Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Chris Hernandez answers some questions about Ferguson and how police handled the shooting:

[Why would Wilson be allowed to wait a week before making a statement?]

My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Wilson did what most cops do after a shooting: he gave a brief statement to investigators summing up the reason he fired, then gave a full statement after conferring with his attorney. The way I’ve seen it done, the officer says “I fired because he was pointing a gun at me, now I’ll wait for the union lawyer before I make a full statement.” That’s what police union attorneys suggest we do, and that’s what a lot of lawyers who take self-defense cases advise private citizens to do after a shooting. I don’t think Wilson had access to all the statements from witnesses, alleged witnesses and forensic evidence; after only a week, the evidence wouldn’t have been analyzed and witnesses were still coming forward. On its face, the claim “he waited a week to make a statement” sounds bad, but in reality it’s what all people involved in self-defense shootings are told to do: give only the bare facts, then wait until you confer with your lawyer.

[This case was not handled differently because Wilson was a cop?]

There are a couple of important facets to that question. First, you’re right that police shootings are handled differently, because police are a “known quantity”. When the officers arrived on the Wilson shooting scene they knew Wilson’s level of training and experience, knew he was responding to a reported crime, and knew he had identified two suspects and called for backup. So going into it, they wouldn’t have reason to suspect it was a random execution.

Second, an accusation screamed by a crowd is NOT considered credible by itself. Mobs get whipped into a frenzy pretty easily, and people start repeating what they’ve heard others say.

Hernandez gives two examples of mobs behaving badly:

My friend arrived on a rollover accident. A local young man had been ejected and killed. Officers blocked the road and started working the scene. Word spread, and the man’s friends and family started arriving. After the officers had been on the scene several minutes, someone in the crowd started yelling, “He didn’t die in a wreck! The cops killed him!”

The accusation started being repeated through the crowd. Officers had to hold a perimeter to keep people from trying to get the body before it was loaded into a hearse (this was a small town where bodies went straight to a funeral home). When the hearse was loaded and started driving away, people in the crowd ran to their cars and drove after it. Several police cars had to escort the hearse to the funeral home and then block the doors to keep people from forcing their way inside. The spontaneous outburst started with one person screaming a false accusation, which then spread. The fact that numerous people were repeating it did not make it credible.

My experience: I was at a murder scene at a huge club. When we arrived there were over a thousand people in the parking lot, and it was a near-riot. A man had been killed in the parking lot and was still there. We cleared the area around him, called for EMS and checked him for vital signs. He was DOA. A large and aggressive crowd surrounded us and tried to break through to the body. People started yelling “Why haven’t you called an ambulance?” and “They aren’t calling an ambulance because he’s black!” In the meantime, an ambulance had arrived but couldn’t get through the crowd. This was one of the most frustrating, ridiculous experiences of my career: being screamed at by enraged people for refusing to call an ambulance, and no matter how loud I screamed back, “Turn around, the ambulance is behind you!”, I couldn’t even get them to turn and look. As far as they were concerned we didn’t care enough about a dead black man to even call an ambulance, and weren’t interested in hearing or even seeing anything to the contrary. Their loud and repeated accusations weren’t credible.


  1. Adar says:

    It needs to be repeated over and over that the body of Brown in Ferguson was left for four hours on the road because a mob surrounded the hearse as summoned by the cops. That mob did not allow the hearse to move forward for two hours even after the police had made their preliminary investigation.

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