Thursday, June 28, 2007

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

New Haven PD patch
(Police App)
Scenario: What do you do if someone is in your basement during the night? Storm the room and start shooting. Now, what do you do if the person in your basement was your daughter? Well, if your name is Eric Scott and you're a New Haven cop who likes to shoot his service weapon before identifying a threat, then you get off scot-free.

Eric Scott was sleeping on May 28 when he was awoken by his outdoor lights that are motion-sensored. He grabs his taxpayer-funded service weapon and heads downstairs to see what's going on. He finds a door open that he had locked previously in the night and heads down to the basement with a flashlight to investigate. Up to this point there really isn't any issue here: you think someone is in your home you grab a weapon and see what's going on.

But this is where Eric Scott errs wildly. He goes down into his dark basement with only a flashlight, sees someone moving around and just fires. No warning, no verification of who is in the basement, no nothing. Well, to make a long story short no one was robbing Eric Scott's home, but his daughter was returning from sneaking out earlier in the night. Scott believed that his daughter was upstairs sleeping, not prowling in their basement. State attorney Jonathon Benedict has declined to press charges claiming that the burden of proof would be too large for his office to prove.

So here is the issue: Scott goes into his basement, sees a person down there and just shoots. I hope this is not how they train New Haven cops. State law concerning use of physical force in the defense of property, Chapter 951, Sec. 53a-21, states that a person can use physical force only when "he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent an attempt by such other person to commit larceny or criminal mischief involving property." Scott did not reasonably believe that someone was in his home committing a crime, that's what he may have thought based on what he believed was occurring, but without verifying that the person in the basement did not belong in the home by a simple warning to the person or by turning the lights on, he just did not know. All of this is made painfully obvious by the fact that the person he shot was his own daughter, which leads me to believe that he had a horrible visual on the "intruder" as he could not even recognize his own daughter. But the tale doesn't end for the $0.75 Scott spent shooting his daughter (about the price of a Glock bullet). Whose insurance will cover 18 year-old Tasha Scott's medical bills? Last I checked, medical expenses for someone who is shot in the knee with a bullet that then lodges in their thigh is not cheap. Surgery to remove the bullet along with extensive physical therapy will be very costly, most likely at the expense of New Haven taxpayers who contribute to city workers' insurance plans.

This brings up an important question: should police officers be allowed to bring their service weapons home? It's one thing if they buy their own gun and shoot intruders with it, its another to be given a gun to do it. There have been a number of incidents involving off-duty cops inappropriately using their service weapons (read: here, here) and one has to wonder if these incidents would have happened if they were not given a free gun. One thing I can almost gurantee: Eric Scott's daughter will not sneak out or miss another curfew while she lives in that house.

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