According to the Guardian’s The Counted, a crowd-sourced project which keeps track of the deaths of U.S. citizens at the hands of police officers, 1,146 people were shot and killed in 2015, 229 of them were unarmed.
This data, as well as similar projects run by the Washington Post and even a pilot program rolled out by the U.S. Justice Department at the end of 2015, give people direct insight into the number of just and unjustified U.S. police shootings.
A joint study conducted by the Washington Post and Bowling Greene State University revealed that for every 1,000 citizens killed by U.S. police, only 1 officer will ever be convicted of a crime. The study was a ten year sample, ranging from 2005 to 2015.
Political and social differences aside, unjustified U.S. police shootings are a yearly occurrence, and technological advancements have made it easier to fit the pieces of these cases together. With that, here’s a look at the ten most unjustified police shootings in U.S. history.
10. Sean Bell
Soon to be married Sean Bell held his bachelor party at Club Kalua on November 25, 2006 in Queens, New York. Undercover police officers were in the area due to accusations that the owners of the Kalua nightclub were running a prostitution ring.
Bell’s friend, Joseph Guzamn, stood outside the nightclub and appeared to have an argument with another man, which prompted Guzman to reportedly say “Yo, get my gun,” as Guzman, Bell and other friends walked towards their cars.
A nearby undercover officer, Gescard Isnora, heard what took place and alerted his team. While armed, Isnora and his team approached Bell and his two friends who were already inside the car. According to Isnora he took out his badge and identified himself as a police officer, which contradicts what would later be said by Joseph Guzman, who said Isnora and his officers did not identify themselves.
Sean Bell steps on the gas and side swipes Isnora while hitting another vehicle. Isnora believes Bell has a weapon drawn and alerts his team. The five officers fire no less than 50 bullets into Bell’s car. Bell was hit with four bullets in the neck and torso. Guzman was shot 19 times but would later survive. The third man, Benefield, was shot three times and also survived.
Bell’s autopsy showed that he was intoxicated, while officer Isnora also had a few beers, but was “fit for duty” according to former Police Commissioner Kelly. After three of the officers, including Isnora, were brought up on charges including first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter and reckless endangerment, their eventual trial concluded on April 25, 2008, with all counts being acquitted.
9. Brendon Glenn
Officers Clifford Proctor and Jonathan Kawahara received a call about a homeless man harassing restaurant customers at Windward Avenue near the Venice Boardwalk shortly before midnight on May 5, 2015. Approaching the slurred-speaking man, later identified as Brendon Glenn, the officers were able to get the man to walk away from the restaurant and decided not to arrest him.
Glenn then approached a nearby bar and began yelling obscenities at its patrons. This time, the officers decided to arrest him. As officer Kawahara grabbed his arms, Glenn resisted by pulling away. Video footage that would later become paramount in this case since neither officer’s body cameras were on during the shooting, shows Kawahara pulling Glenn by his hair and getting Glenn on the ground. With arms flailing, officer Clifford Proctor steps back and shoots Glenn once in the back, and, under the assumption that Glenn was on heavy drugs and did not feel anything, shot him once more, fatally wounding the 29-year-old.
Proctor’s justification was “I saw … his hand on my partner’s holster.” His official statement was later contradicted by the surveillance video, in addition to his own partner’s statements, who told investigators he did not feel a tug by Glenn towards his holster, and did not feel threatened. Security footage that caught the incident on camera has yet to be released.
LAPD’s Chief Charlie Beck called the shooting ‘unjustified’ and recommended criminal charges be filed against Proctor. Pursuing criminal charges against Proctor would make it the first criminal case against an on-duty LAPD officer in over 15 years. Brendon Glenn’s family is also following through with lawsuits against the LAPD.
8. Henry Glover
31-year-old Henry Glover, resident of Algiers, New Orleans, located near the bank of the Mississippi river, was shot in the chest with a .223 rifle near a local strip mall four days after Hurricane Katrina on September 4, 2005.
Glover was shot by then rookie NOPD officer David Warren for believing that Glover carried a weapon and was attempting to rush in on his position on the second story balcony of the strip mall was patrolling.
Glover’s brother, sister and neighbor, William Tanner, not knowing what occurred, drove Glover to Habans Elementary School to seek medical attention. The school was filled with SWAT officers, who pulled the two men over. Not knowing how their brother and friend had been shot, the two men were then handcuffed and allegedly beat by the officers.
Photo evidence provided by the defense later revealed that Glover had already been deceased by the time they arrived at the school. Officer Greg McRae drove the 2001 Chevrolet Malibu to a levee near the Mississippi, down the street from a NOPD office, and set the car on fire with body of Henry Glover still inside the trunk of the car.
On March 31, 2011 David Warren was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for committing manslaughter with a firearm, but was eventually acquitted of all charges on December 2013 despite Glovers death eventually being ruled a homicide. Greg McRae was sentenced to 17 years in prison on obstruction of justice. His case is ongoing
7. James Boyd
On the evening of March 16, 2014, homeless man James Boyd, 38, held a knife atop the foothills of the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the middle of a four hour standoff with two armed Open Space officers, an APD officer and a K-9 unit.
Boyd was adamant about staying in his illegal camping spot. But finally agreeing to let the officers take him in, he says “I’m going to try and walk with you.” … “I’m worried about safety. I’m not a fucking murderer.”
After packing his belongings and tucking his knife in his left pocket, video footage of an officers body camera shows one officer quickly saying “Do it.” Officer Keith Sandy then throws a flash-bang grenade at Boyd’s feet. The trio rushes Boyd with the K-9 in lead. Officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez began ordering Boyd to get on the ground. Boyd appears to drop the knife.
Both officers miss their taser shots. The K-9 gets mixed up with one of the taser marks and panics. Boyd slightly raises his hands and begins to turn around and is met with three of six live rifle rounds shot by the two officers in question, one of whom can be heard saying “Booyah!” Boyd is seen still holding onto the knife while laying face down between a mound of rocks. The officers then shoot three bean bag rounds into his back and decide to release the dog, clamping down on Boyd’s leg.
Boyd’s final words in the video footage were “Please don’t hurt me” … “I can’t move.” After receiving a bullet in each arm and in the back, doctors were unable to save Boyd’s life after amputating an arm and removing pieces of his lung and spleen. Officers Keith sandy and Dominique Perez are both facing criminal charges including second-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Their trial begins September 12, 2016.
6. Akai Gurley
After 18 months on the job, rookie NYPD officer’s Peter Liang and Shaun Landau entered the Louis H. Pink Housing complex in lower East New York, Brooklyn on November 20, 2014. The officers were performing vertical patrols of the buildings stairwells, despite a commanding officer telling other officers in the area to perform exterior policing around the housing projects instead.
After realizing the elevator was out of order, Akai Gurley and his girlfriend entered the 7th floor stairwell just below the officers around 11 P.M. The 28-year-old was visiting his girlfriend to have his hair braided before Thanksgiving. Officer Liang pushed open the door to the stairwell using the same hand that was carrying his 9mm Glock.
The officer then accidentally discharged his weapon, not knowing about Gurley or his girlfriend’s presence. The single bullet ricochet off the opposing wall and struck Gurley in the chest, causing him to flee two flights of stairs before collapsing to his death, as supported by the crime scene footage.
Officer Liang was fired from the NYPD after being found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct, but will serve no jail time. “Instead of shining a light, he pointed his gun and shot Akai Gurley,” stated Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis in his closing argument. Liang maintained that “I just turned, and the gun went off.”
5. Oscar Grant
In the early morning of New Years Day, 2009, officers from the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department (BART) received multiple calls of a fight involving up to 20 people on a train arriving from the West Oakland Station. Oscar Grant along with eight friends were traveling from the San Francisco port to Fruitvale station.
Officers Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici arrived on the scene and removed Grant and his friends from the train to detain them on the platform. Officer Pirone handcuffed one of Grant’s friends and sat the others down against the wall. Witnesses say Pirone was the instigator, even yelling out at one point “Bitch-ass nigger, right?” According to Pirone, he was parroting an insult that Grant had yelled at him. After confirming with the train operator that these were the men involved in the altercation, five other BART officers arrive on the scene, including officer Johannes Mehserle.
Video evidence covered multiple angles of what was to soon unfold. The officers begin to handcuff Grant’s friend to his left, and then Grant himself. Sitting on his knees, Grant can be seen talking to the officers, where some witnesses claim he was asking not to be tased. After shouts from the onlooking crowd, officers Pirone and Mehserle attempted to detain Grant. Grant resisted being placed on his stomach and both officers can be seen having difficulty getting the 22-year-old on his stomach and in handcuffs.
That’s when officer Johannes Mehserle pulls his gun, a SIG Sauer P226, and fires a single shot into Oscar Grant’s back. Facing murder charges, Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2014 and served two years in jail. The death was considered involuntary likely due to the fact that witness claims supported Mehserle’s original assertion, which is that he thought he was reaching for his taser. The incident sparked a flurry of protests and even inspired the movie “Fruitvale Station.”
4. Danziger Bridge
As one of the most shocking civil rights cases in New Orleans history, the Danziger bridge incident occurred as follows.
Days after Hurricane Katrina, on September 4, 2005, four plain-clothes New Orleans police officers drove a Budget rental truck onto the Danziger bridge. The officers were Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon.
Lining up with AK-47’s and M4 Carbine assault rifles, the four officers opened fire on the Bartholomew family, who were trying to walk to a nearby grocery store. A friend of the family, 17-year-old James Brissette died instantly. The rest of the family fled for shelter behind a concrete barrier and began to run back to their apartment complex.
The incident led to the amputation of Susan Bartholomews arm, while her husband was shot three times, once in the head, back and foot. Their teenage daughter was shot four times while a friend of Brissette was shot in the jaw and abdomen. Ronald and Lance Madison, two brothers also walking with the family, fled towards the bottom of the bridge where they were pursued by Sgt. Gisevius and officer Faulcon in an unmarked police vehicle.
Standing out of the back of the car, Faulcon fired his shotgun, striking the mentally handicapped 40-year-old Ronald Madison in the back. Ronald received five gunshot wounds to the back as well as two additional bullets to his limbs. His brother Lance was arrested for three weeks under eight separate counts of attempting to murder police officers.
The police officers responded with immediate force because they claimed shots were fired at them. It was later discovered that the shots came from a trapped group of people who were trying to attract the attention of rescuers. A total of six innocent civilians were shot and wounded, two died.
On April 20, 2016, the four officers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 7 to 12 years. A fifth officer, detective Arthur Kaufman who was assigned to investigate the event, was convicted of covering up the officer’s crimes. This closes the door on the the most severe case of police brutality that took place in the aftermath of Katrina.
The officers were placed in jail in 2010. Each will receive time served with the exception of Kaufman. Their sentences are as follows:
- Arthur Kaufman – 3 years
- Anthony Villavaso – 7 years
- Kenneth Bowen – 10 years
- Robert Gisevius – 10 years
- Robert Faulcon – 12 years
3. Aiyana Stanley-Jones
On the dark early morning of May 16, 2010, a Detroit SWAT team arrived at 4054 Lillibridge St. They had a warrant to search the shared duplex for their suspect, Chauncey Owens, who was suspected to be involved in the recent murder of teenager Je’Rean Blake and had been seen around the house. The SWAT team was also accompanied by a A&E film crew who were shooting the television series The First 48, which is where the video footage originated.
Charles Jones, 25, paced around the lower end of the house, near where his 7-year-old daughter, Aiyana Jones, slept on a couch in the same room as her grandmother, who was watching television. The police officers, the family members and bystanders are in disagreement about the events that soon unfolded.
Officer Joseph “Brain” Weekley states that he was the first officer through the door. Under the cover of a ballistic shield, Weekley says that Aiyana Jones’ grandmother reached for his gun, causing it to fire. He says “A woman grabbed my gun. It fired. The bullet hit a child.”
Unbeknownst to the officers at the time, the suspect they were looking for was located on the other side of the duplex, at 4054 Lillibridge St. The officers stormed the 4056 unit.
The Jones’, including Mertilla Jones, the grandmother, maintain that as a flash bang grenade broke through the window, she reached for Aiyana and did not touch or even see officer Weekley. The family also claims the shot that struck and killed the young Aiyana came from outside of the house.
After telling his Sergeant about the grandmother, Mertilla Jones was arrested, where she was tested for drugs and gun powder. In one of Weekley’s retrials, it would be found that Mertilla’s fingerprints were not found on Weekley’s gun.
The original suspect, Chancey Owens, was found on the upper floor of the other side of the duplex. Chancey surrendered immediately, and was later charged with first-degree murder in connection to Je’Rean Blake’s death. After multiple mistrials, officer Joseph Weekley was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges on January 28, 2015.
After the dismissed charges the Jones family filed a lawsuit against the Detroit police, officer Weekley and other officers involved in the raid that ended in Aiyana’s death, alleging a cover up by police officers.
2. Amadou Diallo
23-year-old Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, West Africa, had just returned from a late night meal and stood in front of his apartment building on the morning of February 4, 1999. Around 12:40 A.M. four plain-clothes NYPD officers who were members of the Street Crimes Unit, became suspicious of Diallo after they maintained he matched the description of a serial rapist who had been in the area a year prior.
After the officers claimed they identified themselves as NYPD officers, Diallo started to move up the steps of his building where they then warned him to stop and put his hands up. This statement made by the officers during their trial contradicts the statement of an eyewitness, who claimed the officers did not identify themselves as New York City police officers. After commanding Diallo to show his hands, he did, and whether he procured the item from his pocket or had the wallet already in his hands is known only by the officers and the deceased.
After holding the wallet in his hands, one of the officers yelled “Gun!” and began firing shots at Diallo. As this happened, one of the officers moved up the steps and stumbled backwards, losing his balance. The officers mistakenly thought their partner was hit, and continued to fire bullets into Amadou Diallo. Of the 41 shots fired that morning, 19 of them struck Diallo.
They found no weapons or drugs on Diallo. The four officers were charged with second-degree murder and reckless endangerment on March 25, 1999. On February 25, 2000, the officers were acquitted of all charges.
1. John Crawford
One of the most damning examples of a police shooting being unjustified, this incident takes place in Beavercreek, Ohio on August 5, 2014 just after 8 p.m. 22-year-old John Crawford enters a Walmart and begins to walk around the store. In the sporting goods section Crawford picks up a Crosman MK-177 pellet rifle and continues his shopping.
Crawford nonchalantly carries the out-of-box pellet gun around while appearing to talk on his cell phone. Ronald and April Ritchie, shopping nearby, see the gun and decide to call the police. The couple closely monitor Crawford and try to catch the attention of any nearby shoppers, warning them of what they believed to be a nearby man carrying a real gun. “I couldn’t hear anything he was saying. I’m thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he’s there to shoot somebody,” claimed Ronald Ritchie.
Shortly after the 911 call, officer Sean Williams and Sgt. David Darkow arrive at the store where they are told the “subject with a gun” is standing in the pet supplies section. The officers tell Crawford to get down. One officer fires two shots into Crawford, knocking him onto the ground. Trying to get up, one of the officers forces Crawford on his back and handcuffs him.
Crawford is later confirmed dead from the two gunshot wounds in Dayton’s Miami Valley Hospital. But John Crawford wasn’t the only fatality that occurred during the shooting. 37-year-old Angela Williams, who was to be married later that same week, suffered a heart attack after hearing the gunshots and fleeing.
The two officers, including officer Sean Williams who fired the shots after stating Crawford made “an aggressive stance” were never charged. The couple who called the cops, and inadvertently caused the deaths of the two individuals, are also not being charged, even after later contradicting their own statements.