Man said to have beaten himself to death in police custody: the sequel

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2014

We termed the lawyers’ arguments “creative,” but a jury apparently found something to be persuasive about them: it acquitted the two police officers in the beating death of homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas, and prosecutors are planning to drop charges against a third officer. [Los Angeles Times]

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Great moments in legal argument - Overlawyered
01.27.14 at 7:45 am

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1 Boblipton 01.15.14 at 3:55 pm

Now that they have been absolved of beating him to death, the police should sue the dead guy’s estate for damages, including mental anguish. Imagine how bad they felt finding him dead at his own hand!

Bob

2 William Nuesslein 01.16.14 at 8:18 am

Ever since the infamous Elinor Bumburs case 30 years ago, the problem of handling crazy people has been a subject of study by police departments.

Nothing worthwhile can be said about the subject by looking at any particular case, as Bob Lipton did. It’s a matter of exposure. Good training and policy can reduce the risk of a mortal confrontation, but it can’t completely eliminate it because one actor in these events is crazy. It’s like parents expecting their children to survive to adulthood. That expectation was unrealistic in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Lincoln’s lost a boy as did the Eisenhowers. Franklin Pierce’s son died in a derailment accident while on route to Pierce’s inauguration. In fact all three of Pierce’s children died in childhood. Even now mortality rates are not zero at any age. Stuff happens. I used to wonder how God chose which people would be picked to meet the mortality rates. It’s spooky.

The trouble with Lipton’s comment, and the same argument comes up every time there is tragedy of police killing an unarmed person (although Ms. Bumpurs had a butcher knife) is that statistical fluke fits the fact better than systematic failure. The number of cases are too few for the later theory.

3 Boblipton 01.16.14 at 10:32 am

Arguing “statistical fluke” is a false indicator. Statistical analysis doesn’t tell you why a particular incident occurred. Statistical analysis imposes a false veneer of rationality and inevitability over the entire spectrum of actions. Case-by-case analysis is messier, calls for judgment and is not infrequently wrong. It does Kelly Thomas no good that on average police are doing better.

Bob

4 William Nuesslein 01.17.14 at 9:41 am

Consider two Radium atoms. There is a well measured probability that either will set off an alpha ray in a given time interval. When one atom fires and the other doesn’t, Quantum Theory says that any explanation of why one did and the other didn’t is hokum.

To me, and it may only be me, an actuarial event has a random element in a similar way. Explanations of why did Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, did what he did seem to go round and round in circles. He was just a crazy guy. All kinds of blame was placed on George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. According to Mr. Guy, the prosecutor in Florida vs. Zimmerman, Martin was just a boy stalked by a scary white man. Martin was a tad under 18, but he was a fully grown athlete who had a 4 inch advantage over Zimmerman. And two men saw the boy grounding and pounding Zimmerman, but neither man pulled the boy off. My point is that people, like Lawrence O’Donnell, will spin cases for their anti-police bias. . One thing came through during the trial is that those who interacted with George Zimmerman liked the guy. He was a mensch. I suspect the charge of a man beating himself to death is as bogus as the stand your ground charge in the Zimmerman case.

5 Boblipton 01.17.14 at 2:38 pm

So what you’re saying, William, is that it doesn’t matter who. So let’s hold that you beat the fellow to death.

Bob

6 William Nuesslein 01.18.14 at 6:13 am

You presume that there has to be someone culpable for the man’s unfortunate demise. My point is that explanations for cases like this tend to go round and round and attempts to lay blame often cause gross injustice. In the Florida case there was absolutely no evidence that George Zimmerman was looking for a target. The Martin boy, not knowing that Zimmerman was armed, decided to punch Zimmerman in the nose, mount him, and beat him. The neighbors did not pull the boy off Zimmerman and the shot happened.

Although it was not part of the trial, Zimmerman said that the boy noticed the gun, At that point the second to get to the gun was in a heap of trouble.

The Amadou Diallo case was tragic as Eddy McMellon was within a step of grabbing Diallo when that young man kicked McMellon so hard that McMellon landed at the bottom of the steps leading into Diallo’s building. The kick set off the reactions that led to Diallo’s death. Why God didn’t let McMellon get to Diallo is beyond me. Holding the police culpable would have been unjust and the jury acquitted them. One of the jurors in that case could see no reason at all for Diallo’s actions.

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