The Nuremberg Defense did not avail the Nuremberg defendants, but it turns out it does have a use. A Park Forest, Illinois policeman, one Officer Taylor, used the Nuremberg defense: “I was just following orders!” to escape responsibility for one of the most irresponsible, tactically inept and cowardly police uses of force we’ve ever heard of.
The Circumstances of the Use of Force
An 95-year-old man known to be suffering from dementia was noncompliant and belligerent to nursing home workers, and they called the police. The police responded. The man was fending workers off with a long shoehorn, and retreated, alone, into a room when the police arrived. After brief discussion they entered with a shield, a shotgun, and a Taser. What happened inside the room was not observed by any credible witness, but the Taser was discharged without contact with the victim, but the shotgun, loaded with less-lethal “beanbag” rounds, was emptied into his thoracic region at contact range.
The police waited for the man to die, but he did not, and they eventually called EMS to transport him to a hospital. He was subsequently transferred to a trauma center, where he died from his wounds.
The police produced a knife that came from a set in the facility’s kitchen, and after working on their stories together, the three officers agreed that the 95-year-old attacked them with the knife. Unlike anyone else involved in a use of force, police are typically allowed days to work their stories out together with attorneys, before submitting to interviews. By the time these cops were interviewed, they were so thoroughly rehearsed that what they did sounded reasonable to the fellow cops questioning them.
The Initial, False, Police Report of the Use of Force
The initial police reports contained a false narrative of the victim’s resistance and the police use of force. The report said that several policemen fired beanbag rounds; only one did. They said three shots were fired and two hit; in fact, the autopsy revealed that five shots were fired at near-contact range and all five hit. The three policemen who made these false statements are also the only ones who have put a knife in the victim’s hands (the employees at the facility saw him only with a shoehorn). As usual, there have been no consequences to the officers for their false statements or testimony.
Medical Treatment of the Victim
While he was injured in a medical facility, it was not the sort able to provide care for victims of violent trauma. After a long delay, the patient was finally allowed to be moved to a local hospital. When it became clear that his wounds were beyond the local hospital’s treatment capability he was moved to a trauma center. He died about thirty hours after being shot as a consequence of his wounds, the delayed treatment, and his old age and frailty.
The Circumstances of the Court Decision
The court made its decision with the gallery packed with hooting, uniformed policemen, demanding the judge accept the Nuremberg Defense. The judge obligingly did. This is barely distinguishable from when the courts consider the case of a gangbanger, and the gallery is filled with unruly members of his gang displaying their gang colors. The only difference is, that the court tolerated it from this particular gang, displaying their gang colors.
There is much in common between the inside morality displayed by, say, Hells’ Angels or Crips (or executives of Goldman Sachs), and that displayed by the police. Anything a member in good standing does is okay, providing he does it to an outsider.
Even murder. Now, this was not murder, but it was incredibly gross negligence, on the part of Taylor, and especially his superiors and trainers. The incentives are all wrong, because whatever the ultimate civil case judgment or settlement is, it will be borne by the taxpaying citizens of the jurisdiction, who already have the burden of a hazard like Taylor among them.
How We Came to Hear of This Case
We were tipped by Herschel Smith, who wrote about it here. Herschel calls it a murder, and explores it from a Christian viewpoint. We explore it from a tactical viewpoint.
The Many Failures of the Park Forest PD
- Failure #1: Going High-Order on a Contained Subject
The guy was in his room in the nursing home. He wasn’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t a threat to anybody in there, apart from himself. Sooner or later he would come out and get bagged. But the cops had fangs out, and went in after him, without much preparation, much of a plan, or any real idea what they were going to do, except “bust in there and see what happens.” Impatient cops drive a lot of outcomes like this. (Remember Waco?).
- Failure #2: A Stupid Plan
Their plan was weak all across the board. Intimidating the subject into surrendering (which had already failed several times) was their Plan A. Some people say that expecting repeated action to produce a different result is insane; in this case, the effective word was “stupid.” They pulled their already-failed Plan A, and mirabile dictu, it failed. (And these geniuses were actually surprised. This is why departments whose personnel policy sets an upper bound on Cop IQ are screwing up). So then Plan B was a Taser, whose limitations will be explored momentarily; Plan C was, then, deadly force, but the cops thought it wasn’t: they intended to use less-lethal rounds to center of mass inside the ammunition’s lethal range. These guys and their supporters have never considered how bad that plan really was: try to operate it, and it rapidly reduces to “Let’s go in and kill the guy!”
There was also no probable outcome that didn’t involve injury to someone, probably the victim, but no call was made for EMS backup. This didn’t jump out to the officers as an oversight at the time, in part because no one reviewed the logic, or lack of the same, of the plan.
- Failure #3: Flubbing a point-blank Taser shot. With no second shot option.
Ever hear the old trainer mantra, “two is one, one is none”? Of course you have. They went in with one guy with only a shield, one guy with only a Taser, one guy with only a shotgun with beanbags. There are failures aplenty in this, but one key point of failure was when Taser Guy’s one less-lethal shot went wide (at point-blank range; this whole thing took place in, essentially, a hospital room). Yet that bozo is still out on the street, despite a failure at a simple marksmanship task under stress, a failure that led to a citizen’s death. Think he’ll do any better if called on to fire real rounds some day? The best guide to future behavior is past behavior, and this guy got Buck Fever.
Of course, the dirty little secret of the Taser is that, even though when they demonstrate it to you in the academy they have zero problem making you write on the floor and vow never to do this again, the damn things have a much lower reliability rate in the real world, where the intended recipient isn’t wearing a cotton shortsleeve shirt and standing perfectly still. They miss, they bounce off, they tangle in clothing and don’t complete the circuit. A Taser is truly a one-is-none weapon, at least to the degree you can count on the thing, and that reinforces the sheer bozosity of the decision and plan to make a deliberate assault on a subject without a second Taser. Their Plan B offered, in real-world terms, no better (and arguably worse) than 50/50 odds.
- Failure #4: Contagious / Panic Fire
At this point the only thing left was to blast the guy, although the cop didn’t realize what he was doing was lethal force. One aspect of this that has not been explored, is that Taylor did not fire a shot, reassess, etc. He instantly went cyclic on his shotgun and only stopped firing when it was empty. His explanation was the usual PBA lawyered-up mantra, “I was in fear for my life.”
If he’s that scared, he’s a coward, and a hazard to everyone when he’s armed.
Taylor fired all shots at center of mass, and at point-blank range. A DOJ study notes that “Law enforcement personnel are generally trained to aim for the “center of mass” … but users of impact munitions should be aware that individuals struck in these areas are also more susceptible to serious injury or death, especially at close ranges.” The same study found five fatalities hit in the chest with bean bag rounds, and one hit in the neck, all at close range (out of some 300 use of less-lethal munitions). (The only other lethal encounters in that study were officers who thought they were firing less-lethal rounds, but weren’t). It’s clear from reading the report that these rounds are not safe to be fired from within approximately 30 feet — they’re definitely lethal at inside-the-room range.
It’s unlikely that these cops ever read this report. It’s unlikely that their department’s leaders ever did.
Supporters of the police in this case note that the subject, a frail 95-year-old man, had armed himself with a kitchen knife, and therefore, deadly force was justified. But this is an ex post facto rationalization — the officer in question thought he was using nonlethal force. His training (as well as his leadership) failed him.
- Failure #6: Not Understanding Beanbag Rounds
The Beanbag 12-gauge is much beloved by police because of its low cost — a few dollars per round — and belief that it can be deployed without training. Here we see one consequence of that mistake. There are several variations of the load, but they have a checkered history. The initial rounds were discontinued after a fatal shooting in 1971, and replacements came back on the market — at a slightly reduced velocity — only years later, after the emergence of an officer safety culture that accepts 10% fatalities from a round marketed as nonlethal.
After all, once you shoot ‘em they all had it coming.
The beanbag round leaves the shotgun at 300 to 400 feet per second and at close range frequently produces broken ribs and sternums, cardiac arrest, internal-organ damage and internal bleeding (this last, plus the age of the patient and the delayed treatment wel’ll cover below, was what killed this guy).
- Failure #7: Delayed Treatment of the Victim
Finally, we have the latest thing emerging, which is: the police not yielding the scene to medical responders until they’ve done the necessary: cuff the victim, safe their weapons, recover their taser darts, and coordinate and rehearse their “I was in fear for my life” stories. Only then did they let the nursing-home staff examine the distressed man, and only then did anybody realize he needed medical help, so only then did anybody call for EMS.
Given his age, frailty, and the trauma from the point blank discharge of five 300-400 fps beanbags into his thorax and abdomen at contact range, the guy might have been toast even if Taylor’s attack had taken him on the loading dock of the ER, and the police then facilitated, rather than hindered, his treatment. But the fact is they didn’t expedite his trip to hospital.
Taylor has beaten the criminal rap, and he’s back on the street. Don’t you feel safer already?