Civil Liberties

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


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: