Sheriff Clarke Speaks Out

Split-Second Decisions: Standing Strong
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. (Ret.)

The United States Supreme Court handed down some great news in a recent decision that protects an officer in most cases from personal civil liability for actions taken in the scope of their employment. The decision reverses an appeals court ruling that unsurprisingly emanated out of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The incident involves a 911 call in which a police officer used force when they fired four shots at a knife-wielding suspect. The suspect ignored numerous lawful commands to drop the knife which she held in her hand while standing within the lunge area of another person. The officer articulated that he felt the community was endangered by this armed suspect.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his actions were extreme. That is easy to say from the safe and sterile environment of a courtroom. This is the kind of second-guessing that previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions have disallowed. Apparently, this court does not realize that officers have to make split-second decisions under circumstances that are “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.”

In Graham v. Connor (1989) the Supreme Court held that, “the Fourth Amendment ‘reasonableness’ inquiry is whether the officer’s actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.”

What is interesting is not that Justice Sotomayor and Justice Ginsburg were the dissenting opinion, but rather what their reasons for dissenting were. They pointed out that the knife-wielding suspect “held the knife down at her side, didn’t commit any illegal act and wasn’t suspected of a crime.” Huh? Come again, please, your Honor? The suspect was ordered to drop the knife and she did not. The dissenting justices went on to state that two other police officers didn’t open fire and that one wanted to continue using verbal commands. It doesn’t matter what the other officers did, it only matters what the officer who fired the shots did and his articulation as to why and if it was reasonable to shoot under the circumstances. The United States Supreme Court held that it was reasonable.

On another front, I came across a video of some police officers who were on patrol when they came across a group of idiots who began taunting them. It’s not necessary for me to name the agency.
I am not being hyper-critical about their actions; however, I need to say something about the incident.

I understand what is going on out in the field of operations in the post-Obama era of cop-hating. Cops have become less assertive, figuring that it isn’t worth jeopardizing their careers because of some overzealous politically active liberal prosecutor, a chief executive who buckles to political pressure from a mayor’s office, and media figures who no longer adhere to journalistic standards of accuracy and instead fuel the hatred of law enforcement officials. I get it.

We are asked to put up with a lot, and we do. We are not expected to be pushed around by punks. When the line is crossed, I expect proper police action – shit-canning these shit-birds. That means jail. As long as cops act in accordance with the law – their agency policies and the law enforcement officer’s code of conduct – they will be judged as having acted properly.

When we make on-scene decisions in avoidance of potential complaints, we are headed to a very dark place. Putting up with being spit on, cursed at, having missiles thrown at us, and the like will then be a daily expectation. We will have established a law enforcement response that fails to protect the public. We walk away. Really? Law enforcement is the last line of defense between order and chaos. The law-abiding public is counting on us to stand strong. Don’t let them down.

Finally, the use of force by police officers in Sacramento, CA must be addressed. The actions of two police officers resulted in the death of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. As I always do, I have cautioned the public not to jump to conclusions and wait until the facts are determined. Nonetheless, the usual will occur. This means a rush to judgment, agitators fomenting anger, and hostility and misinformation.

It didn’t take long for carnival barker Al Sharpton to hurry across the country to get his self-serving piece of the action. When Sharpton shows up, nothing good follows. He said that this is a national story but it’s not. He wants it to be national so he can get national attention.

The White House issued a statement that I would expect any responsible U.S. president to make. They said it was a “local matter best handled by local authorities.” Exactly. Cop-hater-in-Chief Obama always added fuel to the fire before the facts were in and he always invoked race. President Donald Trump calms the waters – that’s called leadership.

The media did what the media does in these instances. Every story led with, “unarmed black man shot by police.” I want to remind them that not armed does not mean not dangerous. The officers should be held to the rule of law standard that I talked about previously.

I’ll wait to say anything further until the facts are determined.

The media will do what they always do and produce headlines that say a cop shot an unarmed black man.

Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. (Ret.) was the 64th Sheriff of Milwaukee County. He has appeared on many of the national news stations to defend the law enforcement profession.