Police Abuse

Camera-Shy Cops Can Relax

The exoneration of the officer who killed Zachary Hammond shows police have strong defenses against viral videos.


FBI Director James Comey says cops are reluctant to do their jobs because they worry that their actions will be captured on camera. Judging from the official response to the shooting of Zachary Hammond, they have little to fear.

Speaking at the University of Chicago Law School last month, Comey said police officers "in today's YouTube world" are afraid to get out of their cars, lest they face camera-wielding bystanders intent on recording them. He warned that good policing could "drift away from us in the age of viral videos" as cops refrain from confronting suspicious characters.

"I spoke to officers privately in one big-city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars," Comey said. "I've been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video."

You might wonder what exactly cops would do if they were sure they were not being recorded, or why they are so worried that practices Comey thinks are essential to public safety would be fodder for viral videos. But the truth is that cops rarely face serious consequences even when they star in videos that appall the average YouTube viewer.

To understand why, consider last week's exoneration of the police officer who shot and killed Hammond, an unarmed 19-year-old, in Seneca, South Carolina, on July 27. Last week 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams said Lt. Mark Tiller was justified in using lethal force because Hammond was trying to run him over. But that is not what the dashcam video of the encounter—which was not released until last week, three months after the shooting—seems to show.

Police planned to arrest Hammond's date, 23-year-old Tori Morton, whom an undercover cop had lured to a Hardee's parking lot by pretending to be a pot and cocaine buyer. Morton was sitting in the front passenger seat of Hammond's Honda Civic as Lt. Mark Tiller approached the driver's side with his gun drawn, shouting, "Hands up! Put 'em up! Stop! Stop! Stop! I'm gonna shoot your fucking ass!"

Hammond, who was already backing up as Tiller approached the car, continued on his way, making a sharp left so he could pull out of the parking lot. Tiller ran into the path of the car, then backed up to avoid being hit.

When Tiller fired the first shot, which entered Hammond's chest through the left side, he was no longer in the car's path. Tiller fired a second shot, which hit Hammond in the back, as Hammond was moving past him. There is no indication that Hammond aimed the car at Tiller, and Tiller was not in danger of being struck when he fired those two rounds. 

 "The video viewed at full speed, standing alone, is troublesome," Adams conceded in the letter explaining her decision. She probably meant troubling, but the slip is revealing: The video, viewed at any speed, is indeed troublesome—that is, inconvenient—if you are determined to conclude that Tiller reasonably believed killing Hammond was the only way to avoid death or serious injury.

Adams managed that feat, despite the video and autopsy evidence to the contrary, by emphasizing how quickly Tiller killed Hammond. "Lt. Tiller had seconds to make this decision," she said. "The law prohibits viewing Lt. Tiller's decision to use deadly force from the perspective of a 'Monday morning quarterback.'"

As in the case of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was killed in Cleveland last year because someone saw him playing with an Airsoft pellet gun, the officer's hastiness counts in his favor, and the recklessness of his approach does not figure in his legal culpability. These are the sort of breaks you can expect if you have a badge as well as a gun, and they are a pretty strong defense against viral videos.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Germany’s Gestapo and SS Protection Squadrons, like the religious death squads that once roamed Latin America (and today dominate the Middle East), operate under the unlimited protection Lysander Spooner bristled under. The Democratic and Republican parties, like Germany’s National Socialists, worship altruism, Jesus and the initiation of deadly force at every excuse. Since Nixon’s campaign subsidies became effective, their televangelists dominate the airwaves, and their prosecutors and judges are God’s Holy Inquisition. If they torture and murder Americans and foreign Mohammedans with equal dispatch, it is because the parties that sign the laws and write their paychecks have instructed them to kill the avatars of Satan without hesitation or fear of reprisal. Were a posse comitatus to restrain them from a single murder, they will eagerly kill every man, woman and child in their path, gleefully whooping “terrorist!”

  2. SSolicitor Chrissy’s letter alleges there was absolutely no surveillance or phonetaps. The kids accidentally sent a text message abt “the good” to an unnamed glossolalian trooper–sheer coincidence. She explains: “Tiller back pedals a few steps to avoid being knocked down by Hammond’s car and is seen pushing off the vehicle as it veers towards him. … Two shots are fired in rapid succession. The first shot can be heard almost immediately after Tiller pushes off the car and when his body is still exposed to danger from the vehicle.” That is what the video subjectively showed Chrissy Adams. Furthermore, “The second shot immediately follows.” (The miracle of the passive voice). Chrissy watched police narc McClure and Seneca policeman Tiller murder a youngster. She either abetted or understood what was in store for her were she to recommend they be prosecuted. That is justice by initiation of deadly force that the citizens of Seneca voted for and “both parties” delivered.

  3. Our only hope is that there’s a special level of hell reserved for killer cops and prosecutors and politicians who enable them, because there’s no justice in this lifetime.

    Hopefully it’s the same level as the one for child molesters and people who talk at the movies.

    1. Relying on a mythical afterlife to punish these people is giving up. These assholes need a mob to show up at the court house and lynch the officer and the judge. Also something about wood chippers.

  4. Somewhat OT: Illinois police officer Lt. Charles Gliniewicz killed self in staged murder

    So, still killed by a criminal and we don’t have to give up the ‘War on cops!’ narrative, right?

    1. Reason’s too quick for me!

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  6. The split second decision is not, “Will I be hurt if I do not fire my gun?” The decision is, “Will my suspect get away if I do not fire my gun?” Police have shown repeatedly how they answer that question: if you try to get away, and especially if you are black, the officer will shoot you.

    As you indicated in the article, what is genuinely disturbing for a YouTube viewer is routine for a police officer. From their point of view, letting someone escape is far worse than pulling the trigger.

    In this case, the police officer did not have to draw his gun as he approached the car. His initial words show he was hyped up from the first second. They are also words that would make most people panic, or act impulsively.

  7. “You might wonder what exactly cops would do if they were sure they were not being recorded”

    1) Unconstitutional searches/planting evidence
    2) Threaten and/or assault you
    3) Shoot your dog because it makes them hard
    4) Decide that your lack of immediate compliance with all “requests” needs to be addressed with lethal force

  8. Our dept policy forbids us from wearing our own body cams and they won’t issue them 🙁

    Roll call poll: 70% of officers said we would prefer to wear bodycams

    Most of the preferrers said we would volunteer to pay for them (hey tax deductible!!!) ourselves even!

    1. Dude, this account – you exposed yourself as nothing more than a sock puppet. You responded to your own post criticizing Dunphy. Nothing ambiguous about it. Give up the act.

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  10. saying they don’t want to be filmed isn’t that different than saying they don’t want witnesses period. the only redeeming quality about witnesses to them is that they can bring up stuff from their past, trip them up on the stand, or undermine the fragile nature of the human memory. they wouldn’t mind cameras if they could somehow impeach them.

  11. also, i love how according to comey and those he quotes, that the problem isn’t that cops won’t do their job out of potential embarrassment, but rather than the public seeing more clearly how they do that job. the logic of power, i guess.

  12. Honest cops love being recorded. They are respectful, caring and never use excessive force, but you won’t hear about them in Reason because it’s always focused on the other 99% of them. The bias is sickening.

    1. Not sure if serious…

    2. Links to other sources talking about these cops that love the camera, please. Seriously.

  13. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
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  14. Why is it that the people in power can so easily say, “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide,” and then proceed to try to hide what they do?

    Like the last gun shop in San Francisco that closed down recently rather than comply with extreme video surveillance–would the San Francisco politicians and cops like to have that level of video surveillance in their own offices? They work for the people after all–the public has a right to know what they do more so than a transaction between a privately-owned gun shop and a private citizen…

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  16. Funny how, when it’s primarily the left at fault, Reason is happy to identify them as such. When it’s the right, though, and its polices, as is so often the case with police abuse? Not a word.

    Reason, dear, you became increasingly less credible as you increasingly became a reflexive, sock puppet for the right.

  17. So an unarmed 19 year old can be blatantly murdered by a police officer who lies baldly about the danger the latter was in, it’s on video, and the officer is not tried and convicted? Strong, federal rules on the use of deadly force by police are long overdue.

    1. Quentin Tarantino got it wrong, how?

  18. “The law prohibits viewing Lt. Tiller’s decision to use deadly force from the perspective of a ‘Monday morning quarterback.'” Does the law also prohibit viewing any citizen’s actions from the perspective of Monday morning quarterback or is that yet another prerogative granted solely to the controllers of the unwashed?

  19. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
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