Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson Verdict Was A Foregone Conclusion

Video records from the body camera - such as this one worn by a Denver policewoman-  will ultimately be the only way to provide enough evidence to prevent future Fergusons.

With the outrage that erupted in Ferguson, MO last night - after the grand jury verdict was announced- it was as if too many never saw this coming (Officer Darren Wilson not indicted given "no probable cause") but they ought to have if they followed the legal analyses on many different venues. Bottom line, the grand jury had mainly Officer Wilson's testimony (and images of his injuries) to go by and his claims - including:
"...... I never at any point had contol of him...he manipulated me while I was in the vehicle completely...I felt like  a five year old child holding onto Hulk Hogan....it instantly turned to how do I live through this..."

Also, by Wilson's account, he was literally at the mercy of this "giant" black guy the size of a pro football defensive end, and so he had no other option than to fire -  eight shots at that. Was he lying? We don't know because there were no on the spot visual records to go by and other witnesses who stated that Wilson fired shots at  Michael Brown (while he was down) were dismissed as having lied. Were they? We only have the presented evidence (mainly forensic - in the autopsy of Brown) and as seen this morning on assorted news shows. As one CBS Legal analyst observed: "Many witnesses changed their stories after the forensic report became available."

Let's also bear in mind, as the same legal analyst noted on CBS Early Show yesterday, that Missouri gives police enormous discretion on when to use lethal force, if they even think they are in mortal danger. Indeed, as she pointed out, the Missouri law even allowed an officer to fire at the back of a fleeing suspect.

Lastly, there was the makeup of the grand jury itself: 9 whites and 3 blacks, and the fact that all that was required for a dismissal verdict was nine votes. In effect, all the white members had to do is band together (we don't know this actually happened) and the verdict of no probable cause could have been arrived at - without any of the black members votes needed.

All of the above showed me that the verdict, no matter when it arrived, would be "no probable cause". It didn't take a mind reader to see it, or special powers - only understanding the legal choices the jurists had, their composition and Missouri law as it applies to such incidents. This ought to also have been obvious to any of those who flew into a rage last night.

All the preceding discloses that any similar incidents in Missouri - or many other states - will never receive the legal scrutiny they need until police are held to more account - with visual records available that can be admitted into evidence - say for a grand jury.

In other words, arguably Ferguson and its aftermath could all have evidently been avoided. How?

Via the use of a special miniaturized digital body camera worn on the side frames of officers' glasses or sun glasses. The tiny cameras record every last detail in any encounter with the public for any reason, and hence provide a firm and accurate document of the officer's actions and the perp's responses or crimes. Basically, it is insurance to protect police from false allegations of excessive force, and also suspects from overly aggressive police actions. The body camera ensures literal, visible accountability. According to Denver Police Chief Robert White :

"The body camera will clear up those moments of conflict"

And it will also provide supplemental evidence to any forensic findings, as well as officers' own accounts.

Other precincts have already been  authorized to use these cameras as a standard operating procedure.. For example, in Laurel, MD,  crime has dropped 46 percent and the police force has seen accountability for all arrests enhanced by virtue of everything being on  visual record. (In a few cases, as noted in an Aug. 29  Denver Post piece, p. 5A), "people making allegations against the police have withdrawn complaints when they learned their encounters were recorded.")

One instance shown in Laurel, MD involved an officer stopping a speeding vehicle. The entire transaction was recorded including when the officer asked to see identification and the perp floored her accelerator and left the scene - soon later apprehended down the highway.

The benefits from this digital camera system became self-evident. It was no longer a case of the officer's word against anyone else's because he could provide the evidence in the form of the digital recording.

Thus, had Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson been outfitted with such a miniature camera - like the police in Laurel, MD - it is doubtful things would have gotten to the stage they did in Ferguson.  All the events would have been immediately accessible and there'd have been no "fatal span" of time within which witness accounts conflicted.  The grand jury, as opposed to only being exposed to Wilson's account and images of his injuries, could have also seen events as they actually went down. No human witnesses - who might be swayed to lie for the dead victim - would be needed.

Had Wilson had this device and used it at the time of his confrontation, none of the Ferguson turmoil might have ever occurred. But 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' doesn't help anyone now - least of all Brown's family or sympathizers who rioted last night. Meanwhile, George Stephapoulis asked Wilson if he could have done anything different and he said 'No'. But he could. He could have backed off, called for other backup and not pursued in an aggressive fashion.

Clearly, these body camera devices need to be dispensed throughout the U.S. to all police departments,  and I would say as a vastly higher priority than dispensing militarized gear like Humvees.   Unless, of course, we want to relive more incidents like Ferguson.

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