Originally published on December 13, 2014, at NationofChange.org
At least 16 unarmed black people have been killed by police officers this year including a woman and two children. According to law enforcement officials, these people lost their lives in instances of poor police training, miscommunication, justified tactics, and excessive brutality. Although the majority of unarmed individuals killed by police this year have been black, officers have also been killing unarmed people of other races.
On January 16, Jordan Baker was allegedly killed in a case of mistaken identity. Working off-duty as a mall security guard, Houston PD Officer Juventino Castro confronted Baker because he fit the description of some robbery suspects who had recently held up three stores while wearing black hoodies. Castro claims Baker charged at him, forcing the off-duty officer to shoot Baker to death. A grand jury is deciding whether to charge Castro with killing Baker.
In August, North Augusta Public Safety Officer Justin Craven was charged with misconduct in office for gunning down a 68-year-old unarmed man named Ernest Satterwhite. After a slow-speed chase that ended in Satterwhite’s driveway on February 9, Officer Craven ran up to Satterwhite’s car door and shot him to death. The prosecution sought to charge Craven with voluntary manslaughter, but the grand jury indicted him on a misdemeanor instead. Satterwhite’s family has filed a lawsuit alleging Craven had disobeyed orders and lied about Satterwhite trying to grab his gun.
Officers initially claimed Yvette Smith had opened her front door while brandishing a firearm when Deputy Daniel Willis was forced to kill her. The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office retracted the statement the following day admitting Smith had not been armed when Deputy Willis shot her to death on February 16. A grand jury indicted Willis on murder charges after a lieutenant and sergeant with the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Department were suspended and demoted for tampering with records regarding the shooting.
According to a Louisiana State Police press release, deputies with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a fight on the evening of March 2. After confronting Victor White III and searching him twice, Cpl. Justin Ortis allegedly found drugs in his pockets. Ortis placed White into custody, cuffed his hands behind his back, and put him in the backseat of a patrol car. Upon arriving at the Sheriff’s Office, White reportedly became uncooperative, pulled out a gun, and shot himself in the back. But according to the autopsy report, White had been shot in the chest with his hands cuffed behind his back and the coroner found lacerations on White’s face near his left eye. Witnesses stated White’s face had been unmarked before he was taken into custody.
On April 30, a Starbucks employee called 911 to report a man sleeping in front of the store. Two Milwaukee police officers responded to the call and found Dontre Hamilton taking a nap in Red Arrow Park while waiting for a ride from his brother. Instead of asking Hamilton to move, the officers told the Starbucks employees to stop calling them because Hamilton was not committing a crime. Two hours later, Officer Christopher Manney confronted Hamilton who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. A struggle ensued as Manney attempted to pat-down Hamilton. Manney pulled out his baton, but Hamilton managed to disarm him. Witnesses assert Hamilton had been holding the baton in a defensive position when Manney unholstered his firearm and shot Hamilton 14 times. According to the medical examiner, seven of the gunshots were fired in a downward trajectory and one of the bullet wounds proves Hamilton had been shot in the back. The medical examiner also discovered Hamilton had suffered blunt force injuries to his chin, neck, scalp, and right arm.
Accused of selling untaxed cigarettes on July 17, Eric Garner was arguing with NYPD Officer Justin Damico when Officer Daniel Pantaleo approached from behind attempting to grab his wrists. After Garner held his arms up in a nonthreatening manner and told the officers not to touch him, Pantaleo immediately placed Garner in a chokehold even though the maneuver has been banned by the department since 1993. Nonviolent and nonaggressive, Garner fell to the ground as multiple officers held him down. While the officers subdued him, Garner weakly repeated, “I can’t breathe.” Garner lost conscious and died of cardiac arrest. According to the city medical examiner, Garner was killed by neck compressions from the chokehold and during physical restraint by the police. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges.
On August 2, police accused Tyree Woodson of killing himself with a high-caliber gun inside a Baltimore police station. Although Woodson had supposedly been checked for weapons, law enforcement officials claim Woodson somehow smuggled a gun inside the station and shot himself after an officer escorted him to the bathroom. Woodson’s family asserts he was not suicidal and had gone to the police station to see his parole officer.
On August 5, Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams and Sgt. David Darkow gunned down John Crawford III inside an Ohio Walmart after a customer named Ronald Ritchie called 911 falsely claiming that Crawford was aiming a rifle at other customers. Video surveillance revealed Crawford was holding a BB gun that he had found inside the store and was not aiming it at anyone. In their official statements, Williams and Darkow falsely claimed that Crawford had ignored their orders to drop the gun and turned toward them in an aggressive manner. Video surveillance does not support their claims.
On the afternoon of August 9, Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson were walking in the street when a police vehicle pulled up alongside them. According to the Ferguson Police Department, Brown shoved Officer Darren Wilson as he was exiting the vehicle. A struggle ensued inside the car over the officer’s firearm. Wilson shot Brown in the arm, and Brown fled from the vehicle. Brown was roughly 35-feet from the police car when Wilson fired multiple shots killing Brown, who was unarmed. Although witnesses do not corroborate Wilson’s version of events, a grand jury did not indict Wilson on any charges.
On the evening of August 11, LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas confronted Ezell Ford as he was walking on the sidewalk. According to an LAPD press release, Ford attacked one of the officers and attempted to grab his holstered gun. As the fight fell to the ground, the officer shot Ford with his backup piece while his partner open fire on Ford. They handcuffed Ford and transported him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to eyewitnesses, the mentally ill Ford had surrendered to the police and had been lying on his stomach when they repeatedly shot him in the back. The LAPD has delayed the release of his autopsy report in light of recent protests.
On August 12, a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy confronted Dante Parker on suspicion of breaking into a residence in Victorville, California. The deputy claims Parker became uncooperative and had to be stunned with a Taser multiple times. While handcuffed and detained in the backseat of a patrol car, Parker reportedly began sweating profusely and developed difficulty breathing. According to the Riverside County coroner’s office, Parker died as a result of acute PCP intoxication with a significant case of hypertensive cardiovascular disease from high blood pressure. Parker’s family believes his death resulted from excessive force by police and lack of care for his injuries. His family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.
Responding to a call about a suspicious person walking around with a samurai sword, Saratoga Springs Police Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson confronted Darrien Hunt on September 10. The officers falsely claimed they had to shoot Hunt after he lunged at them with his replica sword. Witnesses and surveillance footage revealed Hunt had been running for his life moments before the officers shot him to death. According to the autopsy report, Hunt was shot six times from behind with the fatal shot hitting him in the back. Although Officer Judson was wearing a body camera that day, it had been turned off.
On September 23, a Terrebonne sheriff’s deputy shot 14-year-old Cameron Tillman to death as he opened the front door. Although police claim Tillman had been holding a BB gun in his hand, witnesses say the toy gun was on the table behind him when the deputy shot Tillman multiple times. A bullet hole through the door shows the deputy continued firing through the door after Tillman’s friend slammed it shut in a failed attempt to save Tillman’s life.
While conducting vertical patrols in a housing project, NYPD Officer Peter Liang accidentally killed Akai Gurley on November 20. According to the police, Liang held a flashlight in his right hand and his Glock .9mm pistol in his left hand when he opened the door accessing the stairwell. Police officials claim Liang opened the door with the same hand holding the gun and accidentally fired a shot that ricocheted off the wall and into Gurley’s chest. Instead of requesting medical assistance for Gurley, Liang sent a text message to his union representative.
Two days later, Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback responded to a 911 call about a possible juvenile scaring people with a probably fake gun. Police dispatchers failed to inform the officers of the caller’s doubts. As the patrol car approached 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Officer Loehmann jumped out and fired two shots with the fatal bullet hitting Rice in the abdomen. The officers later realized Rice had been playing with an airsoft pistol with the orange safety indicator removed. Rice’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Loehmann, Garmback, and the city of Cleveland.
On December 2, Phoenix Police Officer Mark Rine shot Rumain Brisbon to death after mistaking a pill bottle for a gun. Suspecting Brisbon of selling drugs, Officer Rine approached him and ordered Brisbon to show his hands. As Brisbon fled on foot, Rine pulled out his gun and chased after him. Rine caught up to Brisbon inside an apartment and a struggle ensued. Believing Brisbon was reaching for a gun in his pocket, Rine shot him twice. Instead of a gun, Rine found a bottle of oxycodone pills in Brisbon’s pocket.
In addition to killing unarmed black people, the police have also killed several unarmed individuals of other races this year. On February 14, Euharlee Police Cpl. Beth Gatny killed a 17-year-old white kid named Christopher Roupe by shooting him in the chest because he opened the front door holding a Wii remote. On August 2, two LAPD sergeants allegedly beat Omar Abrego to death during a traffic stop. And shortly after midnight on October 28, Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Tai Chan gunned down his off-duty colleague, Deputy Jeremy Martin, inside a hotel after a night of drinking and arguing.