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Unlike Michael Brown’s, Jerame Reid’s hands were up when he was shot and killed by a police officer. So it was a bad shooting, right?
On the night of Dec. 30, 2014, Reid was the passenger in a Jaguar driven by Leroy Tutt when they were stopped by police in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The entire incident was captured on the police car’s dashboard camera, the tape from which was only recently released. It begins with the traffic violation that prompted the stop: Tutt’s failure to stop at a stop sign. In watching the video, note that the violation is hardly the most flagrant example of someone running a stop sign. The car brakes and comes very nearly to a full stop before making a left turn, a turn that was properly signaled in advance. It was the type of marginal violation a cop might overlook if committed by a mom taking her kids home from school some afternoon.
But it’s also the type of violation that, in the evening hours especially, might be indicative of a drunk driver. And it’s the type of violation an officer welcomes when his attention has already been drawn to a particular car and he is looking for a reason to stop it. Given the tactics employed by Officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley when they made the stop, I suspect this was the case.
When two officers make a traffic stop, it is most typical for the driver officer to walk up and contact the violator on the left side of the stopped car while his partner covers him from the right side. But there are reasons to deviate from this, the most important of which is that because it is most typical, it is most expected by anyone who may be inclined to offer resistance. Approaching on the right side catches the occupants off guard and makes them question where the other officer might be. More importantly, an officer on the left side is an easier target for a right-handed shooter (as most are). Approaching on the right forces a right-handed shooter to turn around awkwardly in his seat to get off an accurate shot.
In the video, we can see that it was Officer Days, the passenger officer, who first approached the Jaguar on the right side and made contact with Tutt and Reid. From this we can infer that the officers suspected this stop might involve something more than a traffic citation or a field sobriety test for the driver. But despite this we can see that the contact began innocuously enough, with Officer Days identifying himself, informing the occupants of the reason for the stop, and asking the driver for his license. Through all of this, Officer Worley remains out of the picture, presumably offering cover from somewhere to the left.
And then it all goes bad. Officer Days suddenly draws his weapon and says, “Show me your hands!” We see Tutt’s left hand extend out the window, but it’s difficult to see what Reid is doing. It is, however, abundantly clear what he is not doing: complying with Officer Days’s emphatic commands not to move.
Officer Worley then comes into frame with his weapon drawn, approaching the driver’s side of the Jaguar. “Get ‘em out of the car, Rog,” Officer Days says to his partner, “we got a gun in his glove compartment.” Officer Days then reaches into the car and removes what looks to be a handgun. It appears he continues to hold the recovered gun in his left hand throughout what follows.
The situation at this moment illustrates the tactical conundrum officers face when a traffic stop goes suddenly awry. These officers now had two men in the car, one of them compliant and the other not. A gun had been found, but this hardly precluded the possibility there might have been others. Officer Worley could not simply ignore the compliant driver and assist with the problem passenger, as the driver might have been waiting for the chance to pull his own gun. Also, with the officers positioned as they were, they were at risk of a deadly cross-fire if either of them was to shoot. The safest alternative was to keep both occupants at gunpoint and call for backup, as Officer Worley appears to do, but the officers could not simply wait for help as there remained the very big problem of the passenger continuing to defy orders not to move.
Officer Worley continues to cover Tutt while Officer Days gives unmistakable commands to Reid. “Don’t f***ing move!” Days shouts. “Show me your f***ing hands!” At this point only a fool would fail to recognize the grave peril he faced if he failed to do exactly as the officer directed, but Officer Days spells out the potential consequences even more clearly. “I’m going to shoot you,” he says. “Dude, you’re going to be f***ing dead,” he says to Reid, “I’m telling you!”
Despite this, Reid continues to move inside the car. “Hey Jerome,” Officer Days says, “you reach for something, you’re going to be f***ing dead.” How much more clear could the officer have been?
And still, even as Reid tried to get out of the car, defying Officer Days’s clearly stated orders to show his hands and not move, Days held his fire until Reid pushed open the door and stepped out. Officer Days fired multiple times while Officer Worley appeared to fire once, a round that, if it did strike Reid, hit him in the back. Reid died, and no other weapon was found.
So an unarmed man with his hands up was shot multiple times, perhaps including once in the back. An outrage?
Yes, Reid’s hands were up, or at least at shoulder level. But he had failed to heed Officer Days’s clearly stated warnings that he would be shot, that he would be “f***ing dead,” if he did not do as he was told. Which is not to say that the penalty for failing to obey an officer’s commands is execution on the spot, but note that Officer Days called Reid by his first name (he is referred to in some records as Jerome, in others as Jerame). Officer Days knew the man and was presumably familiar with his rather opulent criminal record, which included a 13-year prison sentence for shooting at police officers. How much leeway should an officer be required to give a non-compliant suspect with a demonstrated history of violence toward police?
One can only speculate on Reid’s motives for acting as he did. For what it’s worth, but based on more than 30 years as a cop, my guess is that Reid feared going to prison for possessing the gun in the glove compartment, and though he may have attempted to assault Officer Days, I think it’s more likely he was looking for the opportunity to run away before more officers arrived, as he knew they would be. It’s clear he didn’t think Officer Days would shoot him if he got out of the car. In this, he gambled with his life and lost.
It’s an odd twist, but if Reid had complied with the officers and been arrested, he probably would have beaten the gun charge in court. If you have one gun but two crooks, absent a confession or forensic evidence such as DNA or fingerprints, how can a prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one or the other of them possessed it?
It’s a legal question Jerame Reid should have considered before stepping out of the car. He made his choice, his last in a lifetime of bad ones.