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Self Defense Tag

Minutes ago Judge Megan Shanahan declared a mistrial in the case of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing after the jury remained unable to come to a unanimous verdict in its fourth day and twenty-fifth hour of deliberations, as reported by WCPO in Cincinnati. Tensing was being tried for murder and manslaughter for the shooting death of Sam DuBose, after DuBose attempted to drive away from a traffic stop. Tensing raised the legal defense of self-defense, claiming that he shot DuBose because DuBose was dragging him with his vehicle, and as a result threatening Tensing with death or grave bodily harm.

Today is the third day of deliberations in the murder/manslaughter trial of police officer Ray Tensing, and this afternoon Judge Megan Shanahan once again sent the jury back to deliberations after they told her that they were still unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict. Ray Tensing, you may recall, is the Univesity of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed black motorist Sam DuBose when the driver attempted to flee a traffic stop after refusing to show the officer a driver's license.  The events were captured in a rather shaky maneer on Tensing's bodycam, as we covered way back in July of 2015: Sam DuBose Shooting: Let’s Go to the Video Tape.

A Floridian woman shot and wounded a naked, poop-covered home invader Sunday night. 27-year-old Victor Etherington, who, according to deputies was intoxicated, demanded entry to an Ocala residence. The homeowner (name still unknown), not recognizing him, told him to leave. The poopetrator kicked in the door, prompting the woman to take refuge in her bedroom, grab a .22, and call 911. Etherington chased her upstairs, removed his soiled shorts and forced his way into the closet, and that's when the homeowner shot him once in the gut. When police arrived on the scene, they found Etherington in his birthday suit, bleeding, covered in poop, hiding behind the bedroom door.

About 13 months ago, on October 20, 2014, Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old 180-pound black male who was non-compliant with police orders and threatening Chicago police officers with a knife, was shot and killed by officer Jason Van Dyke, a white man. Yesterday Chicago authorities, under orders from a judge, finally released some dash cam footage of the shooting. Concurrent with that impending release, prosecutors arrested Van Dyke and charged him with first degree murder. He is currently being denied bail. Here's the relevant portion of the police dash cam video that captured that shooting:

One of the dominant theories of our time is that police officers are waging a Terminator-like war against unarmed young black men, killing them with a ruthlessness and determination evocative of a genocide, all the while escaping legal sanction. The Washington Post, certainly not a paper to shy away from fanning the flames of discord, seems to have stumbled upon some actual data on the subject.  Their reporting of this data is, as one might have expected, far richer in anecdote than analysis, but nevertheless the snippets of data that slip through are perhaps noteworthy. We start with a data point showing 385 police killings of suspects so far this year. Of these 385 killings, only about 25% involved a black suspect.  While it is certainly true that this 25% is disproportionate to the 13% or so of the US population that is black, it is also true that black suspects are disproportionately represented among those arrested for violent crime in general.

Last weekend a cop shot of a fleeing unarmed black man in Charleston, SC.   Not all the facts are in, but the video (apparently captured by a cell phone) is damning; it shows the cop firing at the fleeing black man several times, finally bringing him to the ground.  There seems little indication that the fleeing man represented an imminent threat to anyone, much less the police officer. It also appears that the cop planted his Taser beside the man's body.
ABC Breaking US News | US News Videos The NY Times reports:
A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting in the back and killing an apparently unarmed black man while the man ran away. The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, said he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man, Walter L. Scott, 50, fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening.
Here's the full video:

The old quip in self-defense circles is that it is imprudent to bring a knife to a gunfight. This caution must apply only more certainly to the bringing of a rock to a gunfight, a lesson learned the hard way by one Antonio Zambrano-Montes after he was shot and killed this past Tuesday by the Pasco, WA police department, as reported by CNN and other news sources. Police were called after reports that Zambrano-Montes was at an urban intersection hurling rocks at vehicles. When officers responded, they too began to be pelted with stones as large as softballs, with officers being struck multiple times. Police say that they attempted to use various degrees of non-deadly force, including voice commands and a taser, but that these efforts were unsuccessful. Events were escalated to imminent deadly force against the officers by Zambrano-Montes. Video below shows shooting death of Zambrano-Montes.

The Bridgeton NJ police department has released dash camera video of the shooting of violent felon Jerame Reid by two of its police officers during a traffic stop, reports NBC 4 news in New York.  Both Reid and the officer who first shot him, Behame Days, are black.  Days' partner, Officer Roger Worley, who is white, also shot Reid after the gunfire began. The South Jersey Times reports that last summer Officer Days was involved in the arrest of Reid for heroin and cocaine possession, and resisting arrest. The same source reports that Reid has previously served thirteen years in prison for shooting at New Jersey State Police Officers. Given Day's previous experience in arresting a non-compliant Reid it seems quite possible that he would have been aware of Reid's history of shooting at police, knowledge which would naturally have contributed to his reasonable fear of death or grave bodily harm at the hands of the once again non-compliant suspect. The video begins with the suspect vehicle, in which Reid was the passenger, making a rolling left turn through a stop sign (0:06) while directly in front of the patrol car occupied by officers Worley (driving) and Days.  This immediately initiated the traffic stop (0:22), which begins amiably enough with a typical verbal exchange (0:36), but degenerates into Days drawing his service weapon within 22 seconds of his first words with the suspects (0:58).

Eugene Volokh has an interesting post over at his Volokh Conspiracy blog about a Washington-state Court of Appeals decision finding that there exists a Constitutional right of self-defense against attacking animals.  That decision, State v. Hull (Wash. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2014),  is embedded at the bottom of this post. Professor Volokh's post on the matter is, as usual, insightful and worth reading, although it delves into considerable legal minutiae (as it must, given that the decision it discusses is based upon that minutiae).

"Bad Cases Make for Bad Law"

All the legalese aside, the decision could well be an interesting read even to non-lawyers for reasons unmentioned by Professor Volokh, and that is because it illustrates the truth of the adage, "Bad cases make for bad law." It seems inarguable that a person would have the legal right to defend himself against an unprovoked attack, regardless of the form--human aggressor, attacking animal, rampaging zombie, whatever. Yet at the trial the prosecution made precisely the argument that Washington state's self-defense laws applied only to a human attacker, and not to an animal attacker, and that therefore the defendant's request for a self-defense instruction should be denied.  Notably, this was an argument centered on what jury instructions were to be read, so it was made directly to the trial judge as a single individual, and not to the jury generally, so the prosecution needed to convince only one mind to agree.

A Texas Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a Houston man, Raul Rodriguez, convicted in 2012 of murder for the shooting death of a neighbor, Kelly Danaher, in 2010, on the grounds of defective jury instructions on self-defense, according to reports by ABC news and other news agencies.  (A full-length copy of this order is embedded at the bottom of this post.) The first trial found Rodriguez guilty of murder, and resulted in him being sentenced to 40 years. The facts of the case are somewhat ambiguous on detail, but in general they consist of an amalgam of a loud, drunken party, long-simmering neighborhood disputes, and incredibly poor judgment on the part of a retired fire-fighter in electing to exercise his concealed carry license by bringing his pistol to a confrontation.  A tragic outcome was entirely predictable. A particularly remarkable part of this case is that Rodriguez himself recorded the events of the conflict in an almost 20-minute video.  A portion of the video recorded by Rodriguez is here.  Roughly 15 preceding minutes are missing from this version, but the relevant end-stages of the conflict are captured, and the video ends with the first gun shot.  Reportedly several shots were fired, including one which injured another party goer, in addition to the fatal round that struck Danaher.

Markus Kaarma, the Montana man tried for deliberate homicide for shooting and killing a German exchange student whom prosecutors say was "baited" into entering the homeowner's garage has been convicted of that crime, reports WRAL news. The defense narrative of innocence was that Kaarma was in a heightened state of fear, having already been burglarized several times when at home with his common law wife and their 10-month-old child, that the police had been ineffective in dealing with the repeated burglaries, and that he acted in necessary self-defense when he spied the figure of Derin Dede in the darkened garage. In order for the jury to come to their unanimous guilty verdict they would necessarily have concluded that the state had disproved this narrative beyond a reasonable doubt.

The murder trial is underway of a Montana homeowner Markus Kaarma, accused of "baiting" an intruder into his garage and then shotgunning him to death has been proceeding in Missoula this past week, as reported by the Missoulian newspaper and other sources.  The defendant is arguing that the shooting was lawful self-defense. The essential facts are that a group of thieves--sometimes characterized as college students--have been raiding neighborhood garages and stealing from them, a practice referred to as "garage hopping."  Kaarma had been robbed in this fashion several times already, including one instance in which his cell phone was stolen resulting in him having an actual phone conversation with the thieves who answered when he called his own number. The prosecution argues that Kaarma and his common law wife, frustrated with the continued thefts and the inability of the police to do much about them, "baited" the garage with a purse, leaving the door slightly open.  This apparently attracted 17-year-old German exchange student Diren Dede to sneak into the garage.  Alerted to the intrusion, Kaarma approached the open garage door from the outside and fired several shotgun blasts into the garage, killing Dede.

A South Carolina prosecutor's office has released dash-camera video of the September 4 shooting by Police Officer Sean Groubert of Levar Edward in a gas station parking lot. It appears that Edward was in good faith simply complying with Groubert's demands for identification, but in a manner that led Groubert to believe that Edward was lunging for a weapon. The good news: the shooting victim, Edward, was not killed. The bad news: just about everything else. Here's the dash-camera footage: