Civil Liberties

Houston Officer Fatally Shoots "Threatening" Double Amputee Who Turned Out to be Holding a Pen


On Saturday a Houston, TX police officer fatally shot a mentally ill man in a wheelchair who had one arm and one leg. The victim was a resident of a group home and had a history of mental problems. The caretaker of the place was the one who called police at 2:30 am because the as-yet-unnamed man was causing a "disturbance."

Things are a bit fuzzy so far, since the incident is fresh, but the story is that the wheelchair-bound man somehow cornered one officer Matthew Jacob Marin, a 5-year veteran of the force, who has one previous fatal shooting in his career. The victim was threatening Marin, and in fear for his and his partner's life, the officer fatally fired. Marin is now on the traditional three-day administration leave.

This brings up a lot of questions, namely, how did Marin not realize that the man was waving what turned out to be a pen? And even if he didn't recognize it, and if the victim indeed ignored pleas to calm down and stop acting aggressive, how fast did the officer turn to using lethal force on a mentally ill man with half of his limbs missing? And how fast is too fast, considering that one party was an armed agent of the government, and the other was a wheelchair-bound double-amputee with mental problems?  

A spokeswoman for the department, who we can assume wasn't present at the incident, said the pen came "within inches to a foot" of the officer. Certainly someone in a wheelchair is capable of harming an officer, and an aggressively-thrust pen can do some damage, but it would be preferable that the officer were harmed while trying to do his job, namely, defuse the situation, rather than once again rely on officer safety as first priority. Anyone can prioritize their own safety over someone else's, if that is what cops are doing as well, what good are they? If cops have the power to use lethal, legal force, shouldn't that power come with an obligation to risk their safety and lives so that incidents like this don't happen?

The police spokeswoman said "The officer was forced into an area where he had no way to get out."

[Update at 11:52 pm]: Courtesy of the twitter of Robert Fellner, this CNN report that clarifies a few things about the shooting: Most importantly, the police officer who shot the man in the wheelchair was not the one cornered, but rather his partner was edged in " this darkened room" while being menaced by the pen-wielding double amputee. This makes the fact that the firing officer was unable to tell that the "weapon" was merely a writing implement more credible. Still, the story is bizarre and demands a lot more answers than the public may ever get. It's hard to fathom how the officer couldn't have used any of the myriad non-lethal means that should have been at his disposal.