By Andrew Emett
January 2, 2016
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Within in the last decade, an average of five police officers per year have been charged with murder or manslaughter in fatal on-duty shootings. In 2015, that number more than tripled as 18 cops were arrested for unjustified shootings. This number does not comprise non-shooting homicides, including the six Baltimore officers charged with severing Freddie Gray’s spine.
A Washington Post investigation from April found that only 54 officers had been charged in fatal on-duty shootings since 2005. The investigation also discovered that in an overwhelming majority of these cases, the person shot to death was unarmed when the officer killed them. Instead of adhering to the average statistic of five officers arrested a year, 2015 more than tripled the number to 18 officers charged.
On December 3, Pike County Deputy Joel Jenkins was drunk and off-duty when he called the non-emergency line at the sheriff’s office to report his neighbor, Jason Brady, had been shot in the head. Jenkins neglected to tell the dispatcher that he was the one who had pulled the trigger.
Arrested for involuntary manslaughter, Jenkins was also charged with felony murder and reckless homicide in a separate shooting. On March 28, Jenkins was on-duty when he shot Robert Rooker to death following a police pursuit after Rooker had already crashed his vehicle.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder on November 24, after a Cook County judge ordered the release of a suppressed dash cam video depicting the officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Although Van Dyke claimed the teenager had lunged at him with a knife, the video clearly shows McDonald walking away before the officer opened fire.
On November 6, Marksville police officers Norris Greenhouse Jr. and Derrick Stafford were charged with second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder for gunning down an unarmed autistic child. Six-year-old Jeremy Mardis was sitting beside his father, who was reportedly surrendering with his hands in the air, when the officers fired 18 rounds into the car.
On July 19, University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing was caught on body cam video shooting Samuel DuBose in the head during a traffic stop. According to the footage, Tensing falsely claimed that DuBose had attempted to run him over moments before the fatal shooting. Tensing was later charged with first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
On April 13, 73-year-old reserve sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates was charged with second-degree manslaughter after video captured him accidentally shoot a restrained suspect in the back. Instead of deploying his Taser, Bates claimed that he mistakenly drew his gun and fired a single round into Eric Harris’ back. Bates immediately apologized as his fellow officers ignored Harris’ pleas for help while refusing to give him medical attention for his bullet wound.
On April 4, a bystander captured cellphone video of North Charleston Patrolman Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back. Slager also appeared to plant evidence next to Scott’s body immediately following the fatal shooting. He was later charged with first-degree murder.
In January, Detective Keith Sandy and SWAT Officer Dominique Perez of the Albuquerque Police Department were charged with second-degree murder for killing a mentally ill homeless man. Video of the incident revealed James Boyd had been complying with officers when a police flashbang grenade was suddenly deployed moments before the officers shot him to death. Two hours before the shooting, a state police officer’s dash cam video recorded Det. Sandy referring to Boyd as a “lunatic” and telling Officer Chris Ware, “I’m going to shoot him in the penis with a shotgun here in a second.”
The list also includes NYPD officer Peter Liang who claimed he accidentally shot Akai Gurley while opening a door with the same hand holding his firearm. Responding to a call about a shoplifting suspect, Officer Stephen Rankin shot unarmed 18-year-old William Chapman in a Walmart parking lot. Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza was indicted on first-degree manslaughter after falsely testifying under oath that Jermaine McBean was not wearing earphones when he was shot to death. After hearing Peraza’s false testimony, a witness released a photograph of McBean’s body still wearing earbuds immediately following the shooting.
The only officer acquitted of all charges in 2015 was Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle. After shooting David Kassick with her Taser, Mearkle fired two rounds into the unarmed man’s back because she momentarily could not see one of his hands as he writhed on the ground in pain.
The tally does not include the six Baltimore officers charged with causing Freddie Gray’s fatal spinal injuries. Nor does it include the officers who will not face criminal charges for the deaths of Tamir Rice, Zachary Hammond, or Antonio Zambrano-Montes.