Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney’s reaction to an officer’s fatal shooting of Rueben Galindo gives his officers broad latitude to shoot suspects they encounter.
Officers’ body camera video was released Friday, showing Officer David Guerra’s highly questionable decision to shoot and kill Galindo last month. Guerra’s lawyer said the officer feared for his life, justifying the killing.
“I’m not going to second-guess how (officers) perceive a lethal threat.”
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That’s unsettling, regardless of how the Galindo case plays out. Officers are allowed to use deadly force only if they reasonably perceive an imminent threat of death or serious injury. If the chief is not willing to analyze whether such a claim is reasonable and uncritically accepts the officer’s defense, he’s abdicating an important part of his job.
We would hope for more accountability at CMPD. Officers find themselves in tense and sometimes life-threatening situations and have to make decisions quickly. They deserve gratitude and respect for what they do for our community. That does not mean, however, that they can do no wrong.
Despite Putney’s acceptance of Guerra’s account, the district attorney’s office will investigate the case and decide whether to bring charges.
Part of its probe will include the body cam footage. It shows police killing Galindo seconds after he appears in a doorway. Galindo responds to police orders by putting his hands above his head but does not drop a gun that officers say he had in his left hand. A gun is not clearly visible in the video. Galindo was shot about three seconds after an officer first shouts at him to drop the gun.
Nothing in the video confirms a statement days after the shooting from George Laughrun, Guerra’s lawyer, that Galindo “pointed the gun directly at Officer Guerra.”
The fact that the gun was not loaded is irrelevant, because though Galindo had told a dispatcher he had no bullets, officers had no way to verify that. Galindo’s poor choice not to leave the gun in a safe place, as a dispatcher told him to, complicates the DA’s decision in whether to charge Guerra or Officer Courtney Suggs, who also fired. Officers could argue they felt threatened, given that Galindo was holding a gun that could have quickly been pointing at them.
Regardless of the DA’s legal analysis, the video raises questions about whether Galindo’s death could have been avoided. He had his hands over his head, he was shot almost immediately and the officer had some protection by standing behind an apartment building.
Such details were not available in police shootings before body cameras and dashboard cameras. That technology, and judges’ decisions to release such videos to the public, have changed the narrative in these cases. No longer is the officer’s word the only side of the story.
Putney, though, seems to still think it is. The chief probably feels pressure to defend his officers after morale sank with the immediate arrest of Officer Wes Kerrick following a 2013 shooting. Even so, we would hope he would assess all the evidence in these challenging and unfortunate cases.