University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing just had his second trial for the murder of Samuel DeBose end in a hung jury. In Minnesota, Saint Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted for the killing of Philando Castile. In Wisconsin, Milwaukee Police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted in the reckless homicide of Sylville Smith. Tulsa Police Officer Betty Jo Shelby was found not guilty of manslaughter. Hummelstown, Pennsylvania Police Officer Lisa Mearkle acquitted of murder. Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo, acquitted. North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager, mistrial on state murder charge. I could go on and on.
When you have a police officer shoot and kill someone, it has been extremely rare that the officer is criminally charged, but that’s changing. It is believed that Yanez is the first Minnesota police officer that has faced trial for an on-duty shooting. Shelby was the first Tulsa officer prosecuted for an on-duty shooting. It’s rare, but things are changing, and that’s a good sign. As a society, we need to hold police officers accountable, and to do that, we put them in front of a jury, in front of our fellow citizens, who we entrust to do their duty and determine if the state has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the state hasn’t met it’s burden, then the officer is found not guilty—but that doesn’t mean everything ends well for the officer. Yanez, Brelo, and Heaggan-Brown are out of a job and will likely never work in law enforcement again. Shelby has been pulled off of the street and put in a desk job. Slager pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges. None will ever be the same.
Some will complain that the officers should have been convicted, that the jury gave them the benefit of the doubt.
OK. So what if they did? That’s what they are supposed to do for everyone. I’m good with that, and I’m good with the verdicts. We are not supposed to railroad these officers, we are supposed to try them, and give their case to a jury. That’s it.
And when more and more officers appear in front of a jury, you’ll start seeing officers being convicted, because the state will prove its case. You’ll start to see less of a break given to the officers by the jurors, because they will have seen more officers on trial.
At this point, getting the officers before the court is a win. Let’s not loose sight of that.