Law Allows Cops to Get Away With Killing You if They Don’t Have “Evil Intent”

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2015/10/02

Otto Zehm loved to smile. His eyes lit up whenever he looked at the camera; some would say his grin was infectious.

His mental disability did not prevent him from leading a normal life – he had a job and was independent.

He loved spending time at the Mission Park, and that is where his mother insists a memorial should be built for him.

Zehm was fatally injured in a convenience store in 2006.

The assassin was a police officer, and a decorated one at that.

The thirty-six year old went into his local Zip Trip store to get a snickers bar.

He also picked up a 1.5 litre bottle of Diet Pepsi, he was still clutching his drink when Officer Karl Thompson attacked him.

The cop bashed him twice in the head with a police baton.

This is when Zehm fell to the floor and curled up in the fetal position.

Next, several other officers came in to help Thompson.

Zehm was also shocked with a Taser in his chest during the encounter. He was then hog-tied and placed on his stomach. Several minutes later, he stopped breathing.

His last words were: “all I wanted was a Snickers”.

It turns out that the team of approximately nine police officers were responding to an erroneous complaint, two women had mistakenly thought that the unsuspecting victim had stolen money from a nearby ATM machine.

Otto Zehm slipped into a coma after he uttered his last words, he never woke up again. His ventilator was turned off two days after the incident.

What followed was a series of dreadful lies, deceit and cover-ups.

Acting police chief Jim Nicks said Zehm lunged and attacked the officer, a claim that turned out to be false thanks to CCTV footage. Spokane County prosecutor Steve Tucker took no action.

Finally, the FBI took over the investigation. The matter ended up in court and Thompson was indicted for obstructing justice.

Zehm’s family members were present during Thompson’s trial. They witnessed around 50 officers salute the man, as he was taken into custody in November 2011.

This story is one of many where police officers have used excessive force.

This is certainly evident from the fact that 213 fatal shootings by police occurred in the nine-year period between 2005 and 2014.

Only one officer was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Even so he was acquitted by the jury.

This raises the question what exactly is it that protects police officers so well?

The answer lies in a law that was passed in 1986. It frees cops of responsibility as long as they kill someone in the line of duty while acting in good faith and without malice, or “evil intent” as the law states.

As the country reels from the shock of several cases of police brutality, and the recent Black Lives Matter campaign has managed to gain tracton – it is worth remembering there is a 29-year-old law that protects police officers.

Even in Zehm’s case, the perpetrator was not tried for murder, instead his fall from grace occurred when his attempts to cover up evidence came into light.

Interestingly, this law based in a 1985 indictment that involved the shooting of a 15-year-old named Edward Garner in Memphis, Tennessee.

It is famously known as the Garner case; officer Elton Hymon shot the scrawny teenager as he climbed a fence. The policeman had determent that the boy was unarmed yet shot him in the back of the head which killed him instantly.

This is when the Supreme Court ruled that deadly force cannot be used to prevent the escape of an unarmed suspect.

This is because it is a violation of their constitutional rights.

President of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild Bill Conn condemned it openly.

“If you can’t shoot fleeing felons, then you are relegated to a foot chase and being expert at karate and jiu jitsu and all that exotic stuff you see in the movies and on television,” he commented.

However, the law as it currently stands contains terms that are open to interpretation. There is a gaping loophole that gives police officers the right to justify using excessive force.

According to legislation, in order to establish that the shooting was unfair, it needs to be determined whether the intent was evil.

As long as police officers can say they were acting in good faith, they can get away with murder – quite literally.
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About author

Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5648 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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