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Legal Experts Weigh-in on Litigation for Officer-Involved Shootings

June 26, 2017 11:21 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Nearly two weeks after a jury found former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty in the shooting death of Philando Castile, legal experts talked about the difficulties litigating cases against police officers.

Defense attorney David Liebow and former Olmsted County prosecutor Ray Schmitz agree that it can be hard to bring charges against a police officer who shoots someone in the line of duty, and even harder for a jury convict them.

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"Even though everyone gets the same presumption of innocence, one has to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to be convicted in our criminal justice system," Liebow said. "As a practical matter, people don't throw away that perception of police officers when they walk into the courtroom as the defendant."

"They're obviously getting a lot more publicity. The presence of cell phone video, the presence of police body cameras, they make their visibility much higher," Schmitz said.

A Minnesota state statute specific to police officers allows them to pull the trigger if they fear for their life.

A study published in April by Bowling Green State University found that from 2005 to April 2017, 80 police officers had been arrested in the United States for murder or manslaughter stemming from a fatal on-duty shooting. Of those 80 officers, 28 were convicted, 31 were not convicted and another 21 were pending.

"The law is fairly deferential to officers and the judgment they have to use, and it's one of the reasons that you don't see a lot of convictions," Liebow said.

Which protects former police officers like Yanez, former Milwaukee officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown and Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, all of whom were found not guilty.

"These situations hopefully will lead to public discussion and the opportunity of the public to suggest appropriate remedies and ask the government officials to make sure that their interests are seen," Schmitz said.

Rochester for Justice President Kamau Wilkins said changes need to be made to the way use-of-force laws are written.

"If our law states that under any circumstance a police officer can use deadly force if he fears for his life, then that alleviates the continuing use of force, deadly use of force," Wilkins said. "It makes it so there is no requirement for a police officer to be trained in any real way, in any rational way to utilize those gradations of use of force."


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Logan Reigstad

Copyright 2017 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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