Police Officers in the Heat of the Moment

Too often, police get involved in situations that have gone awry because tempers got too heated.  Whether a bar brawl or domestic dispute, the “normal people” (a.k.a. not police officers) out there tend to get emotional and react rather than think about their actions.  When the “normal people” react and get carried away, it usually leads to criminal charges, which trigger a number of other problems for the person charged, and sometimes for the person who is the alleged victim in the case.  However, what is to be made of what happened in Detroit in mid-November, 2017

Reports from news sources indicate that on or about November 13, 2017, at around 6:00 p.m., officers from the 11th precinct in Detroit were preparing to raid a residence suspected of being a drug house.  However, unknown to the 11th precinct officers, there were 12th precinct officers present in or near the home as well.  Neither precinct knew the other would be present on that date for any law enforcement related purposes.  The police department’s chief chalked this up to poor communication (in an era when firing off an email or text message is easier than making a phone call). 

What is most interesting about this whole situation is the sequence of events that unfolded according to the current reports.  According to Detroit’s Local 4 channel, which has also posted footage from one officer’s body camera, the brawl did not begin immediately.  Rather, there was some yelling and confusion about who was there to do what, but “[j]ust when things started to calm down, an all-out brawl broke out as officers started swinging.”  The brawl occurred between the 11th and 12th precinct officers who at that point knew that they were fighting other police officers.

This situation is particularly interesting because it shows how even trained officers, who are supposed to be able to manage difficult situations in a calm and controlled manner, cannot always do so.  This situation, however, did not pose the normal threats that police officers are confronted with because each group consisted of trained law enforcement officials.  Yet, the officers still could not manage the situation and avoid beating each other up.

Will These Officers Be Charged with Assault?

What will be more interesting is to see whether the officers who fought will be charged.  Had this occurred in Virginia, and had an officer been charged with assault on a police officer, they would be facing a mandatory jail sentence of six months.  So far, at least a couple of officers have been placed on restrictive duty or have been otherwise reassigned.  But, will that be the end of the road for them? This will be an interesting story to keep an eye on to see if the prosecutors in Detroit take action against police officers who reacted the same way a “normal person” would when confronted with an emotional and fast-developing situation.

Mikhail N. Lopez
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Criminal Defense and General Civil Litigation Attorney
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