What is a Justified Shooting?
Do you remember the big news story in December, 2005, about air marshalls at Miami International Airport shooting to death a man who they say claimed to have a bomb? A passenger named Rigoberto Alpizar had darted off a plane while it was still at the terminal, his wife running after him, shouting that he was bipolar and hadn’t taken his medication. Also in pursuit of Alpizar were two air marshals, who shot him when he failed to comply with their command to drop to the ground and instead reached into his bag. Alpizar, it turned out, did not have a bomb, and none of the other passengers had heard him say that he did.
Still, the authorities, all the way up to the President of the United States, were quick to describe the shooting as justified. “From what we know, the team of air marshalls acted in a way that is consistent with the training that they have received,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
The Rigoberto Alpizar shooting appears to be very similar to the Charles Campbell shooting. In both cases, a law enforcement agent, or agents, fired several shots to stop what they believed to be an immediate deadly threat, either to themselves or to another individual, or individuals. Why, then, did the authorities come to a different conclusion as to the two shootings’ justification? What exactly is a justified shooting? And if a shooting is justified based on a law enforcement officer’s training, what exactly does this training consist of?
We can’t speak for the air marshalls, but we have a copy of the Police Student’s Guide Richie DiGuglielmo first studied at the Police Academy. It is required reading of all recruits, who must pass a detailed test about it before being allowed to carry a firearm.
According to the guide, “A police officer may use deadly physical force upon another person when he reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly physical force against the officer or a third person.” While the guide states a warning should be given before a weapon is discharged, it also says, “[w]e must realize that in some situations there is no time to give such a warning and in those limited situations it would not be required.”
Based on these guidelines, it is clear why an investigative team from Richie’s command in the NYPD found the shooting of Charles Campbell justified. Based on eyewitness accounts immediately following the shooting, Mr. Campbell, an amateur boxer in this thirties, was about to use deadly force on Richie’s father, a 54-year-old recovering from a heart attack, by striking him in the head with a full-force blow with a baseball bat. “You could hear the smack a block away,” said one eyewitness, while another said, “I was expecting to see Richie’s head pop off.”
Based on these facts, one would expect any jury to agree with the NYPD “shoot team” that Richie used justifiable force in shooting Charles Campbell. But where Richie’s case differs from the Miami airport incident is in what took place days after the incident. In the airport incident, authorities immediately accepted the law enforcement agents’ version of events, specifically their contention that the deceased had said he had a bomb, despite no other witnesses having heard it. But in Richie’s case, prosecutors were not satisfied that eyewitness accounts supported Richie’s contention that Mr. Campbell was about to use deadly force on Richie’s father. After several key witnesses were reinterviewed days after the shooting, they inexplicably changed their stories so that there was, for the first time, doubt about whether Mr. Campbell was about to engage in deadly force. That was the beginning of the end for Richie.
For more on how the witnesses changed their stories over time, click here.