Recent Firm News & Discussion on Police Misconduct

Theft Charges Dismissed

In Atlantic County, New Jersey, the Law Offices of Robert L. Tarver, Jr. secured a dismissal of an Indictment for our client who was facing Burglary and Theft charges. Our client was charged with Burglary and Theft for breaking into a residential home and taking numerous items The prosecution had several witness statements saying that our client was guilty. We investigated the case, found our own witnesses, and obtained a lock expert to show that it could not have been our client that broke into the structure and stole the items in question. Ultimately, our proofs won the day….. It is just an example of why we say, “The Good Lawyers are in Court changing the Law, but the Great Lawyers are on the Streets Changing the Facts”.

View The Official Case Document Here.

On Aaron Hernandez….and Juries

Now that the Aaron Hernandez case is finished, there are a few observations to be made. I watched jurors give a number of interviews after the verdict. We live in an age where everyone wants to be a star…everyone wants to be noticed. Juror narcissism, however, is dangerous. Most observers agree that the Hernandez case was tried without many errors. But the Juror interviews are a Defense Attorney’s dream. For Example, I listened to one Juror say that he believed what the prosecution said because Hernandez didn’t testify to dispute it. The constitutional right against self incrimination indicates that defendants do not have to testify in criminal cases. In jury trials, the Judge tells jurors that they cannot use a defendant’s failure to testify as evidence against him. Looks like this jury has given Hernandez the best shot he has at an appeal.

DUI Dismissed

The Law Offices of Robert L. Tarver, Jr. scored a major victory in Gloucester City, New Jersey, where we secured a dismissal of all charges in a DUI case. Our client, Jimmy K., was driving across the Delaware Memorial Bridge when he was stopped by Port Authority Police. The officers charged him with DUI citing high-speed and reckless driving. We were able to demonstrate that the officers were inaccurate in their reporting and that the methods they used to test our client were improper and unreliable. The result….all charges dismissed.

What happens with police bullets that miss their targets?

By James V. Cook

Some commentators say North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott eight times in the back. That’s not right. Officer Slager shot Scott only five times in the back. Three of his eight bullets continued down the path looking for a place to land.

Police bullets can travel over a mile and they don’t care where they end up. A tree or a child are met with equal enthusiasm. The bullets make themselves at home wherever they land. Since most police agencies use hollow-point bullets that expand and sometimes fragment on contact, the bullets will tend to spread out in their new home and have a significant impact on their host.

Police rarely carry the old five- or six-shot revolvers anymore, except perhaps as a spare gun. Their official weapons are semi-automatic handguns that carry 13-, 14-, or 15-shot clips with another bullet already in the chamber. Police typically carry two or three extra clips.

There’s an old story from central Florida where officers cornered a fugitive suspected of killing an officer, shooting him 110 times. When a reporter asked the sheriff why they shot him 110 times, the Sheriff was quoted as responding, “They ran out of ammunition.” That rarely happens now.

A few years ago, I had a case where police fired 137 bullets at an unarmed man sitting in his car. The officers were just a few yards away but they only hit him 22 times. The other 115 bullets hit the car or some other car in the parking lot, or the walls of a nearby apartment complex, or went through an apartment window. In this case, no one was killed but the doomed man in the car.

The only civilian eyewitness to the shooting believed that officers were trying to kill her as well.

Another of my cases involved a police officer who wrongfully killed an unarmed young man, then fired a shot in the direction of his girlfriend, the only living witness. The officer said the shot was accidental but it would have struck her in the middle of her back if not for a metal seat brace that deflected the bullet. As it was, she was only struck by fragments of glass and lead.

I was involved in another case where an officer fired seven shots at an unarmed young woman in her car when she tried to drive away from him. Two bullets went into the back window and one bullet went into her. No one ever figured out where the other four bullets went.

Police agencies train their officers to shoot for “center mass,” that is, the vital organs. They are trained to keep firing until they feel the threat is over. Sometimes that takes a lot of bullets and a lot of bullets end up going wild.

Just a few more examples. In May of 2011, Miami police fired 130 bullets at a driver who crashed during a traffic pursuit, killing the driver with 16 shots but also hitting four bystanders. In August of 2012, nine people were hit by police bullets when New York officers opened fire on a suspect. In September of 2013, they hit two bystanders while aiming at an unarmed black man – charging the man they tried to kill with the bystander injuries. A 2008 Rand study showed New York police only hit their target 30 percent of the time, 18 percent if the target is shooting back.

In May, 2014, in Cleveland, another 137 bullets were poured into a car, killing a speeder who refused to stop as well as his passenger. The pattern of gunshots in the windshield and the fact that the passenger was hit more times than the driver seemed to indicate that police were more interested in killing her than the driver. In October 2014, Stockton, California police fired 600 bullets into a car they knew held a hostage, predictably killing her along with her kidnapper.

The trend for police agencies, large and small, is toward military-style weapons and massive firepower. This is happening despite declining police officer gun deaths. Last year, 50 of the nation’s nearly one million sworn officers were killed by guns, up from 32 the year before but less than half the 1970’s average. Officers too are not infrequently hit by stray police bullets.

While statistics clearly show that police bullets that hit their targets are primarily intended for young men of color, the bullets that miss do not show the same ethnic or gender prejudices.

Yes, it is most often about race. But when police over-react, none of us is safe.

(James Cook is a civil rights lawyer who lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and practices police misconduct litigation throughout the state.)