SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Members of Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes Chief's Advisory Board got a quick hands-on display of just how fast officers have to make a decision on how much force is appropriate when confronting a suspect.
At the beginning of the monthly meeting, Chief Stokes assumed the role of a wanted suspect, who may or may not have been armed with a gun. In three scenarios, committee members Bill Godair, Gemale Black, and Karen South Jones took on the role of the police, and had to decide whether or not deadly force was warranted.
The demonstration was the set up to a discussion of police use of deadly force and how it has evolved over the years.
The chief began with the basics, presenting the definition of deadly force as being "force that is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death."
"The current body of use of force law took 226 years to develop," said Chief Stokes, pointing out that a 1989 Supreme Court case that originated in west Charlotte set the current "objective standard" that is widely used to determine whether or not a use of force was proper in a particular situation.
According to the background of the case, Dethorne Graham, the petitioner, had Type 1 diabetes and was going with a friend to a convenience store to get orange juice to counteract a reaction he was having to insulin.
Graham went in the store but then quickly left after seeing a long line at the cash register.
Charlotte police officer M. S. Connor, who was parked nearby in his patrol car, saw Graham's behavior and was suspicious.
Connor had worked patrol in that area before, according to Chief Stokes, and knew that it had been robbed in the past.
Graham got in his friend's car and the two left. Connor followed the car and made a traffic stop to determine what they were doing at the store.
Connor put Graham in handcuffs, but once the officer had determined that nothing had happened at the store, he released Graham.
Graham claimed that he had been injured and filed a lawsuit saying that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.
The court ruled against Graham, citing "objective reasonableness" which includes three points: the severity of the crime, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers and others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
It was the court's ruling that the officer's actions met the standards at the time.
"The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight," wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist. "The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving - about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. The test of reasonableness is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application."
That case is still the standard when it comes to use of force cases.
The current use of force policy for Salisbury Police was first issued in 1998, with the policy updated as recently as July, 2016.