A New York City police officer was killed over the weekend “while trying to arrest an armed suspect,” but he was killed by friendly fire from other police officers, not the suspect.
A New York City police officer who died Sunday while trying to arrest an armed suspect was shot and killed by fellow officers during a violent struggle, police officials said Monday.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Officer Brian Mulkeen, 33, was shot twice by police gunfire during the Sunday confrontation in the Bronx.
Why did Mulkeen’s fellow officers need to fire their weapons in the first place?
Did Mulkeen have a reason to chase Antonio Williams and tackle him? If so, they are just incompetent for firing at their fellow officer while he was wrestling with a suspect. If not, did they commit murder? If they were not police officers, would we call this murder under the same facts?
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and you can be sure the police investigation will be focused on clearing the officer and attempting to avoid liability in the wrongful death suit that Williams’ family may file…
I’m thinking, what kind of questions would the average non-attorney have about this case? Can police walk up to someone on the street and question them? If the person runs away, can police chase them and arrest them?
If the answer is no, doesn’t the person have the right to defend themselves? What if Williams had survived the encounter? What charges could he have been facing and would they be justified?
I have no doubt that more information will come out regarding these deaths, and that those facts will make a difference as to whether Williams’ death was justified. That being said, let’s play devil’s advocate and take a look at what we know from the initial media reports.
NYPD Officer Killed by Friendly Fire… Why the Media’s Choice of Words Matter
If you are trying to be persuasive, the words that you choose can help you to frame the issues, make your point, or completely avoid the point…
What if the headline said: Black Man Killed by White NYPD Officer?
It would be the same story – the headline and focus of the story is the choice of the news media. The story’s posture assumes that the chase and the subsequent shooting of Williams were justified – the real story here is how Mulkeen’s fellow officers shot him instead of the suspect.
The story, lifted straight from officer’s reports, says that “Mulkeen and two plainclothes officers were on patrol near a city housing complex around 12:30 a.m. during an investigation into potential gang activity.” The officers were:
- in the projects;
- at 12:30 in the morning;
- investigating gang activity.
The article does not say that Williams was a gang member or that they were investigating him – you are supposed to assume those facts.
Investigators said they found a pistol that they said belonged to Williams. It was never fired, they said. If you aren’t reading carefully, you might assume that the officers knew Williams had a pistol and therefore the chase, assault, and shooting were justified. Except that’s not what the story says.
What I take from the limited facts in the article is that Williams either had a gun that he never attempted to use on the officers that was discovered after the incident, or one of the other officers dropped a “throwaway” gun to provide cover for the coming storm… based on the limited facts in the article and NYPD’s track record, I think either is equally likely.
Williams was on probation and had several prior arrests including a burglary conviction. But, as far as we know from the article, there is no connection between that and the current incident. Why not also include the officer’s disciplinary record in every media report about a police shooting? How many times has the officer used excessive force with a suspect or been sued for misconduct?
What if Williams had survived? What would they have charged him with?
If someone is killed while you are committing a felony, you can be charged with their “murder” even if you did not personally cause their death. If Williams was committing a felony, tried to run, and a police officer was killed during the ensuing scuffle, Williams could be charged with the officer’s murder even though other police officers pulled the triggers.
But was Williams committing a felony? It sounds like he was on the street and the police just went up to him and began questioning him.
What if there was no probable cause for Williams’ arrest? He ran, they chased him, Mulkeen tackled him, and, during the fight, Mulkeen and Williams were shot and killed by the other officers? Who committed murder? Williams or the police officers?
If police attempt to arrest you and you pull away from them or fight them, you can be charged with resisting arrest (and assaulting a police officer).
But was Williams under arrest? If he was under arrest and they were putting handcuffs on him, then running would be resisting arrest. But, if there was no arrest warrant and he was not committing a crime, he was not resisting arrest because he was not being arrested.
Citizens have a right to defend themselves and to resist an unlawful arrest, even to the point of using deadly force. That would be a defense to murder, manslaughter, assault, or any related charge they could have brought against him if he could show that it was an unlawful arrest.
Was it an Unlawful Arrest?
There’s no way to tell from the limited facts provided by the article. Can police just walk up to you on the street and start questioning you? Of course, they can – just as you or I could walk up to someone and start questioning them.
Can police arrest a person if the person doesn’t want to talk to them? Not unless they have an arrest warrant or they’ve just witnessed you committing a crime.
If you run from police, can they chase you down, beat you up, or shoot you? No. Running from police is no more a crime than walking away from police – if you are not under arrest, there is no justification for police to chase a person down or shoot them.
If more facts come out, maybe we will find that Williams was being placed under arrest and it was lawful. Maybe the police had a warrant for his arrest. Maybe he was being arrested because they knew he was a felon in possession of a handgun. Maybe he was being arrested because he was violating his probation by being on the street at 12:30 am. Maybe he kicked one of the cops in the shin before running away…
If not, there is more to this story than “NYPD Officer Killed by Friendly Fire.”
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