“Court Case Friday”
In 1983, my colleagues and I in the OC District Attorney’s Office evaluated a heartbreaking, tragic case.
Stanton Police received a 911 call complaining about suspicious noises coming from an “empty” apartment where a single woman lived with her 5-year-old son. The caller was also worried that the boy had not been seen for days.
Rookie Officer S was dispatched to the apartment. It was night. The apartment was in a “high crime,” “gang infested,” “anti-police” area.
Officer S knocked on the door, but no one answered. The dispatcher contacted the apartment manager, who unlocked the door.
Officer S entered holding a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. He heard noises coming from the back bedroom. He called out, but there was no reply.
Afraid that he might be walking into a trap, Officer S kicked in the bedroom door. The only light and noise came from the TV.
Suddenly, Officer S saw a figure hiding behind the bed, pointing a gun at him. Officer S fired. When he turned on the lights, he saw the bloody body of a 5-year-old boy holding a toy pistol.
The mother had left her son at home alone while she went to work because she couldn’t afford a babysitter. Apparently, as the officer entered, the boy was terrified and pointed his toy gun to protect himself.
This was a very difficult case. Should the mother be prosecuted for child neglect and endangerment? Should the officer be charged with murder or manslaughter? Or both?
The DA’s Office wisely presented the case to a grand jury to get a “community” evaluation. The grand jury declined to indict either the mother or the officer.
The mother sued the city, police department, and officer for $20 million for wrongful death.
The officer sued the police department for $25 million for inadequate training.
The mother settled her lawsuit. The city paid her $395,000, and she moved to Chicago. The lawsuit against Officer S was dismissed.
Officer S underwent psychiatric treatment and retired on disability. He received $25,000 in Worker’s Compensation. He settled his lawsuit for $20,000 and retained the right to carry a concealed firearm.
This heartbreaking case was featured on “Hill Street Blues” and “CBS 60 Minutes.”
We all felt sorry for the officer, the mother, and especially the frightened little boy.
Guns: Real, Replica, Toy?
Sadly, there have been dozens of cases where an officer shoots someone holding a toy gun or replica firearm. This tragedy sometimes leads to civil unrest and/or riots.
In the “real world” officers do not have time to ponder whether the gun is real or fake. This is a life-and-death scenario. Hesitation could cost the officers and others their lives.
Currently, most toy guns have brightly colored markers to identify them.
Horribly, some companies are making real guns that look like toys. In addition, criminals are painting real guns, and using 3-D printers, to make real guns look like toys. This puts police officers in a terrible position.
(“This Company Made Real Guns That Look Like Lego Toys,” Abdullah Nasir, Wonderful Engineering, 15 Jul 2021; “Officer Kills Boy, 5, Holding Toy Gun,” “The Daily Mirror,” 21 Mar 2013; “Worker’s Compensation for Officer Who Killed Boy 5,” New York Times, 3 Oct 1983.)