City answers court ruling

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Special to the Opelika Observer

A grand jury has decided criminal charges will not be brought against Officer Phillip Hancock, the OPD officer who shot and wounded Airman Michael Davidson.

In a press release sent Monday, OPD Chief John McEachern shared the city’s response to the ruling.

“Phillip Hancock will not face criminal charges in connection with the shooting of Michael Davidson,” McEachern said. “We believe his decision to use deadly force was reasonable and legally justified under the facts and circumstances of this case.

“The Grand Jury has spoken, and we respect the decision. We appreciate that not everyone may agree with the decision of the grand jury. We encourage anyone who wishes to express their feelings to do so respectfully.

“Under state law, police officers can use deadly force against an unarmed suspect if the officer believes the suspect could cause serious bodily harm to the officer or another person. There is no requirement that one has to be armed for an officer to use deadly force. If an officer has a reasonable belief that his life, or someone else’s life is in danger, that decision cannot be questioned later by Monday morning quarterbacking.

“The Opelika Police Department is severely restricted in releasing facts before the investigation is concluded. It is our desire to have the public know the full and true facts of the case at the earliest opportunity, but we are required by law, ethics and the need to insure the integrity of the investigation to only do so at the appropriate time.

“With the grand jury’s work concluded, we will work with the ABI to release all investigative reports, audio and video tapes as soon as is practicable.

“As these materials are made available to the Opelika Police Department, we will make arrangements to release the same to the public and the media.”

McEachern also explained some of the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the following investigation, outlining how the OPD followed protocol.

“Immediately after the shooting occurred, it was reported to the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI) and the Lee County District Attorney. The criminal investigation was conducted by the ABI, which has the best resources for this type of investigation. The ABI investigated the case by thoroughly processing the crime scene and collecting evidence, interviewing all witnesses, testing the firearm used by Officer Hancock and reviewing all relevant audio and video tapes.

“Throughout the investigation the ABI received full cooperation from all Opelika police officers. After the investigation was completed, the case file was referred to the Lee County District Attorney. Thereafter, the case was presented to the Lee County Grand Jury.

“The Grand Jury plays an important role in the criminal process. A Grand Jury can issue an indictment charging the officer criminally, or return a ‘no true bill.’ To indict, at least 12 grand jurors must find probable cause that the officer committed the charged crime.

“As there is generally no dispute that Officer Hancock intended to shoot at Mr. Davidson, the determination of whether the conduct was criminal is primarily a question of legal justification. A police officer is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person when he believes it is reasonably necessary to defend himself or a third party from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. Therefore, the question presented in most officer-involved shooting cases is whether, at the instant the officer fired the shot that wounded the person, the officer believed … that he or another person was in imminent danger of deadly physical force.

“The great majority of officer-involved shootings throughout the country ultimately result from what is commonly called the “split-second decision” to shoot. The split-second decision is generally made to stop a real or perceived threat of aggressive behavior of the citizen.  It is the split-second timeframe which typically defines the focus of the criminal review.

“Officers must have the discretion to use deadly force when appropriate. This awesome responsibility sets law enforcement apart from every other profession. The results of a split-second decision can affect entire police departments, families and communities for many years. Officers who put on a gun and badge every day risk their lives to protect the community, and their service is vital to keeping the public safe.”

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