The Truth: first, next, and always
I represented a LEO a few years ago in connection with an officer involved shooting (OIS) who was not able to provide critical details about the use of deadly force. He was present on the scene, contacted the suspect, and engaged the suspect with a weapon. His partner, who shot and killed the suspect, was only 20 feet from him when the shots rang out. However, his view of the suspect and his partner was blocked by the corner of the suspect’s house.
This situation is not uncommon and creates a challenge for many LEOs. You see, LEOs spend their career putting the pieces of puzzles together. A domestic violence victim refuses to tell you how her left eye socket was fractured, but the scratches on her husband’s dominant right hand along with his disjointed version of the facts provides enough probable cause for an arrest. However, unlike building probable cause or reconstructing events from witness statements, answering questions during an investigation into an OIS requires that you provide “just the facts.”
The use of deadly force is necessarily a very subjective decision. Even LEOs standing next to each other may perceive a threat differently. Therefore, you must relate only those facts known to you and allow your perceptions to explain your actions. This means that you may not have the full picture of events when you give your statement.
This is yet another reason why LEOs must have time to rest before giving statements after an OIS or any critical incident. Even if the LEO I represented above did not see the suspect raise a weapon at his partner, he can provide critical details such as the use of any verbal commands that he heard, the number of shots, and the position and relative distance of the suspect and his partner when he came around the corner of the house. However, no matter how many times he is asked, he will not able to provide details about events he did not witness.
After securing adequate rest and consulting counsel after an OIS or other critical incident, provide the truth and explain why you were not able to witness some events. Expect the investigators to ask numerous questions even though you may not be able to provide some details. Herman Melville wrote, “The truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.” The truth may present challenges but it is always defendable. Stay safe.