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Ferguson grand jury decision shouldn't have surprised

Last month, a Habersham County grand jury declined to bring charges against officers involved in the planning and execution of a botched drug raid that maimed and nearly killed 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh.

In July, grand jurors in Barrow County found insufficient evidence to indict a Euharlee police officer who shot and killed a 17-year-old in the chest while serving a warrant. Christopher Wayne Roupe opened the front door of his family's home holding a Nintendo Wii controller, which the officer apparently mistook for a deadly weapon.

While race was not a significant factor in either of those cases, it's largely irrelevant when it comes to alleged officer misconduct.

According to Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight blog, of the more than 8,300 misconduct accusations (involving nearly 11,000 officers) collected in researcher David Packman’s database from April 2009 through the end of 2010, 3,238 resulted in legal action.

Altogether, only 33 percent of law enforcement officers charged with felonies in that time period were convicted, half the conviction rate of the general public. Only 12 percent served jail time, compared to 48 percent of non-law enforcement defendants.

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The disparity can be at least partially attributed to a 1989 Supreme Court decision that found the use of force must be judged through the "perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."

From the Associated Press:

"A police officer is not like a normal citizen who discharges their weapon. There is a presumption that somebody who is a peace officer, and is thereby authorized to use lethal force, used it correctly," said Lori Lightfoot, a Chicago lawyer who used to investigate police shootings for the police department there.

About the Author

A native Atlantan, Boone joined the AJC staff in 2005. He quickly found his niche covering crime, taking over the public safety beat in 2014. Boone has chronicled some of the most infamous trials in recent history, from Hemy Neuman to Ross Harris to, most recently, Claud “Tex” McIver. 

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