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Unjustified Police Shootings Aim Spotlight on Law Enforcement and Punishment

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Most people agree there are good cops and there are bad cops.

Those who serve and protect and those who shoot and ask questions later.

Indeed, unjustified police shootings, as well as incidents of police brutality, have made national headlines recently. Civil unrest, protests and outrage followed the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Protesters came up with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” to help bring attention to the issue that disproportionately affects the African American community.

Some of those wrongfully killed in police shootings were compensated for their losses with money, but despite paying out multi-million settlements to grieving families over the years few police officers have been charged with a crime.

In fact, here in California, the worst punishment faced by the boys in blue for such excessive force and violation of civil rights is disciplinary actions or the loss of their jobs. Sadly, it’s very rare that police officers who take these actions are not held accountable in criminal court throughout the nation.

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Too often many of these unjustified shootings involve people who suffer from mental illness or other issues that cause them to act in a way similar to criminals by failing to follow orders or flee instead of pulling over.

Yet since 2004, there has been only one on-duty officer charged with a crime in Southern California out of 2,000 shootings, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times article, Deputy Ivory Webb shot and killed 21-year-old Elio Carrion following a high-speed pursuit in Chino. The young man was an Iraq war veteran who was unarmed and pleading for his life when he was shot by the police officer.

Other police shootings were deemed to be unjustified, but police were still not held criminally liable for their actions.

California Officer Involved Shootings, Brutality in the News

In 2013, Brian Newt Beaird, 51, was shot and killed on live TV following a police pursuit that ended when he crashed his silver Corvette into another vehicle and ran out from the car. The video footage clearly shows Beaird’s hands were not holding a weapon and he posed no significant deadly threat to police, a review by the Los Angeles Police Commission later stated. The former National Guard veteran was unarmed and suffered from paranoia following a brain surgery. He was afraid of the police and subsequently led them on a wild chase.

In the ongoing case of 25-year-old Ezell Ford, veteran gang enforcement officers told authorities the young man they shot and killed was attempting to take one of the officer’s guns on August 11, 2014. His family argued he was not a gang member and suffered from schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners investigated the incident and found the officer who shot him did not follow police protocol and the officer’s gun was drawn unjustly. The two officers, Antonio Villegas and Sharlton Wampler, remain on administrative leave and have not been criminally charged at this time.

The shooting of Ezell Ford on August 11, 2014 took place just days after a cop shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in a case that prompted a national outcry against police shootings and brutality that overwhelmingly appear to target those who are black.

The LA Times reported there are police shootings about every other day over the past 12 years in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego and Imperial counties, but a large portion of these are considered justified because the suspect pointed a gun at officers or they were threatened and feared for their lives.

“There has to be a imminent threat to the lives of others for a shooting to be considered justified and frankly there are times when absent of this threat a person is shot and killed,” said Attorney James Johnson.

The District Attorneys office will not hold police officers liable criminally if the shooting is justified, even if the officer mistakenly shoots someone only armed with a cell phone or some other non-nefarious item.

“Police are not treated the same as ordinary citizens because they are putting their own lives on the line to keep the peace, but there are certainly questionable decisions made that should be investigated,” said Johnson said.

The worst-case scenario for these police officers is they are put on a leave of absence often with pay, they get demoted or they lose their job. The city, however, has not got off so easily in some cases.

Indeed, despite the lack of criminal prosecution, the families of wrongfully killed civilians have been paid roughly $150 million since over the past dozen years. The family of Brian Beaird sued the police department for $20 million for his wrongful death, but his father ultimately settled for $5 million due to his own failing health as he wanted to end the fight.

Ezell Ford’s family has filed a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department, but it remains unsettled at press time.

Help for Victims of Unjustified Police Shootings, Brutality

Victims of police brutality or the families of those killed in an unjustified shooting involving a police officer present many challenges to those involved. These are claims of wrong-doing aimed at law enforcement and it can be challenging and traumatic for victims to stand up to the police.

The best thing is to take steps to secure your legal rights by speaking with a qualified personal injury attorney. Take steps such as documenting what took place, taking photographs of your injuries or losses, seek medical attention immediately and obtain names of witnesses to this crime.

Johnson Attorneys Group would like to help by offering a free consultation that is confidential at 800-235-6801.

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