Police Abuse

For Want of a License Plate Light, A Life Was Lost

Followup on Montana Officer Grant Morrison's Killing of Richard Ramirez During Traffic Stop

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I wrote a couple of weeks back about Montana police officer Grant Morrison's shooting and killing of Richard Ramirez during a traffic stop, a shooting captured on publicly released video. My summation of what we saw in that post title: "Watch Montana Officer Shoot Man to Death, Then Yell Orders at Him, Then Call in Medical a Minute Later."

All the press reports merely discussed a "traffic stop." I noted in my original post that I could not see from the video any particular legal reason for the stop, nor did the officer mention one as he began harassing the people he's pulled over verbally. I have long been interested in the multiplication of petty reasons for police-citizen interactions to even begin, especially since they have such a tendency to end badly. (Fatally badly for citizen, but I'm sure even the officers aren't thrilled when they end up killing someone for no good reason.)

A bunch of irrelevant information about Ramirez's background, his having apparently had meth in his system, and his being, according to police, a suspect in a still-unsolved non-fatal shooting during a robbery the day before, was bandied about in the media and during the hearing over Morrison's shooting. That all likely lead to Morrison's being found not culpable in the shooting.

But Morrison himself testified that, although he did already know Ramirez from past run-ins with the law, he did not know Ramirez was in the car until he's pulled it over and began the fatal encounter .

So, from all press accounts I'd seen, I still didn't know why Morrison and Ramirez got into this situation where this tragic outcome happened. And most press didn't seem to care.

And the legal reason for the interaction that led to Ramirez's death, I was told today by a press representative of the Billings Police Department?

Equipment violation, license plate light.

These are the kind of excuses police have to stop us in our tracks and begin an interaction during which, if we make them uncomfortable or nervous, they can and will kill us, likely with no consequences.

My previous essay on the many dangers of petty law enforcement and how it causes the police's attention to focus on our lives, which discusses how unfortunate legal precedent combined with the vagueness of traffic law means we are all open to being stopped and questioned at any time for pretty much any reason the officer wants to use.

The video of the shooting:

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  1. Just ugh. Fuck.

  2. Come on, Brian. If you couldn’t spot the violation then maybe you should just stick to reporting on pot. These officers are out there to keep us safe.

    /Tulpa

    1. WE R WINNING HURRRR

    2. Here’s hoping you’re the next one shot by a steroid-crazed cop. Not fatally, you understand. Just paralyzed from the neck down so you can think about it for a long, long time.

  3. And the legal reason for the interaction that led to Ramirez’s death, I was told today by a press representative of the Billings Police Department?

    FYTW

  4. “But Morrison himself testified that, although he did already know Ramirez from past run-ins with the law, he did not know Ramirez was in the car until he’s pulled it over and began the fatal encounter.”

    OK, but did the cop, *after* coming up to the car, recognize that, hey, this guy in the backseat is a shooting suspect?

    1. At some point, there’s a strong chance that a shooting suspect is going to come in contact with the police. If it’s not a traffic stop, maybe it will be a cop recognizing the guy on the street, or getting a tip on his whereabouts.

      So what happens then? According to the inquest jury, the cop reasonably feared for his life. Maybe the jury was wrong – juries have been wrong before – but the burden would be on those assailing the verdict to point out what’s wrong.

  5. These are the kind of excuses police have to stop us in our tracks and begin an interaction which, if we make them uncomfortable or nervous, they can and will kill us, likely with no consequences.

    I’ve said this countless times. It makes it so that any interaction with a cop, for any reason, could conceivably end up with your death, and with no consequences for your killer. That’s a fucked up thing to have to worry about in what is supposed to be a civilized society.

    1. And the frightening spread of reason to trigger these interactions. Border checks out to 100 miles, cellphones, seatbelts, DUI checkpoints, “erratic driving,” etc.

      Maybe it would be better to just admit they can pull you over for no reason, stop and frisk you with no cause, and bust into your house and kill your dog on a whim… Naked totalitarianism FTW!

      1. I mean, they basically can. It’s just that, like quotas, they can’t and won’t just come out and say it. They have to keep the pretense up.

        1. And a shockingly high proportion of the citizenry helps keep the pretense. Police are, in the childish phrase, “the good guys”. And you don’t say anything negative about the good guys.

          I know this by reading comments on yahoo news stories about these incidents.

      2. “At what point, then, should one resist? When one’s belt is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner? When one crosses the threshold of one’s home? An arrest consists of a series of incidental irrelevancies, of a multitude of things that do not matter, and there seems no point in arguing about one of them individually…and yet all these incidental irrelevancies taken together implacably constitute the arrest. ”

        “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat.”
        ? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

    2. I’ve said this countless times. It makes it so that any interaction with a cop, for any reason, could conceivably end up with your death, and with no consequences for your killer. That’s a fucked up thing to have to worry about in what is supposed to be a civilized society.

      The logical conclusion of this moral universalism, which applies equally to everyone, leads to the righteous abolition of the state and all taxation. That’s a civilized society.

  6. What if a guy is deaf or retarded and is a moment too slow to react? Are we fine with a guy being shot over a license plate stop? Maybehe should not be pulling over people in desolate areas over a minor violation. Maybe make him drive to a more visible spot.

    1. Cleaning up the gene pool.

      1. Cleaning up the gene pool would involve the gun pointing in the opposite direction.

        The biggest, deadliest gang in America is “Law Enforcement”.

    2. In this particular incident, judging from the video, the cop could have told them to sit tight in the car, withdrawn a little, and waited for backup. If this guy was so dangerous, and you didn’t know if he was armed, why engage him ? If he tries to pull some shit while you are waiting, THEN you have a reason to engage.

      1. What, you want the cop to get home late for dinner?

      2. Something tells me that in the real world, if you have a violent suspect that you ID and they know you’ve ID’d, that the likelihood is for them to act violently given the opportunity. Leaving them sitting in a car, better able to access a weapon could provide that opportunity.

        I don’t know enough about this to have a legit opinion but as is often the case, it seems that H&R has managed to frame things in their utopian view of the world and not as things actually work in the street.

      3. Easier than that. Simply take a step or two back towards the rear of the car. Then the filthy pig could see them, but they couldn’t see him. Call for backup and wait.

    3. Actually, this happens quite a bit. Does anybody remember the spate of articles Reason did about diabetics getting mauled or killed by the police while in what amounted to a diabetic coma?

      If you do not IMMEDIATELY obey the fuckers, they will beat and/or kill you, end of story. Deaf, retarded, passed out, in a coma, already being murdered by somebody else, it doesn’t matter.

      Obey or die.

  7. All laws must be equally enforced, except when our union rep has a point to make.

  8. *whack*
    Taillight’s busted!

  9. OK – in this case, we’re dealing with a guy the police are looking for. So if they miss him at a traffic stop, they could still encounter him in some other context – maybe they get a call that he’s at such-and-such an address.

    This is going to be a volatile confrontation whether it’s a traffic stop or not.

    1. Agree that it is likely to be volatile. All the more reason to not escalate while you are alone.

      1. OK, but I was saying that if they hadn’t found him at a traffic stop, the cops could have found him somewhere else. Contrast a random passenger whose encounters with the cops will generally be in the form of traffic stops if at all.

        1. Not following. I get that Rodriguez was wanted, and presumably would have been found sooner or later. In this case, by chance. Once you know it’s him, and that he is a dangerous character, ordering him out of the car when you are alone seems like the wrong move. Keep your bright lights on the car, tell everyone to sit tight and call for backup. If you’re saying the cop wouldn’t have reacted as he did if it was just some random person, I get that.

          1. Like I say, I don’t *know* what happened, but I *do* know a jury cleared the cop. Maybe the jury was wrong, but I’d need some evidence. I won’t lightly assume that a panel of regular citizens was willing to wink at criminal homicide.

            1. evidence…if only there was some kind of record of the incident, with images and sound.

              the citizens wouldn’t wink at murder. but they might be ok with a cop taking out some scumbag who had it coming anyway.

              1. I’m pretty sure most juries would treat a mother of three shot down with her kids in the back seat after having a busted license plate light differently than a wanted guy with a record. Even though both the wanted guy and the mother of three have the same right not to be shot.

                What the cop actually knew, and when, is actually a critical issue, as it goes to whether he “reasonably” feared for his life.

          2. If it had been me, I would have ordered the driver to drop the car keys on the ground, out of the vehicle window, and stood by the car with my hand on my gun as I waited for back-up. I would NOT have indicated that I recognised the violent offender, or given any reason for the hold other than FYTW.

            Once back-up had arrived, I’d have ordered him out of the car, and dealt with the situation from there. It could have gotten violent, who knows?

            Regardless, Doherty is right. Police should not have these kinds of powers, or this many excuses to use them. Once again, we’re stuck using a shit example to prove a perfectly valid point.

            It’s Ferguson all over again. . .

    2. So tell us all about the gun the cops recovered. You know, the one the dead guy was reaching for.

      What? No gun?

      Well, hell. Maybe the pig’s JUDGEMENT WAS IMPAIRED. Maybe he WANTED to see a gun. Maybe he WANTED to KILL SOMEONE and this seemed a good opportunity.

      Highly unlikely this would have resulted in a killing if the pig had simply backed up to the rear of the car and waited for backup.

  10. I think consumers of motorways would prefer traffic safety officers instead of drug war/commerce clause enforcer cops. I know I would. But what else can you expect when your society pays for both roadways and security with the proceeds from extortion and theft. Consumer choice quite naturally isn’t a top priority.

  11. Here’s a hint: DON’T BE A CRIMINAL.

    1. Hint: You ARE a criminal.

      This guy got shot after the cop stopped the car for a license plate light being out. Is YOUR license plate light working? If you – CRIMINAL!

      Those who have surveyed Federal law estimate that the average person commits three felonies a day!

      http://www.amazon.com/Three-Fe…..1594035229

      https://reason.com/archives/200…..felons-now

      So now that we know YOU are a criminal, is it okay if the cops shoot you?

  12. This abusive pig should be fired and never allowed to work in law-enforcement again.

    It’s clear from his language that his goal is to intimidate and kill, not protect and serve.

  13. The whole point of petty traffic stops is to hassle and occasionally kill the riffraff.

  14. Well no wonder they shot and killed him, that will teach the public to pay more attention to their license plate bulbs.

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