A Lima, Ohio jury has acquitted police officer Joseph Chavalia of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 26-year-old Tarika Wilson. Chavalia shot and killed Wilson and wounded her infant son during a drug raid last January. Wilson was unarmed.
During the raid, one of Chavalia’s fellow officers shot and killed the two dogs owned by Wilson’s boyfriend and the target of the raid, Anthony Terry. Chavalia testified that he mistook his fellow officer’s shots at the dogs for hostile gunfire coming from the bedroom where Wilson was standing with her child. Chavalia then fired blindly into the bedroom.
The jury concluded that Chavalia reasonably feared for his life when he heard the gunshots. I guess they were then willing to overlook Chavalia’s mistaking an unarmed woman holding a baby for an armed drug dealer, and the fact that he fired blindly into a room without first identifying what he was shooting at. It’s too bad that that same sort of deference isn’t given to the people on the receiving end of these raids when they too understandably confuse the police officers who wake them from sleep and invade their homes for criminal intruders.
This case illustrates the low margin for error in these raids, and why they’re a bad idea even when the police do hit the correct house. Anthony Terry may be a bad man. But these sorts of tactics are too volatile and too dangerous to be using on anyone except for those people who pose an immediate risk to the public. Even the smallest mistakes can lead to unnecessary casualties.
It also shows how layer upon layer of flawed arguments can allow something as unjustifiable as the shooting death of an unarmed woman and the near-killing of her infant son to be dismissed as mere collateral damage. The initial argument is that we need to prohibit drugs to protect people from the harm they cause. That’s followed by the argument that we need to use aggressive, paramilitary raids to apprehend drug dealers, because they might dispose of evidence or shoot cops were drug warrants to be served by less confrontational means. That’s followed by the argument that we have to forgive cops who kill innocent people in these raids because the raids themselves are incredibly volatile and dangerous. Never mind that the police created the danger and volatility in the first place.
Put those arguments together and you get the absurd premise that the government’s killing of Tarika Wilson—and all of the drug raid deaths that came before her—is an acceptable consequence of the government’s responsibility to protect her (and all of us) from the effects of illicit drugs.
That simply doesn’t add up.