Friday, February 04, 2011

Law-Abiding Citizens, Armed

Sometimes the New South looks a lot like the old South, as reported by USA Today:

A Goodwater police officer shot a defendant twice inside the municipal courthouse Thursday after the man became unruly in response to a jail sentence, eyewitnesses said.

Struck by at least one bullet, the man, identified by witnesses as Brian Keith Ford, was taken by helicopter to the hospital at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, where he was in critical condition.

Court records show that Ford, 25, was due in court on a harassment charge filed by a neighbor who claimed he cursed at her in December after accusing her of talking to police about him.

The Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI) is investigating the shooting. The initial investigation indicates that the man attacked the judge and tried to forcibly obtain a firearm, according to a Bureau statement.

Eyewitnesses said the man was on crutches and became belligerent when Municipal Judge Carlton Teel sentenced him to jail on a misdemeanor harassment charge.

Attorney Bill Denson said Ford went for the judge's gun before being shot.

Denson said he was in the courtroom at the time of the shooting. Denson serves as a defense attorney in town, but he does not represent the man who was shot.

The defendant was in court on crutches after suffering from a broken hip several weeks ago, the attorney said.

After Teel pronounced Ford guilty, the defendant at first walked away from the bench, then turned around and approached and started yelling at the judge, Denson said.

"He was slinging that crutch over his head like a baseball bat," Denson said.

Kayla Talton said she was also in the courtroom. Talton said Ford was acting unruly but didn't attack anyone or try to take anyone's gun.

"He (Ford) didn't reach into his pockets or nothing. He had no firearm," Talton said.

Sara Williams said she was sitting in the front row when the man, whom she knew, got agitated after the judge fined him $800. He waved one of his crutches in the air.

"The police were hollering for him to get down" when an officer opened fire, she said.

Another woman who said she was in the courtroom at the time of shooting also disputes the official version of what happened.

"That man never went for no gun," Marion Allen said.

Digby commented

Unless the judge was wearing his gun over his robe or kept it on the top of the bench I don't see how this suspect could have known he had one to try to grab. But he was carrying a deadly weapon --a crutch. There was obviously no way that law enforcement could have done anything else but shoot into a crowded courtroom. Like tackle the man. Who was on crutches.

Assuming Kayla Talton, Sara Williams, and Marion Allen are correct, the Goodwater, Alabama, police officer seems to have overreacted, although without being there, seeing a full video of the incident, or at least hearing the details of a full investigation, no one can be sure.

But consider the alternative- that witness Bill Denson was accurate, that defendant Ford was in fact heading for the judge's gun.

The judges' gun. A sheriff's officer or, as in this case, a police officer: sensible. But what was the Judge doing with a firearm?

You've heard it yourself- the argument that we're all safer if we're all armed. A few decades ago, there was even a slogan: "when guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns."

No risk of that. Instead, we have in Goodwater the defender(s) of law enforcement arguing that the perpetrator was going for the gun. If, then, the police officer reacted appropriately by shooting a defendant who is now injured critically, he did so presumably because the Judge had a gun. If the Judge had no gun- even if Ford had lunged at him, which would have been less likely- shooting the defendant would have been unnecessary.

In Tucson on January 8, Joe Zamudio clicked off the safety of his 9-millimeter pistol, put his finger on the trigger, and prepared to shoot a man waving an armed individual standing above a young man squirming on the ground. Fortunately, he decided not to shoot the guy who had helped subdue Jared Loughner. As the legislative director of the Violence Policy Center put it, "What if someone with a concealed weapon was there and could stop this. Well there was, and he almost shot the wrong person."

Carlton Teel was thought to have a gun, the defendant wanted it, and was shot, in an incident which very likely would have ended more peacefully if it was thought that the police officer was the only armed individual in the Alabama courtroom.

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