When Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo mounted the hood of a Chevy Malibu and fired fifteen shots through the windshield, killing Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams, he behaved in an “unreasonable” and “unconstitutional” fashion. This was the testimony offered by W. Ken Katsaris, a nationally renowned expert witness on use-of-force issues, during Brelo’s bench trial for two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
Brelo’s actions amounted to the execution-style murder of a terrified, unarmed couple whose vehicle had been immobilized following a 22-minute high-speed pursuit and a 137-round onslaught by police. This isn’t why Katsaris found Brelo’s behavior to be “unreasonable” or “unconstitutional.”
The lives of the victims were not consequential in Katsaris’s constitutional calculations: Once the decision had been made to kill the Mundanes, the only relevant consideration was the safety of Officer Breloand his comrades on the scene. Battlefield America: T... Best Price: $11.77 Buy New $14.99 (as of 04:25 EST - Details)
By leaping on top of the hood of the car, Brelo was “taking action that is not trained, not recognized, not safe, and put all of the other officers in the vicinity of his becoming a victim and their [the other officers] having to attempt to now engage to save his life,” Katsaris testified before trial judge John P. O’Donnell.
If an officer is in fear for his life and behind cover, which was Brelo’s posture until the last eight seconds of the engagement, it would make not a particle of sense for that officer to abandon cover and “put [himself] standing on top of a car in the middle of, as he called it, a fire fight,” Katsaris explained.
The logical inference to be drawn from that act is that the targeted individuals did not actually pose a threat, and that Brelo’s actions would have to be regarded as murder. Katsaris disposes of that possibility by insisting that the officer’s “subjective belief” didn’t matter, because he and the other cops have legally protected discretion to kill even when the circumstances do not justify that action. The only “objective” consideration is the safety of the officers as they exercise their lethal discretion.
“You don’t put yourself in a position of officer down in the middle of a situation [like] that he was involved in,” insisted Katsaris. “That’s why it’s objectively unreasonable…. It’s taking yourself out from behind cover. And you’re putting yourself in crossfire. And you’ are putting the other officers in jeopardy of having to now, if you get shot, save your life which risks their lives.”
When he was asked if Brelo would have acted “reasonably” and “constitutionally” by remaining behind cover while firing the final fifteen shots, Katsaris replied: “I would probably say so.”
Killing Russell and Williams efficiently and with minimal risk to the government-certified assailants was “objectively reasonable,” by Katsaris’s analysis. This is because only the “Blue Lives” on the scene truly mattered. Divested of double-talk and purged of persiflage, Judge O’Donnell’s ruling acquitting Brelo of voluntary manslaughter expresses the same view. How America Was Lost: ... Best Price: $5.09 Buy New $12.96 (as of 11:05 EST - Details)
“If defendant Michael Brelo is not guilty … if the evidence did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly caused [the victims’] deaths in violation of the Constitution – then I will not sacrifice him to a public frustrated by historical mistreatment at the hands of other officers, ”wrote O’Donnell in a lengthy and self-indulgent prelude to the inevitable exoneration. “At the same time, if the evidence did prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt then he will be found guilty and punished as [would] any other criminal. His badge and gun offer no special protection here. He and I took similar oaths to support and uphold the Constitution. If the evidence shows that he violated his he can be sure I will honor mine.”
Thirteen pages later, Judge O’Donnell ruled that “as a matter of law … Brelo, shooting from the Malibu’s hood, acted in a sudden passion or a sudden fit of rage in response to serious provocation by Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams sufficient to incite Brelo to use deadly force” – one of the key elements of the charge against him. Four pages further in, the judge ruled that it had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo “caused at least one” of the gunshot wounds that caused Russell’s death.”For any defendant not accoutered with a badge and accustomed to carrying a government-issued gun, those findings of fact would translate into a guilty verdict. The “equal protection” provisions of the U.S. Constitution – assuming that they retain any meaning – would dictate the same outcome for a police officer.
The “constitution” to which both O’Donnell and Brelo swore an oath, however, is not the written document with which many Americans are familiar. It is an unwritten set of customs and assumptions growing out of the concept of “qualified immunity” for those who carry out the State’s errand of lethal force. In the words of an amicus brief filed in the most recent US Supreme Court case involving the question, “police officers, in addition to receiving qualified immunity, are entitled to wide discretion in making an arrest….Deference is a key part of the Court’s immunity jurisprudence…. By allowing some margin of error, the Court avoids a chilling effect on law enforcement.”
The operative assumption, derived from the 1974 Supreme Court opinion in Scheuer v. Rhodes, is that “it is better to risk some error and possible injury from such error than not to decide or act at all.” That ruling, a bellwether case involving “qualified immunity,” was issued in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of victims and survivors of the Kent State Massacre.
Once a police officer has decided on a “taking” – whether a traffic stop, investigative detention, an arrest, or a killing – the matter has been settled, and the subject has no choice but to submit. If this results in an innocent Suicide Pact: The Radi... Best Price: $1.22 Buy New $3.99 (as of 07:00 EST - Details) Mundane suffering injury or death, this is a regrettable “error,” but the officer cannot be held responsible; doing so would inhibit his comrades in similar situations, thereby putting their incomparably valuable lives at unacceptable risk.
Katsaris has diligently propagated that view as a trainer and expert witness on behalf of Americans For Efficiency in Law Enforcement (AELE). It may not be surprising to some that Katsaris found it “objectively reasonable” for adrenaline-propelled police officers to kill two unarmed people at the end of a long and dangerous car chase. Hopefully most people would be taken aback to learn that he conferred the same benediction upon the actions of a Portland Police Officer who fatally shot an unarmed, emotionally distraught man in the back as he was running away.
Distraught after his brother died from heart and kidney failure, 25-year-old Aaron Campbell suffered a breakdown while visiting his girlfriend. Portland Police received a call about a “suicidal man with a gun.” Very shortly thereafter several police officers materialized on the scene and, in keeping with the prevailing standards of conduct within their profession, resolved the situation by murdering the suicidal man.
Standing at a substantial distance from the police, Campbell had his back to the officers and his hands in the air when one officer fired several beanbag rounds at him. Another unleashed a police dog. Those actions were taken, according to the officers, because Campbell “wasn’t following commands.” Understandably fearful for his own safety, Campbell started to run – only to be brought down by a single shot fired into his back from an AR-15 wielded by Officer Ronald Frashour.
A grand jury declined to indict Frashour, insisting that the fatal back-shooting of the unarmed and terrified man “was … consistent with the relevant laws and statutes regarding the use of deadly force by a police officer.” Their perceptions of that issue were sculpted, in large measure, by the “expert” testimony of Katsaris during his December 29, 2011 deposition.
“Officer Frashour comported with the training that was offered in terms of the reasonableness of his decision and what it was based on,” Katsaris insisted. “And I concluded that it was reasonable, and objectively [sic], because it is Arrest-Proof Yourself Best Price: $2.00 Buy New $6.00 (as of 05:25 EST - Details) an objective rather than a subjective analysis.” Katsaris’s performance was a rote recital of the familiar conjurations used to justify police homicide. In one particularly substance-free portion of his testimony, Katsaris insisted that Frashour’s act of homicide was justifiable because of “the perceptions of that officer at that time, in the shoes of that officer, given the totality of circumstances that are presented to him at the moment that he makes that decision.”
He was “part of the plan but not the planner,” the witness concluded, recasting the familiar Nuremberg Defense in the contemporary language of corporate management. At this point it should be clear that the words spoken by “experts” like Katsaris don’t matter; they engage in a kind of performance art in which their very presence signifies the correctness of the officer’s decision to kill somebody. Of passing interest is the fact that Katsaris first earned notoriety three decades ago as Sheriff of Leon County, Florida: Following the arrest of Ted Bundy, then-Sheriff Katsaris was the officer who read the indictment to the serial killer. Since that time, Katsaris has devoted his energy to the defense of Bundy’s killing fraternity who commit those acts while garbed in the robes of the state’s punitive priesthood.
After he joined that fraternity by killing Aaron Campbell in 2010, Ronald Frashour was fired, then suspended for two years during the official inquiry, then reinstated with full back pay. As a result, Ronald Frashour was the fourth-highest-paid Portland employee in 2012.
While Frashour’s life was never in jeopardy, the police union insisted that his livelihood was of greater value than the innocent life he had ended. As police union spokesman William James Manifold candidly explains, “All lives don’t matter” – and “Blue Lives” matter immeasurably more than those of the public supposedly protected by the police.
Although “all lives have the potential to matter,” Manifold explained in an essay republished by the Colorado Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, “most certainly all lives don’t matter.” For him, and other active and retired members of the Sanctified Fraternity of State-Licensed Violence, it is an unassailable truth that “Blue Lives Matter,” and that mere Mundanes should literally prostrate themselves in worship before their costumed overseers: 10 Rules for Dealing w... Best Price: $3.55 Buy New $29.02 (as of 10:40 EST - Details)
“[B]y whatever God you worship or don’t, by all things holy, #BlueLivesMatter…. Instead of you getting on some high horse thinking that you are being so damned enlightened with you `All Lives Matter’ bullsh*t, you should be getting on your knees thanking each and every one of those people who gave their live [sic] so you can sleep at night, so you can walk the street, so you can enjoy the safety that they provide.”
“If I’ve offended you, I honestly don’t give a sh*t,” continues Manifold, giving unvarnished expression to the institutional attitude of law enforcement as a profession. “And honestly, if you get offended that easily and don’t or won’t support our law enforcement officers then I really don’t have the time for you so good riddance. You are part of the problem.”
Those who carry out the State’s errand of violence “matter,” but this is only selectively true of lesser beings who supposedly “enjoy the blanket of protection” provided by the State and its enforcement caste. If you “show your support … turn on a blue light at night, thank an officer, attend a Citizens Police Academy,” or otherwise express the expected attitude of chastened gratitude and awe-struck reverence before the Praetorians, “you matter.” Those who “choose to walk on the `other side’ of the line, well just keep walking, they’ll get to you eventually…. You don’t matter.”
The “other side,” on this construction, includes not only criminals but critics of the police. These are lives that “don’t matter,” or lebensunwerten leben, as the same concept was expressed in Germany eight decades ago.
Manifold, interestingly, has been photographed wearing a baseball cap decorated with the “1*” symbol. The purpose of that decal, as was explained to me by someone better-versed in the semiotics of police privilege, is to remind police officers that each of them has “one ass to risk” – and that protecting it at all times, and in all circumstances, is their first priority.
This is because — as Katsaris and Manifold explained, and police conduct reminds us every day – only “Blue Lives” really matter.