Breaking down The Washington Post’s data on suspects killed by LE

By examining these incidents, we can conclude that of the 80 unarmed subjects intentionally shot in incidents, the vast majority were actively attacking officers


Let’s take an in-depth look at the suspects killed by U.S. police in 2015, as reported by the Washington Post.

Note: This is my analysis as determined by reviewing the ongoing Washington Post reports and the news links associated with these stories or by conducting an Internet search.

According to the Washington Post series, 990 subjects were shot and killed by law enforcement in 2015. By using the filters available at their site we see that 80 percent of the subjects were armed with a deadly weapon (782 out of 990). But what about the 93 subjects listed as "unarmed"? 

First of all let’s eliminate those subjects accidentally or negligently shot by police. These six individuals were not the intentional recipients of gunfire by police. Some were accidentally shot when police fired on armed men, one was shot by a pistol by accident when the officer meant to fire a TASER, and one was shot negligently when an officer had his finger on the trigger while approaching a man in a vehicle. Though tragic these acts were not intentional.

Then there are the three subjects killed in what I would term "death by misadventure." In these cases the deceased — though unarmed — was in close proximity to an armed associate who was actively firing at officers. In one case a girlfriend was killed when her boyfriend starting shooting at officers while they were in their car. In another, an unarmed "buddy" was shot and killed when he voluntarily gave a ride to an armed murder suspect who chose to shoot at police from inside the vehicle. 

What is confusing, however, is that the Post included four incidents in which the subject was in fact armed. Bennie Lee Tignor, Jeremy Linhart, and Rodney Biggs all were armed and were reaching/drawing when shot and killed. Rafael Cruz Jr. was shot and killed after shots were fired from the car he was in and then the driver attempted to run over officers. 

One case particularly perplexing (and with little news reports available) is that of Roberto Leon. According to the Post website, "Following a traffic stop, Leon exchanged gunfire with police, stole another car at gunpoint and fled. He was later found dead inside a home." How this case and the others are included in the Washington Post project is confounding.

Revised numbers
If we subtract these 13 subjects from the 990 total, we see that 80 subjects were "unarmed" in the traditional sense but there is more to these stories as well.

By my count, 10 subjects had some type of contact weapon. That’s 7 percent of the 80 total. These included incidents in which the subject threw a hatchet at officers, attacked with a large metal spoon (after a TASER failed to stop the mentally ill subject who then tried to throw the officer over an apartment balcony), or was armed with a tree branch, stick, or an officer’s own handcuffs. In one case two officers were savagely beaten with a police radio.

A full 62 percent of these 80 individuals were actively attacking officers. Some of these attacks included attempts at disarming (12.5 percent) and attempts at drowning the officers in two incidents. Injuries in these cases included broken bones and head injuries. 

My count of "attacks in progress," as the Washington Post describes these shootings, finds 50 incidents. The Washington Post lists only 34 incidents. Once again, by reading the news reports or conducting an Internet search and reading news reports, I was able to properly document the assaults.

Less-deadly forms of control were routinely attempted. TASERS failed to control the subjects in 22.5 percent of the 80 incidents. 

Based on a review of the incidents, 13 shootings or 10 percent appear to be police-assisted suicide. Some had mentioned they would make police kill them or were wanted on seriously violent felony charges. According to my count, 15 percent of the subjects shot and killed made drawing motions. 

These subjects’ intent is unclear — at least one subject pointed a cellphone at officers.

Indicted officers
It appears that of these 80 incidents, nine officers have been or may be indicted. Whether clearly negligent (and possibly a slip and capture incident as defined by Bill Lewinski of Force Science), or the yet-to-be adjudicated cases of the shooting of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati and the shooting of Walter Scott in Charleston, most of the shootings described by the Washington Post as unarmed have resulted in no indictment by a grand jury or the officer was cleared by his own agency.

The reason these officers have been cleared in the shootings is based on the "totality of the circumstances." For instance, while Victor Emanuel Larosa is described as unarmed, research into the 23-year-old’s shooting death indicates that after an observed dope deal he hit a Jacksonville PD officer with his car in an attempt to escape. The officer flew through the air at such a height that Larosa was able to drive under the officer. He rammed a police car, fled on foot and made a drawing motion as officers pursued him on foot.

Former Arlington, Texas Officer Brad Miller was cleared by a grand jury in the shooting death of Christian Taylor. Taylor, while under the influence of synthetic drugs and acting aggressively toward cars at a dealership, was shot and killed by Miller – a rookie police officer. Once again, when the totality of the circumstances is presented to an informed grand jury, officers are correctly vindicated.

Dangerous men
Many of the suspects were very dangerous men; many were under the influence of drugs – meth, cocaine, OxyContin and alcohol, or a combination. 

When police shot and killed Richard Jacquez, a suspect in a homicide, he may not have been armed but he was considered a threat to officers and citizens when officers chased him as he ran from a car crash after police pursuit. 

Frank Shephard had an outstanding warrant for assault on a family member when police attempted to pull him over for "suspicious activity." During the chase, he called 911 and threatened to harm a small child in his car. When police stopped Shephard and ordered him to raise his hands, he reached back into the car. At that point two police officers opened fire. Turns out Shephard had no child in the car. 

A 19-year-old by the name of Ebin Proctor was shot and killed in Cottonwood, Arizona. The suspect had an active warrant on file for probation violation for assault on a police officer. A TASER failed to stop him, pepper spray failed to stop him, and then he attempted to disarm the officer after attacking him.

In conclusion
The Washington Post, though coming to questionable conclusions on some of the incidents, has done law enforcement a service. By examining these incidents, we can conclude that of the 80 unarmed subjects intentionally shot in incidents, the vast majority (62 percent) was actively attacking officers. Those 80 subjects only comprise eight percent of the total suspects (990) who were shot and killed, and obvious deadly threats. 

Can we improve? Absolutely, and training — as always — is the key

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