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Ethics on Police involved deaths

Joe Mullally
CJ 4110
In the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009 responding to reports of a fight on a crowded

Bay Area Rapid Transit train returning from San Francisco, BART Police officers detained Oscar

Grant and several other passengers on the platform at the Fruitvale BART Station. Officer

Johannes Mehserle and another officer were restraining Grant, who was prostrate and allegedly

resisting arrest. Officer Mehserle stood, drew his gun and shot Grant once in the back. Grant was

unarmed. Grant was pronounced dead the next morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

Accidental or not many peoples’ lives were changed on that day in San Francisco. When you look

at the shooting an ethical dilema arises as to whether or not the shooting was justified. The root

definition of ethics means a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that

is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice. With that said this

paper will discuss a sampling of police involved shooting with all create an ethical dilemma for

some. Police Officers may see the shooting as right and the general public may see a flaw in the


[1] The events were captured on multiple digital video and cell phone cameras. The footage was

disseminated to media outlets and to various websites, where it was watched hundreds of

thousands of times. The following days saw both peaceful and violent protests. The shooting has

been variously labeled an involuntary manslaughter and a summary execution. On January 13,

Alameda County prosecutors charged Mehserle with murder for the shooting. He resigned his

position and pleaded not guilty. The trial began on June 10, 2010. Michael Rains, Mehserle's

criminal defense attorney, has claimed Mehserle intended to fire his Taser, but mistakenly shot

Grant with a pistol when he thought Grant was reaching for a gun. Pretrial filings argue that his

client did not commit first-degree murder and asked a Los Angeles judge to instruct the jury to

limit its deliberations to either second-degree murder or acquittal. Oakland civil rights attorney

John Burris filed a $25 million wrongful death claim against BART on behalf of Grant's family.
On July 8, 2010, the jury returned its verdict: Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary

manslaughter and not guilty of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Initial protests

against the ruling were peacefully organized; looting, arson, destruction of property, and small

riots broke out after dark. Nearly 80 people were eventually arrested. On Friday, July 9, the U.S.

Justice Department opened a civil rights case against Mehserle; the federal government can

prosecute him independently for the same act under the separate sovereigns exception to double

jeopardy. The Department of Justice will be working with the U.S. Attorney's office in San

Francisco and the FBI. On November 5, 2010 Mehserle was sentenced to two years, minus time

served. He will be eligible for release after around a year.

It would be hard to determine what exactly the Police Officer was thinking during the encounter

and why he pulled out his duty weapon. When an officer is involved in a hostile situation they

resort back to what they were taught in their respective department. Did the department train

officers with tasers in a heated situation or just on a static environment? The BART shooting is

one that was unfortunate for the deceased and also the Police Officer.

[2] On January 6th 2006 Martin Lee Anderson was a 14-year-old from Florida who died

while incarcerated at a boot camp-style youth detention center, the Bay County Boot Camp,

located in Panama City, Florida and operated by the Bay County Sheriff's Office. Anderson

collapsed while performing required physical training at the camp. While running track, he

stopped and complained of fatigue. The guards convinced him to continue his run, but then he

collapsed and died. A surveillance video of the 30-minute of the coercion was made public. The

video shows drill instructors grabbed Anderson and applied numerous uses of force, including

holding Anderson by the arms, take-downs, pressure point applications, and covering his mouth

while forcing him to inhale ammonia. Anderson became unresponsive during this episode, and

eventually died the next day in Pensacola, Florida after his parents elected to remove him from

life support
The teenager's death resulted in a broad outcry accusing the camp guards of racially-motivated

murder, in part in response to an official videotape that showed the guards using physical

coercion. Shortly after this case the Florida legislature voted to close the state's five juvenile boot


The ethical issues in this case are very disturbing to many, why when somebody can’t continue

on their own will, would you force them to continue? Yes, Anderson was in a juvenile boot camp

for violating probation but he did not plan to die on that day.

The final case this paper will discuss will be the most popular one in terms of Michigan Police

ethical issues. [3] During the evening of November 5, 1992, Malice Wayne Green, a black,

unemployed steelworker, stopped his car to drop off a friend at a house in the inner city of

Detroit, Michigan. He was observed by two white police officers, Larry Nevers and Walter

Budzyn, who were working under cover and who suspected the location was a drug house. They

ordered Green to get out of his car. When he refused, they radioed for backup help; then they

dragged him out. Noticing that Green kept one fist clenched, the officers ordered him to open it.

When he balked, they started beating his fist with their heavy metal flashlights.

While the policemen were beating Green, five additional officers arrived in response to the

backup call. By then, it was later alleged; Nevers and Budzyn were hitting Green on the head

with their flashlights. One of the five, a white officer named Robert Lessnau, joined in the

beating. Another, Sergeant Freddie Douglas, who was the ranking officer at the scene, and who

was black, did not participate in the beating; neither did he intervene to stop it.

Malice Green, 34, died that night. The next day, Detroit Police Chief Stanley Knox suspended

Nevers, Budzyn, and the five backup officers from the police force without pay. An autopsy a

few days later revealed that Green had died of a torn scalp and as many as 12 to 14 blows to the
head, and that he had both cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death. On

November 16, Wayne County Prosecutor John D. O'Hair charged officers Budzyn and Nevers

with second-degree murder. Sergeant Douglas was charged with involuntary manslaughter and

willful neglect of duty for failing to stop the beating, and Officer Lessnau was charged with

aggravated assault. All four pleaded not guilty. The three other officers were kept on indefinite

suspension, but prosecutor O'Hair said he did not have enough evidence to charge them with a


Detroit held its breath. In a city whose population is 75 percent black, most people were probably

thinking of the aftermath of the notorious beating of black motorist Rodney G. King by four Los

Angeles policemen only the year before: five days of rioting when the accused officers were

acquitted on all but one charge. However, Detroit officials were cautious about suggestion an

analogy between the King beating, which had been perceived as motivated by racial hatred, and

the Green beating. Police Chief Knox said he did not believe that race was a catalyst in this case.

Furthermore, when the Detroit officers were charged, the National Director of Special Projects

for the NAACP, Jack Gravely, congratulated the police chief and other officials on their prompt

reaction by suspending the officers the very next day after the beating.

All three case studies show some sort of ethical dilemma where the Officers had a decision to

make either right or wrong. In their respective cases the Officers may have believed they were

acting in the color of their duty and believed nothing was wrong. Law Enforcement Officers are

constantly watched from supervisors right down to the general public. The BART incident was

captured on cell phone cameras, the Anderson incident was recorded on surveillance cameras and

the Green death was captured on in car camera. Officers are placed under a microscope an are

always given the opportunity to make an ethical decision ether right or wrong.

[1] Los Angeles Times -

[2] NY Daily News -

[3] Wikipedia -