One of the issues raised by state lawmakers after the Michael Brown, Junior, shooting, was whether to change state law on the use of deadly force by law enforcement.
It says an officer can use that level of force against a fleeing suspect that has committed, or tried to commit, a felony, is trying to escape with a deadly weapon, or poses a danger to others. That doesn’t mesh with a 1985 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that deadly force can only be used to prevent a suspect from escaping when the officer believes the suspect poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
“The statute on the apprehension of a fleeing felon in the state of Missouri is unconstitutional and has been for quite some time,” said Dean Dankelson, the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney testifying on behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
Senators seem to agree, but there are differing opinions on how to fix it.
Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) wants to increase the standard an officer must meet from having a reasonable belief that deadly force is warranted, to having a probable cause: a higher standard that must also be met in order to obtain a search warrant, for example.
“You can just reasonably believe. That’s way too broad,” Nasheed told the committee about her bill (SB 42). “That’s why we’re adding probable cause in.”
“That’s the current standard and its referenced in our other statutes. I do want to make sure we don’t do something that causes more confusion,” Dixon said. “I have no problem doing that as long as we can make it very clear in the statutes.”
He says he and Nasheed are still talking. A third bill will be heard next week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored by Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City), and Dixon says the three will try to work out a compromise between the versions.
Pastor Ray Hagins with the Afrikan Village & Cultural Center in St. Louis told that committee those proposals aren’t going far enough. He says other states say an officer must think imminent danger to him- or herself, a partner, or the public, is present before using deadly force.
“If that’s not there, there’s nothing there to hold that officer back. That makes the officer judge, jury, and executioner,” Hagins said. “It’s not right for a law enforcement officer to use their weapon in an act of deadly force when there is no imminent threat to the officer.”
Representative Rochelle Walton Gray (D-Black Jack) has introduced a bill (HB 668) on the subject in the state House but it has not been referred to a committee.