Here at TTAC, we’re always willing to shine the relatively dim spotlight of Internet Hammurabian Justice on police who are mendacious, power-mad, or just plain unfit to be cops. At first glance, the October 28, 2013 incident in which a police officer repeatedly fired his service weapon at a minivan full of children appears to be a prime example of this. After all, how can it ever be right to shoot at kids?
Strictly speaking, the answer to that question is “Unless they are busy endangering your life or the life of someone else, never.” In this case, however, the blurred lines of who’s responsible for what would make even Robin Thicke a trifle nervous.
When Oriana Ferrell was pulled over for 71 in a 55, she elected to flee the traffic stop as the officer walked back to his cruiser. After being chased back down, she pulls over again — at which point the officer orders her to get out of the vehicle, an order she defies. Oriana’s 14-year-old son gets out on the passenger side but retreats when the officer draws his Taser. She eventually agrees to leave the minivan, but when the officer attempts to turn her around to be handcuffed, she runs back into the car. The cop is unable to physically prevent this, and he is assaulted by the 14-year-old and at least one of the other children.
It would appear that the combined attack by the family at least temporarily overpowers the officer, permitting them to get back in the vehicle and prepare to flee the scene. At that point, backup arrives. The police don’t properly block the minivan, which manages to get away, but not before one of the officers smashes a window and the officer who is perhaps last to arrive at the scene fires multiple shots into the minivan as it departs.
After a brief high-speed chase, Ms. Ferrell pulled over again and this time she was successfully detained. Two “bowls” for marijuana were reportedly recovered from the vehicle.
Naturally, the Web is already buzzing with various opinions on this incident, so we might as well add our own. To begin with, the actions of the officer who fired shots into the minivan were certainly incorrect, but there’s nothing in the video to suggest that he knew he was firing at children. What he probably knew was that another cop had been attacked by people who were departing in the van. In most states, if you attack a cop and then drive away, they’re likely to shoot at you. There’s nothing terribly surprising about this.
The majority of the blame for the situation has to be laid at Ms. Ferrell’s feet. She knowingly fled a traffic stop, and when confronted about it, started yapping about “I just want to take my kids to the Rio Grande.” This is the action of someone who is either mentally impaired or deliberately attempting to mislead or confuse the cop. She resists arrest and then encourages or at least fails to prevent her children from attacking the officer. Speaking personally for a moment, I have to consider the 14-year-old kid’s wanna-be thuggin’ move of dramatically removing one of his multiple hats before attacking the cop to be an example of the way children internalize the garbage the modern media continually feeds them. Surely he never considered his mother to be in actual danger, unless he was also a complete and utter idiot. Any true “bad cop” would have gunned the mother down the minute he had to make a second stop. The kid was simply looking for a chance to attack a police officer. Had the cop responded to the three-way physical assault on him by putting two shots into the chest of all parties involved, it’s doubtful that he’d have been charged with anything. In the video, you can clearly see the son trying to obtain control of the cop’s weapon. That’s a killing offense, plain and simple, almost tantamount to the so-called “blue suicide”.
At least three members of that family clearly have zero respect for authority and view the police as plain enemies to be confronted as violently as possible. They’re frankly lucky to be alive. And while the cop who shot at the minivan earns no points for intelligence or training — how could any reasonable and educated police officer think an overloaded minivan is going to escape a group of Crown Vics plus Motorola? — it will be difficult to argue that he knowingly endangered any children.
As you might expect, much of the coverage and discussion on the matter so far is playing-up the race angle — one Gawker commenter moaned that “New Mexico, the family was black , of course shots were fired into a vehicle full of children, black children don’t rate to white cops.” Other commenters elsewhere have noted that this is a state where walking all tight-assed in front of cops can get you anally raped in a hospital. Some people are also suggesting that Ms. Ferrell decided to flee because the officer making the original stop demanded a cash payment for the ticket. Regardless of the particulars of the case, in this situation I believe even the most pro-police-state and anti-rogue-cop people can agree: there was enough idiocy to go around.