After George Floyd, Are Juries Convicting Police Officers?

SEO Content Writing Service

A few days before Christmas, a jury in Washington cleared three Tacoma police officers of criminal charges in the death of Manuel “Manny” Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2020 after pleading that he could not breathe.

The next day, on Dec. 22, a jury in Colorado convicted two paramedics of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2019 after officers subdued him and medics injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine.

In the three years since the murder of George Floyd, whose death in police custody ignited a national movement against police brutality, prosecutors have charged the police and emergency medical workers in a number of high-profile cases.

The result has been a mixed bag of verdicts: convictions, acquittals and in one case, a mistrial. Civil rights activists and legal experts say the different outcomes reflect a country still struggling with how to view cases of police use of lethal force, and shifting public sentiment on law enforcement and safety.

Elijah McClain died days after he was subdued by three officers and injected with ketamine by paramedics in 2019. Credit…Family photo, via Reuters

“Police accountability is still up for debate. Even with actual evidence, even with body cam footage, we’re still in a place where we cannot be certain that an officer’s conviction for wrongdoing will take place through our judicial system,” Charles Coleman Jr., a civil rights lawyer, former Brooklyn prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst, said in an interview in October.

The deaths of Mr. Floyd, Mr. McClain, Mr. Ellis and Breonna Taylor — all killed in fatal police encounters within a nine-month span — came to occupy a central place in the racial justice movement and in some cases inspired reforms in the cities where they were killed.

In total, 16 police officers and paramedics faced state and federal charges in the four cases, with eight convictions so far, including a former police detective who pleaded guilty to federal charges in Ms. Taylor’s case.

But convictions are only one piece of the justice system, reform activists pointed out.

“The algorithm of justice are charges, arrest, conviction and sentencing,” MiDian Holmes, a community activist in Aurora, Colo., said following the paramedics’ conviction in Mr. McClain’s death. She said she is thankful for the three convictions in the case, but “we do not know justice until we see sentencing.”

No organization comprehensively tracks the number of law enforcement prosecutions. But legal experts and those pushing for police reform say prosecutors seem more willing to bring charges against police officers, though juries are not as willing to convict.

“There’s at least a situation in which police are subjected to the same criminal law processes as the rest of us would be,” said Ian Farrell, associate professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Jurors, however, are often reluctant to second-guess “the split-second decisions of police officers in potentially violent street encounters,” said Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University.

Mr. Stinson, whose research includes police misconduct, has built a public database of police officers charged in shootings compiled from media reports.

From 2020 to 2023, 71 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter stemming from an on-duty shooting, compared to 43 officers from 2016 to 2019. The data is limited to shooting deaths, which means some of the most recent notable police killings, such as Mr. Floyd’s, Mr. McClain’s and Mr. Ellis’s, were not in the count.

The trial of the officers in Mr. Ellis’s case was considered a test of Washington’s police accountability legislation, approved by voters in 2018.

During trial, jurors heard prosecutors describe how officers beat, choked and hogtied Mr. Ellis and placed a hood over his head. Defense lawyers said police actions were justified because Mr. Ellis fought the officers with “extraordinary strength,” The Seattle Times reported. They argued Mr. Ellis died from methamphetamine found in his system and a pre-existing heart condition. Before the case went to trial, the Ellis family reached a $4 million settlement agreement with Pierce County in 2022.

Mr. Stinson’s data also leaves out the case of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died in police custody in January 2023. Five former Memphis police officers were accused of beating Mr. Nichols during a police stop and charged with second-degree murder and assault in state court, plus civil rights violations in federal court. One officer has pleaded guilty to some state and federal charges; the other four have pleaded not guilty.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest law enforcement organization with more than 373,000 members, said no blanket standard can be applied to cases of police custody deaths. He said each situation is different, and each case must be considered on its own merits.

“There are all kinds of things that have to be factored into a judgment as to whether or not use of force is appropriate,” Mr. Pasco said, adding that officers should be afforded due process like any other citizen. “They don’t check their civil rights at the station door any more than anyone else should have to.”

And defense lawyers and defendants have argued that they were doing their best to react to often chaotic situations where at times they felt their own lives were at risk.

After the conviction of two paramedics in Mr. McClain’s death, Chief Alec Oughton of the Aurora Fire Department said he was “discouraged that these paramedics have received felony punishment for following their training and protocols in place at the time and for making discretionary decisions while taking split-second action in a dynamic environment.”

Social justice activists who are watching the cases say the different outcomes are a sign there is still work to be done, and are a way to understand shifting public attitudes on policing. But charges are just the first step in a long criminal justice process.

“You have to be able to prove the case. You have to be able to collect that evidence and to tell the story that is convincing to a jury,” said Tracie L. Keesee, co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity, which conducts research and collects data to improve policing.

In the case of Mr. Floyd, who was 46, Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who was captured on video pressing his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges. Mr. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years. Three other officers who were present were found guilty on various state and federal charges.

Two months before Mr. Floyd’s death, Ms. Taylor, 26, was killed in her apartment in a botched raid in Louisville, Ky. No officer has ever been charged with shooting Ms. Taylor, but last year, the Justice Department charged four officers with federal civil rights violations. One police detective pleaded guilty and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

One officer faced state charges related to endangering Ms. Taylor’s neighbor, and a jury acquitted him last year. Federal prosecutors hope to retry that same officer after a deadlocked jury prompted a mistrial in November.

In the case of Mr. McClain, two paramedics and one police officer were convicted, but two police officers were acquitted of all charges, and one of them has returned to the force.

The death of Mr. McClain, who was placed in a neck restraint and given a fatal sedative dose during a police stop in Aurora, offers one of the clearest examples of the impact of national protests and public pressure leading to charges.

Not long after he was killed in 2019, a local prosecutor declined to charge police officers and paramedics. But Colorado’s attorney general later opened an investigation that resulted in a 32-count indictment, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges. Two months after the indictment, the city of Aurora agreed to pay the parents of Mr. McClain $15 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit.

Community activists and the families of victims have also looked for accountability in other ways, outside of criminal prosecutions.

After a jury found one of the officers convicted in Mr. McClain’s case not guilty, he returned to his job on the Aurora force, but is currently on paid personal leave.

A local N.A.A.C.P. chapter began organizing a response. Members of the civil rights organization are demanding a public apology from the officer, Nathan Woodyard, and applying pressure to keep him from returning to a role that would require him to interact with civilians.

“Mr. Woodyard’s lack of humanity is a key reason Elijah is not with us,” said Omar Montgomery, president of the Aurora N.A.A.C.P. “He should not be working with the public.”

Mr. Woodyard’s lawyer, Megan Downing, declined to comment about his future at the Aurora Police Department.

Art Acevedo, Aurora’s interim police chief, said he understands that many in the community do not want Mr. Woodyard back on the force. But he said there’s also a segment of the community who support his return.

It is unclear if Mr. Woodyard would return to active duty, Mr. Acevedo said, but if he does, “we’re going to take into consideration what’s best for the department, for the community and, ultimately, for Officer Woodyard himself.”

Even in cases of failed criminal convictions, families have been awarded millions and dedicated some of that to furthering police reform.

Four years after the 2018 death of 19-year-old Anton Black in police custody in Maryland, his family and a community coalition partially settled a federal civil rights lawsuit that included $5 million payout and reform initiatives.

The partial settlement requires the three Maryland law enforcement agencies involved to overhaul their use-of-force policies, and requires training for implicit bias and de-escalation. It also includes a requirement for more resources for police officers who encounter people with mental health issues in crisis.

“No family should have to go through what we went through,” Jennell Black, Mr. Black’s mother, said in a statement after the settlement. “I hope the reforms within the police departments will save lives and prevent any family from feeling the pain we feel every day.”

Source link

You May Also Like

About the Author: digitalinfocenter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Home Privacy Policy Terms Of Use Anti Spam Policy Contact Us Affiliate Disclosure Amazon Affiliate Disclaimer DMCA Earnings Disclaimer