Two new efforts to track fatal police shootings echo Palm Beach Post analysis

The recent national uproar over police shootings has highlighted a gap in understanding the events: No government agency reliably tracks police shootings nationally.

But the Washington Post and The Guardian have started tracking fatal shootings by police since the beginning of the year.

Both, using crowdsourcing and searching the internet, found that roughly 400 people have been shot and killed by officers around the country this year.

They also analyzed the shootings, and their findings were largely in line with what The Palm Beach Post found in its 2015 investigation into police shootings by PBSO.

For example:

  • For minorities, roughly a third were unarmed.
  • The percentage of people armed with potentially lethal objects was more than 80 percent (Washington Post) and 76 percent (Palm Beach Post).
  • The most common weapon a suspect was unarmed with was a gun – 57 percent in the Washington Post analysis and 32 percent for PBSO. That difference could be attributed to methodology. The Washington Post tracked only fatal shootings, while the Palm Beach Post tracked all shootings.

The national efforts, while helpful, also highlight the need for mandatory reporting of police shootings. For example, comparing this year’s number to previous years isn’t possible. And fatal police shootings account for only a third of all shootings.

This week two Democratic senators announced they would introduce a bill requiring police departments to report the incidents to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Palm Beach Post maintains a searchable database of all police shootings in Palm Beach County, regardless of whether someone died, here.

Justice Department turns down request to investigate PBSO

The U.S. Department of Justice will not be investigating allegations of excessive force by PBSO against the Hispanic community.

In a letter dated last week, a chief within DOJ’s Civil Rights Division wrote that the decision was made after PBSO told them about its “efforts to work with the Latino community.”

Attorney Jack Scarola, on behalf of the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth, had asked for DOJ to investigate PBSO after Augusto Garcia was knocked to the ground and handcuffed by a deputy after calling police for help. He had to be taken to a hospital and is now suing the department.

“Based on a review of your letter and the PBSO response, the Civil Rights Division has determined not to open an investigation,” Deeana Jang, chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, wrote.

Scarola could not immediately be reached for comment.

The letter did not address a current FBI investigation into a use of force case against by a PBSO deputy that was announced by Sheriff Ric Bradshaw earlier this month. The FBI has not commented on the investigation.

Video: PBSO deputy describes shooting that left Dontrell Stephens paralyzed

A video of a PBSO deputy shooting an unarmed man within four seconds of stopping him in 2013 captured national attention last week.

Now a newly obtained video shows Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputy Adams Lin describing what caused him to shoot.

In the video, Lin says that Dontrell Stephens turned his body and reached toward his waistband as if he was going for a gun.

He didn’t have a gun; it was a cell phone that was in his right hand during the four-second encounter.

The video also shows how Lin, who was assigned to a community-oriented policing job, was dressed. Attorney Jack Scarola, who is representing Stephens in a federal lawsuit against PBSO, said Lin was “dressed for war,” carrying 76 rounds of ammunition.

He was dressed differently from most uniformed PBSO deputies, with a tactical vest carrying his ammunition and Taser. Those items are often carried on a belt.

Scarola released the video to the media on Friday.

Video of Stephens’ shooting came to light last week, when The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 published online the results of a yearlong investigation into police shootings. The reporting revealed that one in every four people shot at by deputies were unarmed, and one in every three people are black. Stephens is black. Lin is Asian.

In the wake of the investigation, Palm Beach County commissioner Priscilla Taylor called for independent investigations and a community symposium.

Video disputes statement of PBSO deputy in shooting of boy with Down syndrome

In 2010, Amy Hutton called 911, frantic: Her 17-year-old son, Jeremy, who suffered from Down syndrome, had taken her minivan for a drive.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded and found Jeremy Hutton driving slowly down Royal Palm Beach Boulevard. One tire was flattened after he hit a curb.

The next moments would end with a deputy shooting Hutton, whose lawyers say has the mental capacity of a 3- to 6-year-old, three times.

When Hutton came to a stop at Okeechobee Boulevard, deputy Jason Franqui pulled his patrol car in front of him, blocking the minivan’s path. Franqui got out of his cruiser.

Hutton then drove around the car, clipping the driver’s side door and bumping the front corner. Franqui fired six times, saying that Hutton looked into his eyes, turned the steering wheel to the right and drove directly at him.

Police and prosecutors justified the shooting, saying that video confirmed that when Franqui fired, he was in front of the minivan.

“The witnesses, physical evidence and video evidence all establish that at the time deputy Franqui discharged his weapon, Hutton was driving his vehicle directly at him,” then-State Attorney Michael McAuliffe wrote in a memo to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.

But The Post obtained the videos of the incident, and they show the opposite: Franqui was beside or behind Hutton’s minivan when he started shooting. The six shots, recorded on his cruiser’s in-car recorder, ring out after Hutton strikes the vehicle.

Unmentioned in the PBSO and state attorney reports: The back and side windows of Hutton’s minivan were shot out. And two rounds went into a passing motorist’s car. That driver was not hurt.

Hutton was shot in the head, shoulder and hand and lived, according to his lawyers. His family is now suing PBSO.

The case is one of many The Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 detailed in a yearlong investigation into police shootings in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

The investigation revealed that the department’s internal investigators investigators often rely solely on the deputy’s version of events, ignoring or downplaying conflicting evidence such as videos to justify deadly force, even when it seems apparent that the deputy violated agency protocol.

POST INVESTIGATION: Nearly one in three people shot at by Palm Beach County deputies are black

A yearlong investigation into police shootings by The Palm Beach Post and WPTV Channel 5 reveals some startling statistics: One in four people shot at by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office are unarmed, and nearly one in three are black.

But while the shootings have been highly controversial, PBSO almost never finds anything to fault.

Our investigation reveals PBSO’s internal investigators often rely solely on the deputy’s version of events, ignoring or downplaying conflicting evidence such as videos to justify deadly force, even when it seems apparent that the deputy violated agency protocol.

We’ve created a database of 256 shootings by 32 local agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast dating to 2000. It’s never been done before here – not even by police themselves.

We’ve also uncovered never-before-seen videos the shootings that dispute police version of events, including the shooting of a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome and the shooting of an unarmed 20-year-old four seconds after the deputy stopped him.

To read our series, click here.

Caught on tape: police shootings through the years

The news yesterday that a South Carolina deputy will face murder charges for shooting and killing an unarmed, fleeing man made some people wonder: What if it hadn’t been caught on tape?

The vast majority of shootings aren’t recorded, obviously. But since 2006, multiple officers have faced charges after their shootings were recorded by witnesses or dashboard cameras. Some of those cases are below. Other shootings caught on tape illustrate how quickly a situation can go from mundane to deadly, even if the officer doesn’t intend to shoot.

WARNING: These videos are graphic.

Airman shot by California deputy (2006)

Elio Carrion was an Air Force airman home from Iraq and riding in the passenger’s seat of a friend’s car that led police on a high-speed chase in 2009. The driver was pulled over by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy Ivory Webb, who had Carrion on the ground at gunpoint. The video showed Webb first telling Carrion to stay on the ground, then telling Carrion to get up. Carrion replied, “I’m going to get up,” but when he started to get up, Webb shot him three times.

Webb was charged with attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm, but a jury acquitted him. The county settled a lawsuit by Carrion for $1.5 million.

BART police shooting of Oscar Grant (2009)

Officers with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department were dispatched to a call of a fight on one of the BART trains. While detaining and handcuffing Oscar Grant, officer Johannes Mehserle stood up, allegedly to shock him with a Taser. But he pulled out his handgun instead and fired once, killing Grant.

A jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Ohio officer shoots unarmed motorcyclist (2009)

Michael McCloskey, Jr., was unarmed when Ottawa Hills, Ohio officer Thomas White pulled him over. While McCloskey was sitting calmly on his motorcycle (at the 3:30 mark in the video), White shot him in the back, leaving him paralyzed. White said he thought McCloskey was going for a gun.

The officer was convicted of felonious assault with a gun, but the conviction was overturned last year because of improper jury instructions.

South Carolina deputy shoots man reaching for his license (2014)

This was one of two high-profile shootings in South Carolina captured on video last year. Trooper Sean Groubert stopped Levar Jones in a gas station lot because the man wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Groubert asked Jones for his ID, and Jones patted himself and reached into his car to get it. But Groubert thought Jones was reaching for a gun and shot him.

Groubert was arrested and charged with assault and battery. He’s awaiting trial.

Officers shoot BB-gun wielding teen based on bad 911 call (2014)

John Crawford III, 22, was shopping at an Ohio Walmart and carrying a toy he’d taken off the store shelf: a BB gun that looked like a rifle. A shopper called 911 on him, saying Crawford was waving a gun around and pointing it at people. Store surveillance captured Crawford on the phone, BB gun at his side, when police arrived. Beavercreek police officers, based on the faulty information in the 911 call, shot him almost immediately.

The caller later backtracked from his statements to 911 dispatchers, saying Crawford wasn’t a threat.

Body camera captures Dallas police shooting mentally ill man wielding a screwdriver (2014)

Last year’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill man by a Dallas police officer was one of the first high-profile shootings to be captured on an officer’s body camera. Jason Harrison’s mom had called police for help hospitalizing her mentally ill son, Jason Harrison, 38. When two officers arrived, Harrison was holding a screwdriver and apparently lunged at the officers, prompting both officers to shoot and kill him.

Deputy sobs after shooting 70-year-old man (2014)

This shooting in York County, S.C., shows how officers can easily – and understandably –  perceive a harmless object to be a weapon, and how officers have trouble dealing with those decisions.

Deputy Terrance Knox pulled over 70-year-old Vietnam veteran Bobby Canipe for expired tags. Canipe, who apparently couldn’t hear the deputy yelling for his attention, reached into the truck and pulled out a long object, which Knox believed to be a rifle or shotgun. Knox yelled and fired multiple times, hitting Canipe in the hip. When he ran up to the wounded man, Knox realized the he had pulled out a cane, not a gun.

Later, at the 4:30 mark in the video, you can hear Knox sobbing and a fellow deputy consoling him.