“Shot in the back”
That’s the first thing that struck me about the curious case of Dane Scott Jr, the young man who was shot dead by Del City Police following a short car chase. Police can only use deadly force in the event that “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
It’s hard to see how a teenager with his back turned (and, as witnesses suggest, his hands up) could constitute a significant threat to an armed police officer. The release of Scott’s autopsy this week only deepens the questions surrounding this case. According to Del City Police Department Captain Jody Suit,
“When Scott exited the vehicle, he did have a firearm in his hand. There was an altercation between the officer and Scott. During the course of that, they both went to the ground. When they got back up, shots were fired. We’re not going to go into details, yet, on how many and where. Scott did run for a distance from that location, where he later fell down and died..”
The autopsy shows that Scott was shot with a taser dart and received significant blunt force trauma prior to his death. Not many people can pose much of a threat to anything after being hit with a taser. Witnesses report hearing 4 to 5 shots. The entire event smells like overkill.
The reactionary position is predictable. “Why take the side of a kid who engaged in a car chase with the police over that of an officer? Clearly he was up to no good.” The implication is that if you break the law, you deserve whatever you get. That sort of mentality has no place in a nation of laws. We don’t have the death penalty for traffic infractions, and we generally prefer judgements to be passed by juries.
It’s hard to say anything definitively. As someone will no doubt point out, I wasn’t there. The evidence is scant and much of it is in the care of the Del City Police Department, who the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has entrusted to investigate themselves. An independent investigation will be needed to sort this out. As State Senator Mike Shelton (D-Oklahoma City) said, “Witness and police accounts of the shooting are at odds, and local citizens will have a hard time accepting the word of the Del City Police Department when they are investigating one of their own. Even if the investigation is handled correctly, doubt will linger. To avoid having this situation turn into an even bigger controversy, I believe state officials should be put in charge.”
What does seem clear to me is that even if Dane Scott Jr. had a gun, even if he ran from the police, even if he was a 60-year-old felon with a rap sheet a mile long rather than a teenager engaged in criminal mischief, none of those things should warrant a death sentence.
As Scott’s uncle James Edward wrote on the family’s change.org petition page, “You can’t justify shooting a man with his hands up, he’s only a kid. He just turned 18. His whole life was ahead of him.”
Community activists will gather tonight at 6pm at 23rd and MLK to protest the shooting.