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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A few comments on the death in police custody of Mr. Trye Nichols

Like millions of Americans, I’ve been watching the death in police custody of Mr. Trye Nichols with a great deal of interest. It’s the issue de jour at this moment, likely pushing the Biden classified documents scandal off the attention span of the American people. It fits a template of the media, police hate blacks, and even black cops are racist because policing is racist. And this incident, one of over 60 million interactions (e.g., traffic stops, calls for service) from    800 thousand police officers is, according to the usual suspects, the event that justifies disbanding/defunding police agencies across the nation. 


So I’ll give my observations and opinions based on my more than layman’s knowledge of the law, my quarter century in the profession, and my knowledge of the people running over themselves to get in front of a camera and speak on something they know little or nothing about (I would say make a fool out of themselves, but they were fools before this). With the exception of the first point, they are in no particular order of importance.


What those officers did was wrong, and wrong based on current law and likely policy of the Memphis Police. Using reasonable force to take a suspect into custody is legal and justified. This was well beyond reasonable force. It escalated to deadly force, for no defensible reason. At no point during the two incidents was Mr. Nichols a threat to the officers. I don’t’ recall him punching an officer, using a knife or firearm, or any other type of weapon.


A point I’m still not clear on. What were these officers pulling this man over for? I’ve heard multiple times for “reckless driving.” Fair enough, if he was unable to maintain a single lane, cutting people off, following too close behind other vehicles, that is definitely reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. 


But a traffic stop does not involve rushing the car and pulling a man out of the vehicle. It means 1, 2, 3 officers approach, one goes “contact,” i.e., he speaks with the driver, while the others “cover” the vehicle occupants. The contact officer explains why he was pulled over, gets the driver’s information, license, etc. When you have a “high risk” stop (also known as a “felony stop”), it’s for a reason (e.g., car comes back stolen, the license plate shows a felony warrant on it, etc.) Generally you use at least two officers, stop the vehicle, draw weapons on the driver and passenger (s) and order them to exit the vehicle one at a time. The suspects are secured (i.e., handcuffed, searched and held) until the vehicle is cleared, and the investigation can continue. 


No matter which this was, a traffic stop or high-risk, it was not done in any manner I’ve known or used in my career.


One question I would like answered is why these officers, when they first had Mr. Nichols down, did not use the force of three large men to grab his hands and get him into hand cuffs. Something that was preached to me since I was a rookie, get him into custody, secure him, and safely continue the investigation. 


A few years ago we had a nine-year-old Autistic boy running on a highway. I arrived just after the primary unit, and I told them, “Cuff him, put him in the back of your shop (police vehicle), and let’s get the hell out of here!” They looked a bit puzzled why I wanted a child cuffed, but they did and we met the medic at a gas station parking lot. And once they opened their car door, this kid ran past two cops and three firefighters. Fortunately he couldn’t get far with his hands secured behind him, and we were able to get him medically cleared and transported to the juvenile hall. The point? A cop takes someone into custody, for any reason, that cop is responsible for the safety of the person. Those cops failed that task. 


In the continuum of force, deadly force is reserved for when the officer has “reasonable fear for life or serious bodily injury for themselves or a third person.” One of the officers kicked Mr. Nichols in the head three times, which is, by definition, deadly force (blunt force above the neckline). Mr. Nichols did not have a pistol or knife. If he did, that would have justified the head strike. But there is no evidence Mr. Nichols was a deadly threat to anyone.


In my humble opinion, I don’t think the DA will make a murder charge stick in court. Indictment, sure, as the old saying goes, you can indict a ham sandwich. But looking at a summary of Tennessee’s homicide statue:


Second-Degree Murder: In these homicide cases, a person may have knowingly killed another individual, but did not premeditate their actions. This charge may also apply if a person is killed during the distribution of any Schedule I or II drug. Second-degree murder is a Class A felony, meaning those convicted of this crime can serve between 15 and 60 years behind bars.


I don’t think the DA will be able to show the officers knowingly meant to kill Mr. Nichols. I think he can make a case for manslaughter (i.e. “in a state of passion”) or criminal negligent homicide (“any action that results in a person’s death”). The DA can definitely show aggravated assault (“The individual recklessly or knowingly inflicted serious harm on another party.”). 


Finally, the race baiting poverty industry is fully deployed. The “reverend” Sharpton is scheduled to give a eulogy for the late Mr. Nichols, although he never knew the man’s name before earlier this month. The senior member of the Justice Brothers, the Baby Daddy himself Jesse Jackson, will likely be in the audience. The principle race baiting shyster Ben Crump is going in for the money, and hired a likely prostitute MD to conduct an autopsy which be “finished” in a few days. Finally the family has been invited to Joe Biden’s State of the Union circus as a guest of the Congressional Black Caucus.


Hell, as I was driving today in my shop I saw a black man on the sidewalk look at me and push his hands up in the, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” act. I was tempted to respond with the “Middle fingers up! Go f%^^ yourself!” retort but held my temper.


Again, my observations and opinions, worth what you paid for it. I’ve heard some rumors on the officer’s actions, but I’ll  comment on what we know now. Finally, as I’ve said with other incidents like this, everyone, “Calm down. Let the process play out. Things like this take time.” We don’t know the full story, but one thing I do know, politicians will try to push an anti-law agenda, that will only make matters worse.

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