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When does police force turn excessive? - KOAM TV 7

When does police force turn excessive?

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Many of the protesters voicing concern against Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson say Wilson used excessive force against Michael Brown.  But the grand jury didn't see it that way.

We talked with Joplin Police officers and instructors at MSSU's Criminal Justice School.  None of them were near the scene of Brown's death, of course.  But they gave insight into what a police officer generally can and can't do.

The very men and women charged with protecting the law are protected by the law.

"The courts have been pretty clear that there is no bright line rule, no bright line statement, as to when force goes from being reasonable to being excessive," says Captain Matt Stewart with the Joplin Police Department.

Here's the base of explaining why a police officer should use force against a suspect:  It should be reasonable and necessary force to control a suspect.

"Is a taser a reasonable and necessary to control and stop a person from hurting someone else, now?  That's the case," says Mike Hulderman, an instructor at MSSU's Criminal Justice School.

Officer Wilson did not usually have a taser because he said it was uncomfortable to carry.  He had only a can of mace and a baton.  Wilson testified before a grand jury that Michael Brown physically attacked him while in his patrol car.  He considered using his mace and baton, but didn't want to sacrifice his left hand that was blocking Brown's hits.

"If the officer uses force that he believed was reasonable and necessary, based on his training experience, to control a subject, that's what we go by," says Hulderman.

Wilson pointed his gun at Brown, but Brown fought for the gun.

"Usually, the only time somebody is going for a weapon is because they want to use that weapon either against that officer or against somebody else," says Stewart.

Weapons aside, Wilson feared Brown's size and strength was deadly, comparing Brown to Hulk Hogan and himself as a five-year-old.  Wilson was the only officer on scene, and Brown kept going towards Wilson.

"The courts have been given guidance that they are not to basically Monday morning quarterback the officer, and not to look back with perfect twenty-twenty hindsight.  They are to look at what the officer knew at the time," says Stewart.

Wilson knew the time he was safe when he fired towards Brown's head, testifying to the grand jury that the demeanor on Brown's face went blank.  The aggression was gone.

"I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped."

Police cameras in Ferguson would have added another dimension to what happened.  Police departments across the country are realizing the increasing need for this type of technology.  All Joplin patrol cars will have cameras installed inside sometime next year.  The JPD is also working towards buying wearable cameras that will hopefully also be in use next year.

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