Friday, March 19, 2010

Police Shooting

On January 5, 2008 Sgt. Joseph Chavalia of the Lima, Ohio police department shot and killed Tarika Wilson.  Tarika's 1 year old son, Sincere, was wounded twice in the same shooting.  Sgt. Chavalia was subsequently charged with two misdemeanors: negligent homicide and negligent assault.  Chavalia was wrongfully acquitted of these charges at trial.  Here's why.

When I was nine years old I got my first rifle for Christmas – a .22 caliber Ithaca Model 49.  This is a lever action rifle with an external hammer.  The hammer operates separately from the action, so loading and cocking the rifle are two separate operations, making this rifle the safest .22 on the market.  Even so, the very first thing my father did after Christmas morning was over was to reiterate the four rules of gun safety.  Everyone reading this can recite them, can't they?  Here they are, as codified by Jeff Cooper and rephrased by my father:

1.The gun is always loaded.
2.Don't ever point the gun at something you don't intend to shoot.  Point it at the ground or up in the air.
3.Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot.
4.Be sure of your target and see what's behind it.  That lead has to go somewhere.

You can find links to the four rules here and here.  Rather than pontificate on all four, I'm going to concentrate on rule number 4: Be sure of your target and of what is beyond it.

God made man, but Colonel Colt made 'em equal.  When anyone picks up a gun and decides to carry it for protection, whether they know it or not they are stating that they, the gun owner, are accepting responsibility for their own actions involving the firearms they possess.  This is particularly true with rule number four.  If a pizza delivery man is confronted by an armed robber and he defends himself with his pistol, the lead has to go somewhere.  Likewise, if a homeowner empties a few shots from his SKS into a home invader, those shots could go through the invader and the wall behind the invader, and end up in the house next door.  The shooter is responsible for this.

Sgt. Joseph Chavalia is a policeman with about 30 years experience so I think it's safe to credit Chavalia with knowledge of the four rules of gun safety.  During the raid when Tarika Wilson was killed Chavalia was headed up the stairs with another officer close behind him.  Chavalia knew there were children in the house, and should know that children do really dumb things (any parents out there want to argue that one?).  Chavalia was shouting commands at unseen inhabitants upstairs to get down and surrender.  As he peeked over the top of the stairs Chavalia heard shots from somewhere in the house, and by his own admission Chavalia saw movement on the second floor that he couldn't identify.  Chavalia then opened fire with a fully automatic rifle without identifying his target.  As a result, Chavalia killed Tarika Wilson and wounded her one year old son Sincere that Tarika was holding in her arms.  Chavalia's crime stems from his violation of the fourth rule; he couldn't see his target, much less what was behind it.  He couldn't identify a threat, he knew there would be activity from the children in the house, but he opened fire anyway.  The real miracle is that Chavalia didn't kill a few of the children, who were also upstairs.

I cannot for the life of me imagine a jury so completely stupid and ignorant as to find Chavalia not guilty.  Nor can I conceive of a prosecutor so incompetent as to not get a guilty verdict, even from a stupid jury.  I can easily imagine some cooperation between the prosecutor and the defense attorney to present the best possible case for Chavalia.  Chavalia can go back to work and the city of Lima can brace itself for a civil suit, which is better than nothing but certainly not what should have happened.  Until the police are held culpable for their own abuse of power, this is the kind of behavior we have to expect from the police.  There is no reason for the police to change their policy on the use of force or deadly force, as misuse has no repercussions.

As an example of a real 'professional' at work, here is the infamous video of the police giving a lecture on firearms and firearm safety.

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