The internet is abuzz with news of Tuesday’s police shooting in New York City. If you are unfamiliar with the incident, you can read about it here. In short, a police sergeant responded to a call from a neighbor complaining of a disturbance caused by a mentally ill woman. Police had allegedly dealt with the mentally ill suspect several times in the past. When the sergeant arrived on scene, the 66 year old female suspect attempted to stab him with a pair of scissors. He successfully de-escalated the incident over a period of 10-15 minutes and convinced her to put the scissors down. She dropped the scissors only to pick up a baseball bat and charge at the officer. The officer shot her twice in the torso, killing her.
Let’s get the legal stuff out of the way before we discuss the fine points of this incident…
No matter what you may hear on TV or from self-appointed experts, there are very clear Supreme Court guidelines as to when a police officer can use deadly force against a suspect. In order to shoot someone in self defense, the police officer must reasonably fear that the suspect is going to seriously hurt or kill the officer. The court recognizes that lethal force events evolve rapidly and an extended analysis of all factors may not be feasible. The court doesn’t require that the officer make a perfect use of force decision. The courts don’t require “the best” or “the least harmful” use of force decision. The court only requires that the officer’s decision be “reasonable” given the information he has.
So the question is: “Would getting hit in the head with a baseball bat cause serious injury or death?” Assuming that the woman wielding the bat was physically capable of swinging it and not somehow disabled, most of us would have to answer “yes.” If we answer “yes” then the cop’s actions were “reasonable” and lawful given the guidelines from the court and the current statutes governing self defense.