Driver shot dead by police officer during traffic stop

wgh headshotBY WARREN HORTON


Driver shot dead by police officer during traffic stop. This headline seems all too common in recent months, and the reason may be all too common.

As a retired Deputy Coroner, I was fortunate not to investigate a death related to a traffic stop like those that have occurred in recent months.  What concerns me is the lack of common sense shown by drivers that want to confront an officer during a traffic stop.  Drivers simply need to deal with the officer in a way that does not end with a fatality.

An officer will make a stop, presumably based upon a probable violation. A request is generally made for three items: license, registration, and insurance.   Most people probably think that they did nothing wrong. But refusing to obey an officer’s order serves no purpose other than to make the traffic stop a more serious offense.

When I watched the recent video of a teen driver shot in Michigan, I wondered why the teen repeatedly denied the request to produce a driver’s license and refused to get out of the car, as ordered.  As the officer’s body-cam clearly shows, the teen was intent on keeping his cell-phone as he was ordered onto the ground.

Writer David Shortell of CNN, wrote in an online article on Oct. 16, 2015,  the teen’s father and girlfriend said he had become “strongly focused” on YouTube videos of police encounters. My first thought after watching the video was that the teen was hoping to be a “Tube Star” by escalating the situation and recording it in order to put the video on YouTube.  He hoped it would go viral and he would get his 15 minutes of fame. He is now getting more than his 15 minutes, and unfortunately, he is dead. The family has filed a civil lawsuit since the district attorney has found no cause to prosecute the officer, based upon investigative and forensic findings.

I am all for constitutional rights, but there is a time and place to argue the merits of a traffic stop. What would have happened if the teen had simply told the officer that he had left his wallet at home, his reason for not producing his license as requested? The teen would probably still be alive if he had simply exited the car and got on the ground, as requested by the officer?

There is always an alternative and in this case, as well as many other cases, the right and wrong of a situation could be argued in front of a judge.  No need for a confrontation and the teen would be alive, right or wrong.

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