A Yazoo County Deputy Sheriff fatally shot and killed a Brandon man after responding to a disturbance call yesterday. According to a report by Heather Civil at The Clarion-Ledger:
William Edward Parker was shot during a scuffle with a Yazoo County sheriff’s deputy, county coroner Ricky Shivers said.
The 36-year-old was fatally wounded shortly after 1 a.m. after deputies responded to a disturbance call at a house on Beale Road in northern Yazoo County.
Williams was shot once in the thigh, and the fatal shot was delivered to his chest, according to Shivers.
The Sheriff’s Department has not released the deputy’s name or any information about the shooting.
Sheriff Tommy Vaughn could not be reached for comment.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations is handling the case. Officers with MBI could not be reached.
Parker was declared dead around 2:30 a.m. at Kings Daughter’s Hospital in Yazoo City, Shivers said.
Fortunately, Mississippi has relatively few officer-involved shootings, at least when compared to other states. There are very strict rules regarding when the police may use deadly force against a suspect.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens “[t]he right…to be secure…in their persons…[and] against unreasonable…seizures.” The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the “unreasonable seizures” provision protects persons from the unreasonable use of deadly force. That makes perfect sense, considering killing a person is the ultimate seizure of a citizen.
General self-defense rules apply to when an officer may use deadly force. Deadly force is authorized when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect will cause death or serious bodily injury to the officer. This is the basic law of self-defense.
Police officers may also use deadly force when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect will cause death or serious bodily injury to another person. This principle is referred to as “defense of others.”
These rules seem pretty straightforward. However, they become muddled sometimes when applied to various encounters between the police and suspects. For example, can an officer use deadly force to prevent a fleeing suspect from escaping? In other words, if a suspect runs from the police, and is posing no clear and imminent danger to them, can the officers shoot him in the back? It depends.
There was a time when the police could shoot a suspect to prevent his escape. There were very few restrictions on the use of deadly force to capture a fleeing suspect. This changed in 1985, when the U.S. Supreme Court set rules for the use of deadly force to capture a fleeing suspect. In Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), the Court held:
The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.
Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.
The Garner case applied some general “self-defense/defense of others” principles to the question of shooting a suspect to prevent escape. If the police have probable cause to believe that the suspect, if allowed to escape, will cause death or serious bodily harm, then deadly force can be used. A major consideration is the crime the person is suspected of committing. The more serious/violent the crime, the more likely deadly force will be justified. Property crimes would rarely, if ever, justify the use of deadly force.
Officers who violate these rules may find themselves in serious trouble. They may even be charged with crimes for using deadly force when it is not justified. If you have questions about self-defense or officer-involved shootings, please call me.
Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney Curt Crowley