Civil Liberties

Well, He Had Ignored the Unspoken Warning

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Last week a British inquest jury refused to exonerate the police who killed Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician mistaken for a terrorist, on a London subway train in 2005. Sir Michael Wright, the coroner overseeing the inquest, had instructed the jurors that the evidence did not support a finding that the shooting was unlawful, so the most they could do was issue an "open" verdict, meaning they could not reach a firm conclusion about the circumstances of De Menezes' death. But they rejected key elements of the government's case backing the police:

They concluded that one of the two officers who shot Mr. de Menezes had not shouted "armed police," as they testified, when they stormed the stationary subway car where Mr. de Menezes was sitting. A total of 17 civilian passengers on the train testified they heard no such warning before the officers fired.

The account of the two armed police officers, identified in court only by their code names, Charlie 2 and Charlie 12, was that the warning was ignored by Mr. de Menezes, who they said had stood up and walked toward them with his arms and hands in a position "consistent with someone who may be about to detonate a bomb hidden on their person or in a belt." They said his actions left them with no option, consistent with police procedures, but to shoot Mr. de Menezes in the head.

The jurors, in their answers to the judges' questions, said they had concluded that Mr. de Menezes had stood up, but that he had not moved toward the firearms officers, a finding that also tallied with the testimony of other passengers aboard the train.

Police shot De Menezes seven times in the head after following him as he left home for work in the morning, having mistaken him for a man suspected of trying to bomb a subway station. The jury faulted police for using fuzzy images to identify the suspect instead of the high-quality photographs in his immigration file and for failing to stop De Menezes before he entered the train.

Previous reason coverage of the case here, here, and here