Thursday, March 17, 2005

Justified Shooting: Yay or Nay?


Until the Force Science Research Center entered the case, no one knew precisely how Randall Carr ended up killed by a police bullet that tore into his body near his rectum and blew a hole in his heart. His angry relatives, with Johnnie Cochran’s legal team behind them, insisted it had to be a deliberate police execution.

The officers involved vehemently denied that, of course. But they couldn’t reconstruct the fatal details of Carr’s final moments or explain the seemingly incriminating pattern of wounds documented at autopsy.


During an investigation of an assault on the landlord during a rent dispute, 2 officers were questioning the accused tenant, Randall Carr, 38. Carr was acting “very excited and aggressive,” and was later found to have evidence of cocaine use in his bloodstream. He declared, “I own this building, I own Oklahoma City and I don’t have to pay rent!” Then he punched one officer in the head, inflicting a cut over his right eye, and kneed the other in the groin, and fled on foot. Multiple units responded. During a pursuit by foot and car, Carr at one point was whacked at the knee with an expandable baton and sprayed directly in the eyes and nose with OC, but he did not submit. Finally the cop who’d been kneed during the initial call, Ofcr. Jerry Bowen, and a responding sergeant, Randy Castle, cornered Carr in a small, dark churchyard a couple of blocks from his apartment.

With a jagged piece of concrete about twice the size of a softball clutched in his left hand, Carr (who was left handed) tried to scale a spiked fence at one edge of the yard, but he couldn’t make it. The officers were yelling at him to get down and to drop the concrete. He dropped off the fence, turned and with his left arm raised started to run directly at Castle, who was about 20 feet away.

Bowen was forward from Castle and to his right. In Bowen’s perception, Carr was charging Castle intent on bashing in the sergeant’s skull with the concrete chunk. Both officers opened fire with their Glocks. Eleven rounds were discharged. Seven struck Carr. When the shooting stopped he was slumped against a wooden bench several feet to Castle’s left.

Castle had no clear recollection of the 5 shots he fired. He recalled Carr “throwing” the concrete at him at a point. A left-hander like the suspect, Castle instinctively turned away while raising his right hand to protect his head, and fired his rounds blindly back at his assailant with his left hand. Bowen said he started shooting when Carr crossed his line of fire in the dead run toward Castle. There was about 5 feet between Bowen and the attacker at that moment. He fired a total of 6 rounds. Between the moment he started shooting and an awareness that Carr was “suddenly” no longer upright as a target, he had no relevant memories.

Pretty hairy situation. You can see why the victim's family might be upset.

At the heart of the plaintiffs’ case was an inflammatory premise: Such a fatal bullet pathway could have occurred only if Carr was already down on his hands and knees, butt in the air and no longer a threat, when the killing shot was fired. Bowen must have advanced on the suspect and pulled the trigger from behind him to create the resulting wound channel. In effect, the fatal round was an unjustified execution.

Ruh roh.

As one of the nation’s foremost authorities on reaction times and shooting dynamics, Lewinski felt that documenting the missing elements would be critical to understanding how the shooting actually unfolded and determining whether the plaintiffs’ allegations of wrongdoing might, in fact, be true.

He started by taking Ofcr. Bowen and Sgt. Castle to Oklahoma City PD’s firearms range. They’d told him that in an effort to stop the onrushing Carr they had fired as fast as they could pull the trigger that fateful night. He asked them to do that again--repeatedly--while they were videotaped by Lewinski and one of FSRC’s National Advisory Board members, Parris Ward. Ward, who heads the firm Biodynamics Engineering, is a prominent computer animator whose vivid reconstructions of police shootings and other controversial events are frequently introduced as pivotal evidence in high-profile court cases.

The videotapes offered gross time stamps of the officers shooting. But back in his lab in Pacific Palisades, CA, Ward’s ultra-sophisticated equipment was able to break down the sample firings into hundredths of a second. That revealed that the officers had been able to shoot in a range of .233 to .268 of a second per round.

Now Lewinski, working with Ward and his precision equipment, set about the laborious task of calculating the sequence and timing of every round that had struck Carr.

So, what was the outcome? Well, I should just make you read the rest of the story, but I suppose I'll save you the time:

On Nov. 22, after days of testimony and arguments, the jury returned its verdict. Four long years after the shooting occurred, the officers were finally exonerated. The plaintiffs were granted nothing, and there was no reimbursement for the substantial funds the plaintiffs’ attorneys had put forth to prepare for trial.

This case, incidentally, is the third in which Lewinski has helped to successfully defend officers against Johnnie Cochran’s legal armada.

Ha! We won! Make sure you check out the animations. They are pretty sweet. Especially compare the slow-mo version with the sped up version to get a feel for how lightning-fast everything happened. It's incredible.

I think this goes to show that as long as we are doing the right thing and acting within policy and training, not even Johnnie Cochran can get to us.

This Force Science Research Center sounds like a really cool outfit. I'll do a little research and find out more about them for y'all.


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