PostHeaderIcon Was it Legal for Officers to Shoot the Unarmed Prison Escapee…in the Back?

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Read any news story about a cop who used deadly force against a suspect and you’ll find a long list of mostly negative statements in the following comments section. For example, the person who complained about theĀ  shooting and killing of escaped New York prisoner Richard Matt, who, by the way, was armed with a shotgun at the time he was shot. The commenter wrote, “In my mind Matt was murdered for the sake of sport.” They were speaking of THE Richard Matt, the murderer who killed his boss and dismembered his body before fleeing to Mexico where he killed another person.

Most people, though, understand that a convicted murderer/prison escapee holding a shotgun is a clear-cut definition of DANGER. So yeah, shooting Matt was a no-brainer (for most people).

But what about Matt’s escapee accomplice, convicted cop-killer David Sweat? When Sgt. Jay Cook encountered Sweat walking down a rural road near the Canadian border, what happened next is apparent. Sweat ran and the sergeant shot him twice in the back. Sweat was clearly unarmed and was running away, meaning there was no immediate physical threat to the trooper, right?

Well, under normal circumstances this would be true, that no threat was present. However, this was not a normal circumstance. First of all, Sweat and Matt were both convicted murderers and were both in prison serving life sentences. Next, and anyone who has followed this blog for a while already knows that officers may shoot a fleeing suspect if he has probable cause to believe the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others (more on this in a minute).

Sergeant Cook definitely had reason to believe that Sweat posed a significant threat to others because he’s a known killer, and because he’s an escaped convict on the run who’d likely harm others to remain free, if that’s what it took to avoid capture.

Also, in many areas, including New York, the law allows for deadly force when stopping a dangerous convict from escaping prison. Think about it for a moment. Those armed guards stationed in towers around the perimeters of prisons aren’t there simply to occupy space. In addition to keeping an eye on things from above, their duty is to stop any prisoner who makes it “across the fence.” That’s why corrections officers often practice their shooting skills on the range while perched in makeshift towers. They are the last line of defense between dangerous convicts and the public. The same applies to law enforcement officers when searching for prison escapees who made it past the fences and tower officers.

The 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner is the case that permits shooting fleeing suspects who pose a danger to others. Tennessee v. Garner also forbids the act when no threat is present. Clearly, though, an escaped murderer is a significant threat, armed or not.

Leaving Sweat and Matt for a moment, let’s apply this information to the case of the South Carolina officer, Michael Slager, who shot Walter Scott in the back while he, too, ran from a law enforcement officer. Scott was stopped for a minor traffic violation which is definitely not a threat to the officer or others. But Scott ran away. Well, running away from an officer does not pose a threat to anyone, including Officer Slager. Although, maybe having to chase someone would have been a threat to the heart of an out of shape officer, but no real threat legally speaking. Therefore, the officer who shot Walter Scott clearly acted outside the boundaries of the law. The shooting of Walter Scott was in no way, shape, form, or fashion, a justified action.

But shooting escaped killers David Sweat and Richard Matt? Definitely a no-brainer. They had to be stopped by whatever means it took to stop them.

Some have asked if officers would have shot the two escapees had they surrendered peacefully? Easy answer…No. I’ve been on several manhunts for prison escapees, including the escapes of viscous murderers, and not one of those ended with anyone shot, killed, or harmed in any way. A few ended at the electric chair, but that’s a different story.


PostHeaderIcon 8 Facts About Detectives You’re Probably Not Getting Right

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Have you ever wondered what real-life investigators think about your detective characters? Well…

1. On their days off, fictional detectives enjoy…wait, those guys never have any down time. None.

In the world, the one on the outside of your book covers, all cops have regularly scheduled days off. Sure, they’re sometimes forced to work during their weekends, especially when emergency situations arise, but not for 300 straight pages days.

2. Make-believe investigators are suspended from duty at least once per story, yet they continue to work their cases. Is there a writer anywhere in this world who truly understands the definition of suspension? I’m kidding, of course. However, just in case… Suspension: to force someone to leave their job temporarily as a form of punishment. A police officer may not carry out/perform the duties of a police officer while on suspension.

The punishment (suspension) is typically ordered because the detective did something severely wrong, which, by the way, is a rare occurrence. Therefore, continuing to work a case while suspended certainly will not win him/her any favors with the higher-ups. In fact, to do so is the equivalent of disobeying a direct order, a cause for termination.

3. Imaginary detectives, and bad guys, have the remarkable ability to render someone unconscious by striking them on the back of the head with any handy object, such as books, candlesticks, sticks, rocks, heel of the hand, fists, pillows, marshmallows, feathers, and/or guns of any type.

People, it’s time to come up with a new tactic, because this one is old, stale, and dusty. Besides, a “hit to the back of the head” rarely works in real life. I’ve seen people, me included, struck with baseball bats and they never lost consciousness. And, to add insult to injury, the blow merely makes those folks as mad as wet hens (whatever that means). If the whack is hard enough to get the job done the injury it caused would truly be a serious one. Therefore your hero won’t be popping back up right away to handcuff anyone. Instead, a visit to the hospital would be in order.

4. Marriage is practically taboo in crime fiction. Rarely do fictional law enforcement officers enjoy the company of live spouses. Yes, some are haunted by the tormented spirits of dead husbands or wives, but not living, breathing people. I suppose it’s easier to write a tale about a person who’s single, but cops in the real world do indeed marry, and some do so four or five times since the job truly can wreak havoc on married life.

5. Pretend cops are the straightest shootin’ folks on the planet. Why, they can use their sidearms to part the hair on a gnat from a distance of a hundred yards or more. The embarrassing reality, though, is that many cops barely shoot well enough to earn a qualifying score on the range. And the business of shooting a gun or knife from the hands of bad guys? Forget it. Doesn’t happen. Not today and not tomorrow. Even if the officer could hit such a small target, especially while it’s moving, is not what they’re trained to do, which is to shoot center mass.

6. A popular theme in Fictionland is to have a detective going off on his own to do something that’s totally against the orders of the chief or sheriff. In reality? Nope. To do disobey the orders of a chief or sheriff (especially a sheriff), well, the detective would quickly find himself filling out job applications for a new line of work. Simply put, cops follow the orders of their superiors.

7. After a quick look at the body of a murder victim the pretend gumshoe is often able to determine the caliber of bullet that ended the poor guy’s life. No. It is not possible to know the bullet size based on a glance at a wound. Many factors could affect the wound size and shape—angle of impact, velocity, etc. Even when spent casings are found nearby it’s still not safe to assume those were the rounds that killed the victim. A really good guess, yes. Without a doubt, no.

8. Fictional detective I. M. Thebest decides to change jobs so he has drinks with the chief from a city 300 miles away, where the action is greater and the liquor is cheaper, to discuss the opportunity. The two agree on the move and Det. Thebest is immediately scheduled start work as top detective in the new city. Two weeks later he begins his new career and fits in perfectly. Magically, he knows the area, all the usual suspects and their hangouts…

Stop. This is just too silly. No, this sort of thing does not happen in the real world. As a rule, detectives do not transfer as detectives to another department, especially as the head person in charge. Instead, if, for some reason they elect to switch departments they’d need to start over again as patrol officers. And, in most places they’d need to attend at least some training before hitting the streets. To vary from this would be unfair to the officers who’ve paid their dues and have been waiting for the promotion or move to the detective division.


There you go, eight pet peeves of many cops who read used to read your books. Remember, though, you’re writing fiction and that means you can make up stuff. Therefore, when deviating from the reality of police work it’s a must that you give the reader a proper reason to suspend what they know is the truth. This is especially so if you want cops to enjoy your work along with your other fans.

So, if you want your make-believe, specially-skilled detective to transfer from one department to another as their chief of detectives, then a quick meeting of city council to approve the move would be all that’s needed to make it so. See how easy it is?

Oh yeah…NO cordite, unless you’re writing historical fiction.


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