If Officer Aaron Dean is guilty of
murder, what’s next? Should we charge doctors with murder when they make
mistakes and someone dies? Is professional malpractice really now a
strict liability offense for murder whenever someone dies?
So is the new standard that whenever a cop — even just mistakenly — shoots a citizen while doing his job, it’s murder?
If so, then let’s be very clear what the natural consequence will be: cops will be less likely to do their jobs.
Really, would you want to be a cop?
You get a call at 2:30 in the morning. Adrenaline running. You hear something. You overreact. You shoot. You kill an innocent.
To be sure, Dean violated police policy by failing to
identify he was a police officer when he suddenly saw someone —
Jefferson — standing on the other side of the window. It is unclear
whether in that split second he saw she had a gun. Either way, his
violation was deadly.
In the old days, when police had license to do anything,
nothing would have happened to Dean. There would be no consequence. That
was, of course, wrong.
But the pendulum has swung so far that today — because of
a mistake with no ill intent — Dean is charged with murder. He went
from being on patrol looking for a bad guy to being the bad guy in a
That too is wrong. Very wrong.
The proper consequence should be you lose your job. You
violated policy. You made a mistake. You were negligent in doing your
job, and it cost a life.
You — and your employer the police department — may also
be sued civilly for the mistake. Prepare for a big-money judgment
But losing your job and suffering financial penalty is one thing. Losing your liberty is another.
Absent ill intent, an officer should, at most, be charged
with manslaughter, the standard of which is usually gross indifference
But murder for an on-duty officer, like Dean this past
weekend, for screwing up on the job? And perhaps piling on civil rights
claims, as if an officer at 2:30 a.m. can make out race in a split
second through a window, and then fire purposefully because of it?
Dean’s case is particularly bad — meaning he should lose
his job, not his liberty — because reports now state that Jefferson,
scared the cop outside was an intruder, pointed a gun at him from inside
the window. With a gun pointed at him at 2:30 in the morning, he made a
split second, tragic decision.
You might, too, in that situation, no matter your color.
The truth of the matter, which we will never know, is that had Dean not
fired, Jefferson might have shot him, fearful he was an intruder.
My goal is not to absolve all cops. As with any
profession, there are rogue cops who cross lines. Murder charges for
cops might at times be justified, as we sadly know here in Chicago.
But Dean’s case is not one of them.
If Dean is guilty of murder, what’s next? Should we
charge nurses and doctors with murder when they make mistakes and
someone dies? How about a firefighter who drives the truck too slow? Or
the construction manager of the building in New Orleans that collapsed
and killed a worker inside?
Is professional malpractice really now a strict liability offense for murder whenever someone dies?
As for the racial overlay, there is, sadly, enough racism
in this world we don’t need to go looking and manufacture more. We
don’t eviscerate our country’s sad racist history by charging white cops
with murder every time they shoot a person of color.
The logical consequence of all this will be police won’t
get out of their cars, what some call the “Ferguson effect.” Like you,
almost all of them just want to do their jobs and go back to their
But if in doing their dangerous job they risk going to
jail for murder when screwing up, good luck recruiting cops. Don’t
complain when they stay in their cars. There’s way too much downside to
And as a result, we will all be less safe.
William Choslovsky is a lawyer in Chicago.
Genius. Finally some balance and perspective. Why it takes a lawyer from Chicago to provide is besides me, but at least some perspective.