The Very Avoidable Killing of Ta’Kiya Young

There were two things 21-year-old Ta’Kiya Young knew with certainty that day. The first was that she was pregnant. The second was that the police officers had ordered her to get out of her car. She didn’t.

There were two things the two Blendon Township, Ohio, police officers* knew that day. There was an accusation that Ta’Kiya Young had stolen bottles of alcohol from Krogers and that she refused to comply with the order to get out of the car. Instead, she decided to drive away.

Both Ta’Kiya Young and her unborn child died that day. Subsequent investigation revealed that she had not stolen anything from Krogers. Was this an outrageous example of police misconduct, abuse of power and racism, or was this a tragic outcome following an appropriate use of force by a police officer threatened by someone deliberately driving a car into him as she was fleeing police? All of this could have easily been avoided, but by whom?

According to the Blendon Police, two officers were in the parking lot of a Kroger supermarket on Aug. 24, helping a woman who had been locked out of her car, when a Kroger employee approached one of them and said that Ms. Young had stolen bottles of alcohol.

The video shows one of the officers walking up to Ms. Young, who was behind the wheel of a car in a parking spot, knocking on the window and telling her repeatedly to get out of the car.

At this point, the officers had reasonable suspicion to detain Young, having been informed by a Kroger’s employee that she had stolen alcohol. They were authorized to inquire, and they were authorized to order her to get out of the car. There were under no duty to tell her why, and she had no right to ignore their commands. She neither had to agree with the officers’ orders nor approve of their order. Her duty was to comply by getting out of the car.

During the confrontation, the second officer walks directly in front of the car, commands her to get out and then draws his gun as she turns the wheel, the video shows.

The second officer decided to stand in front of Young’s car. He could have chosen to stand at the passenger side window, or at an oblique position relative to the vehicle, as standing in front of a running vehicle of a potential perpetrator whose disposition is unknown places the officer in a particularly vulnerable position to be hit and perhaps run down by the vehicle. Indeed, Blendon police policy may dictate that the officer not stand in front of the vehicle.

[Sean] Walton, the Young family’s lawyer, said that the officer had violated department policy, which states that officers should take reasonable steps to move out of the path of a vehicle instead of firing.

It’s unclear whether this is accurate, and even if accurate, departmental policy is not law, but a matter of management determination. However, it is good policy from the perspective of a police officer not putting himself in a vulnerable position, thus avoiding any need to use deadly force in case the driver fails to obey commands and drives in the direction of the officer.

As Ms. Young drives forward, and appears to hit the officer, he fires into the windshield, striking Ms. Young….

The officer was exposed to harm from the forward moving vehicle, although it appears from the vehicle that Young turned the wheel before moving forward, apparently trying to driver around the officer rather than into the officer. The officer didn’t draw his weapon until Young started turning the wheel, a clear indication that she intended to drive away rather than get out of the vehicle as commanded. At that moment, the officer in front of the car had the option of moving to away from the front of the vehicle to avoid being struck or to stand his ground in front of the vehicle and, threatened by the deadly weapon of a vehicle moving toward him, fire his gun.

This killing has generated outrage and protests, which is hardly surprising given that it appears that Young was both pregnant and, according to one witness, innocent.

In the days since the shooting, protesters have gathered outside the Kroger to express outrage at Ms. Young’s death and to demand accountability.

“Whatever she did, it doesn’t warrant her being shot and her unborn baby being killed,” Nana M. Watson, president of the Columbus branch of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview on Friday. “It’s tragic, and it’s horrific for this community.”

The issue, however, isn’t whether “whatever she did” warranted her being shot, but whether the police officer was lawfully authorized to shoot Young when she refused to comply with lawful orders and instead chose to drive her vehicle forward, where he was standing, and flee.

There is little question that Young had choices, whether to get out of her car as the police officers commanded her to do after being told that she had stolen alcohol, or not to drive the car forward toward the police officer in defiance of their orders. On the other hand, the police officer was in vulnerable position where he reasonably felt his life was threatened by Young’s vehicle because he chose to position himself there when there were other places he could have stood that would not have placed him at risk and would not have given rise to any justification for firing his weapon.

There are two very different questions present here. The first is what is lawful, and it would appear that the officer was lawfully authorized to shoot in order to prevent the use of deadly force against him. The second question, however, is who was wrong, and as unsatisfying as it may be, the best answer is that they both were. While Young’s refusal to comply and decision to try to drive away was the wrong response, ordinary people are untrained in how to deal with police and, particularly when they are on the good guy curve, react in a way that makes sense to them but not the police.

Unlike Young, the police office was (or should have been) trained to avoid creating a scenario that exacerbates the potential for threat, harm and the need to use deadly force. But upon finding himself in the position of confronting deadly force, even if it could have been avoided, can act to protect himself rather than allow himself to be killed because he could have made a better decision earlier in the confrontation. In any even, this was such an easily avoidable tragedy, and yet a mother and unborn child are dead.

The identities of the officers have been withheld.

Chief Belford did not release the names of the two officers, saying that they, along with Ms. Young, were “possible crime victims” whose identities cannot be released without a waiver under the Ohio Constitution and a state law known as Marsy’s Law, or the Ohio Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.

The officer who shot Ms. Young was a “victim of attempted vehicular assault,” Chief Belford said.

The officer who was standing next to the car had his hand and part of his arm in the window when Ms. Young drove forward, making him “a victim of misdemeanor assault,” the chief said.

Marsy’s Law in action, kids.

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