Although the number of cops charged with murder or manslaughter sharply spiked last year, not a single officer was convicted for these unjustified deaths. With fewer cops killed in the line of duty in 2015, the number of people killed by police increased yet again.
The accumulated number of people killed by police in the U.S. last year remains between 986 and 1,200, with The Guardian currently totaling 1,138 victims. Although many disagree on the exact number of fatalities caused by cops, most concur that 2015 saw an escalation in both the total of people killed by police and the number of officers charged with murder or manslaughter.
Within the last decade, an average of five cops per year have been charged with murder or manslaughter in fatal on-duty shootings. Last year, that number more than tripled as 18 cops were arrested for unjustified shootings. This number does not comprise non-shooting homicides, including the six Baltimore officers charged with fatally severing Freddie Gray’s spine. Nor does it include the cops who will not face criminal charges for the deaths of Tamir Rice, Zachary Hammond, Natasha McKenna, Troy Goode, or Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
On December 3, Pike County Deputy Joel Jenkins was arrested after fatally shooting his neighbor in the head while drunk and off-duty. Charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and tampering with evidence in connection with his neighbor’s death, Jenkins was also charged with felony murder and reckless homicide in a separate shooting. On March 28, 2015, Jenkins was on-duty when he shot Robert Rooker to death following a police pursuit after Rooker had already crashed his vehicle.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder on November 24, after a Cook County judge ordered the release of a suppressed dashcam video depicting the officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Although Van Dyke claimed the teenager had lunged at him with a knife, the video clearly shows McDonald walking away before the officer opened fire.
On November 6, Marksville police officers Norris Greenhouse Jr. and Derrick Stafford were charged with second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder for killing 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis. The boy was sitting beside his father, who was reportedly surrendering with his hands in the air when the officers fired 18 rounds into the car.
Three Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies were charged with murder, conspiracy, and assault under the color of authority on September 3, after beating a mentally ill man to death. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and with a history of mental illness, Michael James Tyree was waiting to be transferred to an adult treatment facility when deputies Matthew Farris, Jereh Lubrin, and Rafael Rodriguez entered his cell and assaulted Tyree for roughly 20 minutes as he begged for mercy.
On July 19, University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing pulled over Samuel DuBose for driving without a front license plate. Although Tensing claimed he was almost killed by DuBose’s fleeing vehicle, the officer’s body cam video revealed that Tensing was not dragged by DuBose’s car and instead immediately fell backward after shooting the suspect in the head. On July 29, Tensing was fired from the department and charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter.
Charged with second-degree manslaughter on April 13, a 73-year-old reserve sheriff’s deputy was caught on body cam video accidentally shooting a restrained suspect in the back. Instead of deploying his Taser, Deputy Robert Bates claimed he mistakenly drew his gun and fired a single round into Eric Harris’ back. Bates immediately apologized as his fellow officers ignored Harris’ pleas for help while refusing to give him medical attention for his bullet wound.
At 9:33 a.m. on April 4, North Charleston Patrolman Michael Slager pulled over Walter “Lamar” Scott for driving with a broken brake light. After Scott fled on foot, a bystander named Feidin Santana recorded a cellphone video of Slager shooting the unarmed man in the back. Three days later, Slager was fired and arrested for murder.
Last January, Detective Keith Sandy and SWAT Officer Dominique Perez of the Albuquerque Police Department were charged with second-degree murder for killing a mentally ill homeless man. Video of the incident revealed James Boyd had been complying with officers when police suddenly deployed a flashbang grenade moments before shooting him to death. Two hours before the shooting, a state police officer’s dashcam video recorded Det. Sandy referring to Boyd as a “lunatic” and telling Officer Chris Ware, “I’m going to shoot him in the penis with a shotgun here in a second.”
The list of cops facing criminal charges also includes NYPD officer Peter Liang, who claimed he accidentally shot Akai Gurley while opening a door with the same hand holding his firearm. Responding to a call about a shoplifting suspect, Portsmouth police officer Stephen Rankin shot unarmed 18-year-old William Chapman in a Walmart parking lot. Bolivar County sheriff’s deputy Walter Grant shot 20-year-old Willie Lee Bingham in the back of the head because he mistakenly thought Bingham had a gun.
Although these officers still face criminal charges, the only officer acquitted of all counts in 2015 was Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle. After shooting David Kassick with her Taser, Mearkle fired two rounds into the unarmed man’s back because she momentarily could not see one of his hands as he writhed face down on the ground in pain. Mistrials were declared for the police shooting of Yvette Smith, who police falsely accused of holding a weapon, and in the first of six trials against the officers responsible for killing Freddie Gray.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, more officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014 than last year. At least 133 cops died on-duty in 2014, while 129 were killed last year. As the number of officer fatalities decreases, the number of people being killed by police continues to drastically rise along with the rate of cops facing criminal charges for murder or manslaughter.