It is very rare for a police officer to be charged with murder or a homicide offence following the death of a suspect. On January 14, 2009, the Alameda County DA decided to lay a murder charge against ex-BART officer Johannes Mehserle following the highly publicized incident involving the shooting death of Oscar Grant who is African-American. When he was shot in the back, Grant was unarmed, face down and being restrained by another officer. There is no question that the capturing of the shooting on video made the laying of charges inevitable. Click here to view the video.
In Canada, it is also very rare for the police to be charged with a homicide offence. In 1988, 17-year-old Wade Lawson was shot six times and killed by a bullet that hit him in the back of the head. He was shot as he fled the scene. He was unarmed. Two officers from Peel Regional Police Service were charged with various offences including murder for the officer that fired the fatal bullet. The officers were eventually acquitted of all charges. The acquittals sparked protests that led, in part, to the creation of the Ontario Systemic Racism Commission by Bob Rae. In 1995, an OPP officer shot and killed Dudley George, an unarmed Aboriginal man during the Ipperwash protests. The officer was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to house arrest. George's killing led to the Ipperwash Inquiry which found that racism contributed to his killing. Click here to read the report. For a good, albeit dated, discussion of police use of deadly force, see Pedicelli, When Police Kill: Police Use of Force in Montreal and Toronto (Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1998).
Posted by Professor Tanovich