else.
I’ll continue to report on this case as more becomes known.