Shot by Police – Unnecessary Use of Deadly Force on the Rise

A quick search of the phrase “ shot by police ” results in a rising number of both state and nationwide cases where the unnecessary use of deadly force by law enforcement is questionable to say the least.

Shot by Police

Photo by: Joanna

Photo by: Joanna

According to the public Facebook page “Killed by Police”, 84 people lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the month of April. So Far, seven individuals have been shot by police in May and it is only the third day of the month. Some of the officer involved shootings resulted from police returning fire while others ensued from police opening fire on armed suspects after feeling threatened. Then there are the instances where unarmed individuals are shot by police and no one really understands why.

Birds of a feather

On April 20, 2017 a fugitive task force team in Arizona comprising of six different local and federal agencies was assembled to locate and arrest 25 year old Brandon Pequeno after he was involved in an altercation with an ex-girlfriend and presumably fled in her car. Police reports state Pequeno had multiple warrants and was “considered” armed and dangerous while they also “believed” he was driving a stolen vehicle. For these reasons, a barrage of reinforcements was called in. Police later revealed Pequeno was not armed and that not a single weapon was found in the vehicle.

“Fearing for their lives”

Shot by Police

Photo by: Matthrono

Police located the car Pequeno was driving which also contained two passengers in a small parking lot of an apartment building and ordered him to surrender. Pequeno refused and in an attempt to flee police, hit several cars within that parking lot. Officers then used their undercover vehicles to pin Pequeno in, making it impossible for him to continue doing damage to the parked cars in the lot. Then for reasons still unknown to many, officers opened fire on the car – the spray of bullets hurtling through the windows of the car, striking Pequeno and a 17 year old female passenger. The third passenger in the car was miraculously unharmed.

 

17 year old St. George native

Pequeno suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest that proved fatal and shortly after he arrived at a local hospital he was pronounced dead. The 17 year old female who was shot by police suffered at least one gunshot wound to the head, leaving her brain-dead. After unselfishly saving multiple lives through organ donation, the teen was taken off life support and died shortly after. The teenager, whose name is being withheld out of respect for her family, was a native to St. George, Utah. Numerous family members of the teen still live in the St. George area where they continue to await information as to why police would display an unnecessary use of deadly force that would take the lives of two individuals, one of which was an innocent child.

333 shot by police

Photo by: Martin Fisch

Photo by: Martin Fisch

Unfortunately, unnecessary use of deadly force by police appears to be on the rise. The 17 year old St. George native and Pequeno were not the only unarmed citizens shot by police this year. 397 people total have been killed by police in 2017 so far; most of them, including 3 Utah residents, suffering fatal gunshot wounds at the hands of police. A thorough and regularly updated article by the Washington Post states that 44 of those victims shot by police in 2017 were either unarmed, unknown, or in possession of a toy weapon. Only 173 were reported to be in possession of an actual firearm; the remaining were armed with knives, a vehicle, or other item that reportedly left police feeling fearful.

Last resort only

With the uptick in violent offenses against police, it is understandable that law enforcement officers may be on edge and fearful of their own injury or death. For this reason, police should be properly trained to handle situations coolly, without letting fear cause them to become trigger happy. We expect our men and women in blue to remain calm and collected in times of trouble and to be the ones we trust to keep us safe when dangerous situations arise. We hope their choice to use deadly force would be a last resort only.

New Bill Increases Penalties for Targeting a Police Officer in Utah

A new bill that increases penalties for targeting a police officer has passed the House and Senate, leaving it awaiting a signature from Utah’s governor.

Crimes against law enforcement

Photo by: David Robert Bliwas

Photo by: David Robert Bliwas

There have been numerous stories in the news lately of police officers being targeted and then injured or killed based solely on their profession. Many of these crimes against police are said to stem from the public view of law enforcement turning sour following increased occurrences of police brutality. While the instances of police brutality that have angered the public are inexcusable, so is killing or injuring a police officer just because of their job choice. This increase of danger to law enforcement is what was on the mind of Utah lawmakers when House Bill 433 was drafted.

HB433- death for cop killers?

House Bill 433 was originally intended by Representative Paul Ray, R-Clearfield to extensively punish those convicted of targeting a police officer while labeling the condemned person as a terrorist. His goal was apparently to increase penalties for those convicted and have the death penalty be a mandatory sentence for if the targeted law enforcement officer is killed. This “blue lives matter more than other lives” bill needed a few revisions such as removing the required death sentence penalty for cop killers, but has eventually been tweaked enough to make its way through the House and Senate.

Targeting a police officer – defined

Targeting a Police Officer

Photo by: BaronneVonR

The new revised HB433 has taken a step back a notch to allow prosecutors, judges, and juries to continue to be the ones responsible for deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty for cop killers. It also removes the “terrorist” label from those convicted. It now “defines [what exactly it means by] ‘targeting a law enforcement officer’’. This definition is in the new section of Utah Code (76-5-210) included in the bill. This code states: “”Targeting a law enforcement officer” means the commission of any offense involving the unlawful use of force and violence against a law enforcement officer, causing serious bodily injury or death in furtherance of political or social objectives in order to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government.”

Aggravated murder

HB433 also “adds targeting a law enforcement officer to the aggravating factors for aggravated murder”. Previously, aggravated murder charges were saved for those who committed homicide under serious circumstances defined in Utah Code 76-5-202 such as: if multiple homicides occur together; a homicide that takes place after or during an episode of another heinous offense such as rape or kidnapping; a homicide that is done for payment; homicide committed by someone in custody or someone trying to escape custody; or a homicide committed by a person previously convicted of a serious offense. This section also previously stated that aggravated murder charges would ensue if the homicide victim was a public official or a police officer. HB433 redundantly added that aggravated murder charges would result if the actor committing homicide did so while targeting a police officer.

First degree aggravated assault

Photo by: marina

Photo by: marina

One big change made in HB433 that may have been missed among the superfluous information added to other sections is the changes made to Utah’s aggravated assault penalties. Utah Code 76-5-103 defines other aggravated assault behavior as conduct “that is:

(i)an attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another;

(ii) a threat, accompanied by a show of immediate force or violence, to do bodily injury to another; or

(iii) an act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another; and

(b) that includes the use of:

(i) a dangerous weapon as defined in Section 76-1-601; or

(ii) other means or force likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.”

Utah Code 76-5-103 also lists the penalties for aggravated assault as a third degree felony or a second degree felony if serious bodily injury occurs to the victim. Once HB433 is signed by Governor Herbert, it will add targeting a police officer to this section of Utah Code and “[make] aggravated assault a first degree felony if a law enforcement officer is targeted.” Someone who is convicted of targeting a police officer and seriously injuring said officer could face up to life in prison because their target was a cop. Maybe blue lives really do matter more.

For more information on upcoming changes to Utah law and how it can affect your case, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Watch-Out Fido – Dogs That Move in Danger of Being Shot by Police

A warning for those Utah residents with four legged furry family members, any dogs that move may be in danger of being shot by police.

Geist the dog

Photo by: Jim Bradbury

Photo by: Jim Bradbury

On June 18, 2014 Salt Lake City police officers were searching a Sugar House neighborhood looking for a 3 year old boy who had been reported missing. One officer entered into a latched, fenced yard and encountered a dog instead. The 2 year old Weimaraner dog became startled at the intruder in uniform and ran toward the officer, barking. The officer aimed his weapon and shot the young dog, killing it. The missing child was later found safe and sound at home.

Dogs shot by police

The heartbreaking story of Geist the dog is just one of numerous cases of people’s pets being shot by police even though they were safely secured in their home or yard. One of the most common scenarios in which dogs are shot by police is when officers are executing a search warrant and enter a home without being invited by the residents. Most pets would bark, growl, or even run after someone coming into a house uninvited-especially if they sense their owner’s tensions running high from an unwelcome search warrant.

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Dogs that act like dogs

Regarding the shooting of Geist the dog, a federal judge ruled that the police officer who shot Geist acted appropriately for the circumstances. This same ruling is found often in cases where dogs are shot by police. In December a Michigan couple whose two dogs were shot and killed while retreating to the basement from police was shocked at the federal court ruling. A judge told them if a dog moves or barks, a police officer is allowed to shoot to kill. Any dog who doesn’t bark or move a muscle will not be shot by police; in other words, any dog that doesn’t act like a dog is safe from harm.