Why Are Police Officers Rarely Charged for Civilian Shooting Incidents?

Why are few police officers prosecuted for fatal shootings of civilians? That’s a question that has gotten much national attention in the last year due to high profile shooting and fatality incidents in New York City, Cleveland, Ferguson, MO, and, most recently, North Charleston, SC and Tulsa, OK. To investigate, The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University compiled data from every confirmed fatal shooting conducted by officers since 2005, spoke to people involved with some of those events, and, ultimately, uncovered significant trends.

In the report, titled “Thousands dead, few prosecuted,” the researchers found that in the thousands of fatal shootings by police since 2005, just 54 officers have been charged after the fact. They also report that in most of these cases, the deceased was unarmed, and that it usually took another key factor, like video of the incident or the victim being shot in the back, for prosecutors to press charges.
Of the 54 officers charged in shooting incidents since 2005:

  • 43 of them were white
  • They had a total of 49 victims
  • 33 of those victims were black
  • Only 11 officers were convicted
  • Only 10 officers received prison sentence more than one year

Were these shootings racially motivated? Of the 20 prosecutors interviewed by The Washington Post, all of them said that race would have no bearing on a choice to prosecute these officers. A defense attorney for one of the officers involved in one of these cases, however, told the paper that to assert that there wasn’t a racial element to these trials “would be naive.”

Trouble With Prosecuting

Perhaps more significant than the statistics are the difficulties investigators discovered that appear inherent to actually convicting officers involved in seemingly questionable shootings. Using a series of case studies, the report illustrates how prosecutors move to avoid headlines and not strain the relationships between law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. Often, according to the findings, prosecutors endeavor to settle these matters out of court with plea deals (usually for minimal penalties) to avoid an even bigger hurdle: convincing a trial jury.

“To get them [the jury] to buy into a story where the officer is the bad guy goes fundamentally against everything they believe,” Law Professor David Harris told The Washington Post. The paper goes on to recount numerous police acquittals since 2005, even when seemingly overwhelming evidence was presented in the victim’s favor. A similar sentiment was echoed by Georgia Ferrell-who has one daughter on the force and lost her son to a police officer. “Society has put it into our heads that the officer is always right,” Ferrell told the Post. “That has to change.”

If you or a loved has been accused of a crime, then time is of the essence. Call Herman Law, P.A. today to speak to an experienced and award-winning West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney you can trust. Attorney Herman is a former prosecutor who knows how to counter the state’s case against you and secure the best possible outcome on your behalf.