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Jan 2011
The use of deadly force

In the wake of the Reginald Doucet Jr. shooting, some community members have asked how it is legal for a police officer to use deadly force against an unarmed man.

Police officers have a difficult job that becomes even harder when a suspect resists arrest and puts up a fight. In this case, Mr. Doucet was trying to disarm the officer; therefore, the officer did not have to delay deadly force until the suspect had the officer’s gun firmly in hand.

Officers may use force to overcome resistance, effect an arrest or prevent a suspect’s escape. Officers can use deadly force to protect their lives and when facing an individual who is using force that can cause serious bodily injury, including loss of consciousness and broken bones.

When an officer feels his life or the life of another person is in imminent danger or under threat of serious injury, the officer may use the force necessary to stop that assault. Under California law (Penal Code section 196), peace officers may use deadly force in the course of their duties under circumstances not available to members of the general public. Police officers are mindful, however, that certain limits on the use of deadly force apply to peace officers. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of Scott v. Henrich (9th Cir. 1994) 39 F.3d 912, delineated the circumstances under which deadly force may be used:

…police may use only such force as is objectively reasonable under the circumstances. An officer's use of deadly force is reasonable only if “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” All determinations of unreasonable force “must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation."

But irrespective of laws that apply to deadly force by police officers performing their duties, the law of self-defense is available to any person. Homicide is justifiable in accordance with California Penal Code 197 “when resisting any attempt by a person to commit great bodily injury on or kill any person.”

What has been lost in these groups’ questions and allegations is the basic fact that every person dictates the degree of force an officer uses. If officers are in a fight to protect their gun or avoid losing consciousness, they have no other option. We, as a society, must support them.

If a suspect takes or attempts to take an officer's gun, he has sent a clear message that he intends to murder that officer and possibly others, and must be stopped for the safety of everyone. Whether the aggressive suspect is under the influence of a controlled substance, alcohol, or has a mental illness; if successful, the target of the suspect’s attack will be dead nonetheless.



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