A look at high-profile police-related deaths of US blacks
A former Wisconsin police officer was acquitted of first-degree reckless homicide in the fatal shooting of Sylville Smith, a black man whose death sparked riots in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Milwaukee.
The shooting happened after a short foot chase in August 2016, during which Smith first dropped his gun and then retrieved it by the barrel and threw it over a fence. He was shot twice by officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, the second bullet hitting Smith in the chest just after he had tossed the gun.
The case is among a number across the United States in recent years that have increased debate about race and policing. Here are some other high-profile deaths of blacks during police encounters:
A Minnesota jury last week acquitted a Latino police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, in the shooting death July 6 of black motorist Philando Castile. Castile was shot during a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb seconds after he informed Yanez that he was carrying a gun. Yanez testified that Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria worker who had a permit for the gun, ignored his commands not to pull out the gun and that he feared for his life before he fired. The verdict sparked a protest by thousands of people in St. Paul.
Prosecutors are retrying a white former University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing, in the killing of the unarmed motorist during a traffic stop near the campus in July 2015. The jury deadlocked after his first murder trial. He faces 15 years to life if convicted. Tensing’s body camera captured much of the encounter, although the two sides dispute what conclusions can be reached. Tensing’s attorney says DuBose was using his car as a deadly weapon. The university fired Tensing, restructured its public safety department and reached a $5.3 million settlement that includes free undergraduate tuition for DuBose’s 13 children.
The U.S. Justice Department said in May that it’s investigating the fatal shooting of the 15-year-old by a white police officer in a Dallas suburb. Edwards was shot April 29 by Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, who was fired and charged with murder. Oliver fired a rifle at a car full of teenagers leaving a party, fatally shooting Edwards, who was a passenger in the vehicle that was moving away from officers. Balch Springs police had originally said the vehicle was reversing “in an aggressive manner” toward officers, who had responded to a complaint about underage drinking. But Police Chief Jonathan Haber later said video taken at the scene proved the vehicle was actually driving away. Oliver is free on bond.
An Oklahoma jury on May 17 found white Tulsa police officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the Sept. 16, 2016, death of Terence Crutcher, 40, shot shortly after Shelby arrived on a street to find Crutcher’s SUV stopped in the middle of the road. Shelby testified that she was afraid because Crutcher didn’t obey her commands and appeared to reach inside his SUV. Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted, noting that videos from a patrol car dashboard and a police helicopter showed Crutcher had his hands in the air and did not have a weapon.
Federal prosecutors announced May 3 that they would not seek charges against two white police officers who were involved in a deadly encounter with Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last summer. Sterling, 37, was shot to death on July 5, 2016, as two white officers pinned him to the pavement outside a convenience store where he had been selling CDs. The killing was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely online, sparking demonstrations across Baton Rouge. U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson said Sterling was armed during the confrontation and the investigation didn’t find enough evidence to pursue charges. State authorities are investigating to decide whether to bring charges.
KEITH LAMONT SCOTT
A prosecutor cleared a black Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer in the September 2016 fatal shooting of Scott, 43, killed while sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot of his apartment complex as officers sought another man. A police review board decided that Officer Brentley Vinson followed proper procedure. Police video showed officers shouting for Scott to drop a gun numerous times. Scott’s family said he did not have a gun. Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray cited evidence that Scott was armed, including a store’s surveillance video, DNA recovered from a handgun and a Facebook conversation from the man who said he sold the stolen gun to Scott.
Clark’s November 2015 shooting death sparked weeks of protests in Minneapolis. Two white officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were trying to arrest the 24-year-old when he was shot once in the head. He died a day later. Some witnesses said Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, but federal and state probes concluded that he was not. Investigators said Ringgenberg felt Clark’s hand trying to grab his weapon and shouted to Schwarze, who then shot Clark. Prosecutors decided not to charge either officer, and an internal police investigation cleared them.
Former Columbus, Mississippi, police officer Canyon Boykin, who is white, was indicted in September for manslaughter in the shooting death of Ball, 26. Boykin, awaiting trial, said he fired because Ball appeared to point a gun at him during a foot chase in October 2015. The city fired Boykin, saying the officer violated policy by not turning on his body camera, by inviting his fiancée to ride with him and by making derogatory social media posts about African-Americans, women and disabled people. Boykin has sued the city, claiming violations of his constitutional rights. Ball’s family has sued Boykin, the city and other police officials for wrongful death.
McDole, 28, was sitting in his wheelchair when he was shot and killed in September 2015 in Wilmington, Delaware, after police received a 911 call about a man with a gun. A bystander’s cellphone footage showed officers repeatedly telling McDole to drop his weapon and raise his hands, with McDole reaching for his waist area before shots erupted. The Delaware attorney general’s office decided against criminal charges against four Wilmington police officers involved, although investigators concluded one officer showed “extraordinarily poor” police work. In January, a federal judge approved the city’s $1.5 million settlement with McDole’s family.
WILLIAM CHAPMAN II
Former Portsmouth, Virginia, police officer Stephen Rankin was sentenced last October to 2½ years in prison for fatally shooting Chapman while responding to a shoplifting call outside a Wal-Mart on April 22, 2015. Prosecutors allege Rankin killed the unarmed 18-year-old “willfully, deliberately and with premeditation.” Some witnesses said Chapman was combative, and one said he knocked away Rankin’s stun gun. Rankin, who is white, was fired.
Prosecutors are recommending decades in prison for white South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, who shot Scott in the back as the motorist fled following a traffic stop. Slager pleaded guilty on May 2 to a federal charge of violating Scott’s civil rights. A judge will determine his sentence, which could range from probation to life in prison without parole. Scott’s shooting in April 2015 was captured on cellphone video and seen worldwide.
The 25-year-old man was shackled but alive when he was put in a Baltimore police van in April 2015. He came out with severe neck injuries, and his subsequent death led to rioting. Six officers were charged initially, but prosecutors in July 2016 dropped all remaining charges after acquittals and a hung jury. Gray’s family agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the city in September 2015.
Former Tulsa County volunteer sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates, 74, was sentenced in 2016 to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the April 2015 death of Harris, 44, who was unarmed and restrained. Bates, who is white, has said he confused his stun gun with his handgun. That shooting led to the temporary suspension of the reserve deputy program after a report found poor training of the volunteer officers, a lack of oversight, and cronyism. Bates is appealing his conviction.
The 12-year-old was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer near a gazebo in a recreational area in November 2014. Officers were responding to a report of a man waving a gun. The boy had a pellet gun tucked in his waistband and was shot after the officers’ cruiser skidded to a stop, just feet away. A grand jury in December 2015 declined to indict patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shot, and training officer Frank Garmback. The city settled Rice’s family’s lawsuit for $6 million. Cleveland in May fired Loehmann and suspended Garmback for 10 days. The officers’ union said it will challenge the discipline, calling it politically motivated.
Rookie New York City police officer Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter last year in the November 2014 death of 28-year-old Gurley. Liang, an American of Chinese descent, said he was patrolling a public housing high-rise with his gun drawn when a sound startled him and he fired accidentally. A bullet ricocheted off a wall, hitting Gurley. A judge reduced the conviction to negligent homicide and sentenced Liang to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service. The city settled with Gurley’s family for $4.1 million.
The unarmed 18-year-old was fatally shot by a white officer, Darren Wilson, in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and the U.S. Justice Department opted against civil rights charges. Wilson later resigned. The death of Brown led to months of occasionally violent protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which rebukes police treatment of minorities.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in November 2015, on the same day that the city, under a judge’s orders, released dashcam video showing 17-year-old McDonald being shot 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014. Van Dyke, who is white, has pleaded not guilty. The video prompted local and federal investigations. The Justice Department determined in January that Chicago police have a long history of civil rights violations and excessive force. The Chicago Police Department has since released a new use-of-force policy that requires officers to undergo de-escalation training and imposes stricter rules on when they can fire their weapons at fleeing suspects.
The 43-year-old man died in July 2014 in New York City after a white officer placed him in a chokehold during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. A grand jury declined to indict that officer, or any others involved in the arrest. The city agreed to pay a $6 million civil settlement.
Chicago police officer Dante Servin resigned in May 2016 after the police superintendent said he should be fired for killing Boyd four years earlier. Servin was off duty when he shot the 22-year-old unarmed woman. She had been walking down a street with her friends when he told them to be quiet, and he fired when he thought he saw a gun. Prosecutors charged Servin with involuntary manslaughter; a judge acquitted him in April 2016, saying he’d been improperly charged. The city settled a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2013 with Boyd’s family for $4.5 million.