This question is a rather subjective one that can only be answered on a case by case basis as there are times when they can and times when they cannot. To better understand when an officer would be permitted to shoot a fleeing individual, read on below as we address this question here.
Police officers often find themselves in situations that require them to make split-second decisions. Usually, these instances arise when they come in contact with an individual whom they believe committed a crime or played a role in carrying one out and are either combative or attempting to flee. It is during these times when officers have to decide what form of action they must take to in order to keep themselves and others safe while trying to detain the individual for further questioning. Unfortunately, many of these instances don’t play out very well and the suspect or potential suspect is usually the one to suffer.
Take for instance the incident involving 17-year-old Antwon Rose II. Rose had been a passenger inside a vehicle that “matched the description of a vehicle that fled an earlier shooting in which a 22-year-old man was wounded” [Source: New York Times]. Apparently, nine rounds were fired at the 22-year-old in which he then fired back. He was treated at the hospital for the shot wounds and was later released.
Shortly after this incident occurred, officers saw a vehicle that Rose has been traveling in that fit the description of the vehicle they were provided with and it “appeared to have ballistics damage to its rear window.” When East Pittsburgh police pulled the vehicle over during a traffic stop, one thing led to another and the driver was placed in handcuffs. While officers were in the process of cuffing the driver, the two passengers got out of the vehicle and fled. Shots were fired at the fleeing individuals by an officer who had “been formally sworn in [just] hours before.” Rose was one of those fleeing individuals and he was hit several times. The other individual managed to get away.
Rose was transported to U.P.M.C. McKeesport Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The news outlet stated that officers retrieved two firearms from the floor of the car, although Rose was not armed at the time he was taken down by the officer. It was also reported that the driver whom police had arrested was later released from custody which implies they didn’t have any evidence at the moment to arrest him for the shooting that had transpired moments before Rose was fatally wounded.
So, did the officer have grounds to fire at Rose or did he take the wrong approach to address the situation?
If you ask a police officer, they may say no, however, if you were to ask a civilian who was faced with the same circumstances, they may say yes. The fact is, the answers to this question are going to vary but according to the lawyer who was hired to represent Rose’s family, “Rose was not armed at the time he was shot down, that he posed no immediate threat to anyone, and that, significantly, the driver of the vehicle he occupied was released from police custody.” Now, according to PBS.org, “police may not shoot at a fleeing person unless the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger to the officer or others in the community. That means officers are expected to take other, less-deadly action during a foot or car pursuit unless the person being chased is seen as an immediate safety risk.”
Now, although police suspected that the vehicle Rose was driving in was involved in the shooting, they didn’t have any evidence that proved Rose was the one who fired those shots at the 22-year-old. And because he was unarmed and as his family’s attorney said he wasn’t a threat to the officer or the community, perhaps the officer acted irrationally which is why he was placed on administrative leave.
So, you see, there are times that call for an officer to take immediate action and fire their weapon at someone who might be going around harming innocent civilians and there are times when they must find another way to detain a potential suspect who decides to flee. When an officer fails to take the appropriate form of action that results in someone sustaining an injury or being killed, then they are permitted to take legal action again him/her as well as the department in which they work for.
Now, if you or someone you know was harmed by an Allegheny County police officer and are looking to do something about it, contact USAttorneys.com to get connected with a local Allegheny County, PA police brutality lawyer in your area. Not only can they review with you the rights you have, but also the ways in which you can hold the officer accountable for their unjust actions.