Nothing To Hide (And Nowhere To Hide It) But Everything To Fear: The Police Vs. The Unarmed And Naked
from the but-all-I-had-to-defend-myself-with-was-my-gun,-body-armor,-training... dept
“Naked” is synonymous with “vulnerable.” And yet, plenty of naked people continue to be shot and killed by police officers, despite having nowhere to hide weapons and nothing standing between them and the bullets headed their way.
Of course, naked people are far more prone to find themselves in confrontations with police. In almost every case, substance use/abuse or mental illness will be the reason for the person’s nudity. Despite being handicapped by both limited mental faculties and lack of any protection, naked people are often considered inherently “threatening,” and thus, worthy recipients of any level of force that allows responding officers to feel “safe” again.
17-year-old David Joseph was shot to death by Austin police officer Geoffrey Freeman, who was responding to reports of a naked man acting erratically. Freeman said he feared for his life, even though Joseph had no clothing and no weapons.
Of course, the first response from the police union was to assume Joseph was under the influence of a “drug like PCP.” PCP is the go-to guess for officers trying to explain how they felt overwhelmed by a person smaller than them… or carrying no weapons… or wearing no clothes. It supposedly gives even unarmed, naked people superhuman strength and increased resistance to less-lethal force. How many people officers feel are using PCP is miles away from how many people are actually using PCP.
Here’s a rather boring graph showing the “rise” in PCP use over the years. (Click here to see the statistics behind the chart.)
The use of PCP is so limited, the DOJ just lumps it in with a bunch of other substances under the heading of “other or non-drug.”
And yet, the first assumption is that a naked teen an officer killed was on PCP. The autopsy did find substances in Joseph’s body, but not anything that would make him aggressive or dangerous.
[A]n autopsy released last week showed he had marijuana and Xanax in his system when he was killed.
This case echoes one from nearly two years ago in Colorado. Again, a naked, unarmed teen was fatally shot by a police officer — but that time the officer had to enter someone’s house to do it.
Alvar called Fountain police on the afternoon of Sept. 22, 2014, to report someone trying to steal a motorcycle from her garage. Two other officers were dispatched, but upon hearing the address, Officer Kay said, “That’s Patrick,” and volunteered to take the call, the mother says in the March 4 federal complaint.
When Kay arrived, Alvar says, she told him her son was upstairs, preparing to take a shower. Kay followed her upstairs, looked into the bathroom when she opened the door, and saw her son naked, preparing to get into the shower, the mother says in the complaint.
She says Kay grabbed the bathroom door handle and told Patrick to put on his underwear. Patrick and Kay pushed and pulled on the door, and when Patrick managed to close it, “Officer Kay drew his weapon and fired one shot through the closed bathroom door. After firing the shot, Officer Kay opened the bathroom door to find Patrick lying naked on the ground with his head against the left corner by the bathtub. Blood was coming out of his head,” according to the complaint.
Once again, a naked person was described as a threat. Despite the fact Patrick Alvar wasn’t carrying a weapon, Officer Kay firmly believed the motion he saw Patrick make was a move for a hidden weapon. From Kay’s report on the shooting:
“Ms. Alvar opened the door and Officer Kay saw Patrick O’Grady standing in the bathroom. Officer Kay then saw Patrick O’Grady turn and grab a gun from the bathroom counter and point it at the officer. At that time, Officer Kay drew his gun and fired one shot in the direction of Patrick O’Grady, who was struck by the bullet.”
The bathroom was searched by three officers without finding a weapon. The fourth search somehow turned up one. The gun “found” in the bathroom apparently belonged to Deputy Donald Beasley of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department is the “outside agency” that investigated the shooting. Video footage could have cleared this all up, but Officer Kay’s body camera was never activated.
Officer Robert Olsen of Georgia shot naked, unarmed Anthony Hill last year, responding to call about a man acting “deranged” and “crawling on the floor.” According to Olsen, Hill charged at him after being ordered to stop. Olsen has been indicted for multiple charges, including two counts of felony murder.
In the same month Officer Olsen killed Anthony Hill (March 2015), Kansas police shot a naked woman in her own bed. The twist: she had a gun. The other twist? She was ordered by officers to show it to them.
Gardner police got a 911 call on March 26, 2015 that Deanne Choate, 54, had been drinking alcohol, was suicidal and had a gun. When police arrived they immediately handcuffed and arrested Choate’s boyfriend and removed him from the home, then found Deanne Choate sleeping naked in her bed, her daughter says in the Feb. 25 complaint.
After waking her up, officers questioned her for eight minutes, repeatedly asking, “Where is the gun?”
“Deanne was obviously not carrying or concealing on her person any type of weapon,” her daughter says.
“During this time, officers came and went from the room. They looked under the sheets of the bed.” They stayed in the room “with the naked, 115-pound woman” and finally gave her a sweatshirt to wear, according to the complaint.
After repeatedly demanding, “Where is the gun?” and “We know you have a gun,” Deanne finally “complied with officers’ request and produced a handgun, stating, ‘Oh, here it is.'”
Then they shot her to death.
July 2014: Haywood (CA) police officers shoot a naked, unarmed man to death, apparently for refusing to come out of a “barricaded” room (furniture was pushed up against the door). Not that the “barricade” was that much of an impediment. It didn’t prevent two officers from entering the room and shooting Jeffrey McKinney.
October 2012: A University of South Alabama campus police officer shoots and kills a naked, unarmed student — one who had banged on the window of the campus police station and made “threatening” moves toward the officer. The officer described him as “muscular.” The student’s parents agree with the “muscular” part (he was a wrestler) but that he only stood 5’7″ and weighed 135 pounds.
And on and on. It certainly doesn’t make up a sizable percentage of police shootings but there have been enough of them that it’s notable. Handling a person under the influence/suffering from mental illness is naturally going to be more unpredictable than confronting your normal, everyday perp. But the escalation from “this is going to be weird” to “this is going to require bullets” seems to skip a lot of steps in far too many instances.