ATLANTA (CBS46) -- Atlanta’s Use of Force Advisory Council met virtually Thursday to lay out its recommendations to change use of force tactics in the city’s police department.
This comes as questions and outcry about excessive use of deadly force in the police shooting of Jacob Blake reach a fever pitch. The 29-year-old Blake is in a hospital after being shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha Wisconsin Police officer.
Wisconsin State Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a press conference Wednesday that “while holding on to Mr. Blake’s shirt, officer Rusten Sheskey fired his servicer weapon seven times. Officer Sheskey fired the weapon into Mr. Blake’s back. No other officer fired their weapon,” Kaul told reporters.
Officers said they were responding to a call of a domestic dispute when they approached Blake. They tried to subdue him using a taser, but were unsuccessful. As Blake walked away from officers, opened the door to his car and leaned forward, Sheshey shot him.
“Mr. Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession and DCI agents, that’s the division of criminal investigations, recovered a knife from the driver’s side floor board of Mr. Blake’s vehicle. A search of the vehicle located no additional weapons,” Kaul said.
Protests have erupted across the country now with anger and concern that the shooting was not justified.
CBS46’s Hayley Mason asked Emory University Law Professor Fred Smith, Jr. does the presence of a knife justify deadly force?
“The mere presence of a weapon is not enough, in and of itself, to justify deadly force,” Smith said. “The question is whether or not the person could reasonably believe the person constituted an imminent threat.”
In March of this year, judges in the 4th Judicial District in West Virginia ruled that “simply being armed is insufficient to justify deadly force.” In that case, the judge was referring to a suspect who was armed with a knife. In Blake’s case, officers have not determined if he was armed, but said they found that a knife was inside his vehicle.
In a rare expression of opinion, The 4th Circuit appellate judges wrote about the impact of deadly force on Black men, and the challenges qualified immunity can pose in court. In another case in the 7th circuit, which covers Wisconsin, a judge ruled that someone does not pose “an immediate threat of serious harm” solely because he is armed.
Smith said sometimes civil suits are easier to get justice for than those rooted in the constitution, but there is a change happening in some lower courts that are now challenging the immunity defense for some officers.
“Part of what they're trying to do is just bring attention to this issue of qualified immunity and bring attention to the ways that it impedes justice in particular to cases that involve excessive force,” Smith told CBS46.
The 4th Circuit judges wrote, “although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives,” the judges wrote in the appellate opinion.
“Before the ink dried on this opinion, the FBI opened an investigation into yet another death of a black man at the hands of police, this time George Floyd in Minneapolis. This has to stop. To award qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage in this case would signal absolute immunity for fear-based use of deadly force, which we cannot accept.”
The courts reversed a summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds in that case (No. 18-2142).
“There is an attempt to kind of re-calibrate where maybe the line between public safety concerns and accountability that they're off kilter somehow,” Smith added.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the Blake case.