Friday, July 06, 2007

Officer Involved Shooting: Possible or Not Possible?

The Canadian papers are full of the coroner's inquest that is going on today in the case of Constable Paul Koester, who shot and killed a mill worker named Ian Bush in Houston, a small British Columbia town.

Here's how it went down. Police had received reports of a rowdy crowd outside a hockey rink. Constable Koester responded and found Bush with a beer in hand. Bush gave two false names to police and was arrested. He was transported to a booking area and that's where the story gets confusing.

Koester says Bush grabbed him from behind with a choke hold, and he retrieved his service sidearm and whipped Bush on the head with it, and a shot was fired killing Bush. The shot entered the back of Bush's head.

Cleared after an internal RCMP investigation, a coroner's jury was impaneled. And that's where the story gets squirrely.

The RCMP blood spatter expert says that it happened just like like Koester says it did.

The family summoned their own expert witness over objections, one Constable Slemko, a 21 year veteran of the Edmonton Police Department and who seems to have a sideline in testifying as an expert in murder cases.

Slemko, whose own department does not use him as a forensics specialist and who has never been promoted in 21 years, insisted that Koester's version of events was impossible.

You either believe the officer or you believe the family and friends. There's no middle ground here. Is it, or is it not possible to shoot someone in the head when they've got you in a chokehold?

The friends Ian Bush was partying with say he wasn't drunk, but it appeared he'd had at least seven beers or so before the incident. The entire episode sounds like one that's repeated on a regular basis here in the states. Rowdy party, beer bottles being tossed, and police have to come and clean up the mess.

The matter is now in the hands of the coroner's jury.

I bring this up only to point out that even the most routine police procedure with a seemingly compliant person can spiral into a fight to the death in a split second. Always be aware of your distances and make sure that the detainee is restrained. It's even better to have another officer or jailer present at booking.

I always wondered about stories where a seemingly innocent defendant was shot, until I watched a video where a guy who was only going to be stopped for speeding led police on a wild chase that resulted in him being fatally shot by police as he rammed his truck into other cars.

People are capable of anything, including those things that family members would never believe of them in a million years.


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