Steffanie Rivers

*There is a thin line between justifiable force and reckless disregard when it comes to law enforcement. Detroit police who raided a duplex last weekend crossed that line when they burst into the home and ended up shooting and killing an innocent 7-year-old girl while she slept.

So they in were in search of a murder suspect believed to be inside the home. Police say they arrested the suspect during the raid but it’s not clear at this point if that person was inside the home where 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was shot and killed or if they found him upstairs at another home they raided at the same time. One thing’s for sure: the girl is dead and she didn’t do a damn thing wrong. The girl’s grandmother who police claim became physical when they burst in the home just after midnight Sunday morning hollering and throwing flash bombs, she didn’t murder nobody either. The girl’s father who ran into the room when he heard the commotion and was forced face down on the floor in his dying daughter’s blood, he didn’t murder nobody either. They were in their home minding their own business.

Neighbors who saw the raid about to go down claimed they warned police there was a child inside the home and showed them toys lying around the yard as proof. But in their effort to get their man, police ignored that information. That’s information they should have known had they done their homework before bursting into somebody’s house regardless of the reason for the raid.

If somebody were to burst into my home in the middle of the night I have a plan for what I might do. Lie there and wait for them to identify themselves as law enforcement or armed robbers ain’t a part of my plan. And for all you people who blame the family for what happened, you don’t’ know how you would have reacted either. The SWAT team should have known the difference between a grandmother with her sleeping grandbaby and the male murder suspect they were hunting. They failed to do that and now the blood of a child is on their hands.

In another case of a near fatal shooting by a police officer, a Houston police sergeant was found not guilty of aggravated assault by a public servant last week for shooting a man he mistakenly suspected of driving a stolen vehicle and carrying a weapon.

Considering the potentially life and death situations law enforcement officers face everyday some people might excuse the actions of Bellaire police Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton as just a big mistake that comes with the territory. Obviously the jurors saw it that way. But the more details that are revealed the more I’m convinced that Cotton acted recklessly and should be held liable.

It happened in the early hours of New Years Eve 2008. Cotton never reported to his dispatcher anything about erratic driving or other suspicious behavior coming from the people inside the vehicle. He only saw two Black men in an expensive SUV riding in a neighborhood where he didn’t think they belonged. So he ran the license plate.

Cotton or someone else punched in the wrong license number and when the information didn’t match up Cotton wrongly assumed the SUV was stolen. Just as Robert Tolan and his cousin had returned home from a midnight burger run, Cotton ordered them out of the vehicle at gun point in the driveway. When the homeowners came outside to help explain the situation Cotton forced the woman against the garage door.

By this time the police dispatcher realized the car wasn’t stolen and tried to tell Cotton so. But he was too busy showing excessive force against Tolan’s parents. And when the younger Tolan rose up off the ground in protest Cotton shot him in his chest claiming that he thought Tolan had a weapon, but no weapons were found.

The whole scene is a lethal example of racial profiling. Still the ten-year veteran was acquitted and probably will return to work any day now.

And if that’s not bad enough, Tolan’s injuries have left him unable to pursue his dreams of playing Major League Baseball. It wasn’t a pipe dream. His father Robbie Tolan, Sr., played 13 years of MLB. Maybe the Tolan family will get the justice they seek through the civil lawsuit they’ve filed against Cotton and the Bellaire Police Department.

A few days after the Tolan shooting Oscar Grant was shot dead by a transit cop as he lay face down on a BART train platform.

Now the murder trial for Johannes Mehserle has been moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles County. And last week a preliminary hearing was held for the former BART officer who quit his job soon after the incident.

Presiding Judge Robert Perry denied the defense’s motion to permit police officers to serve on the jury. Despite a California law that prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from serving on juries, Mehserle’s defense attorney argued that omitting police officers from serving on Mehserle’s jury violated his 6th Amendment right to a trial by a jury of his peers. Just as the case was moved to a different venue in an attempt to ensure jurors are impartial, allowing police officers to serve on the jury would defeat the purpose. Like gang members, police officers have a tendency to stick together no matter what.

On the other hand, the judge will permit the defense to include evidence of a prior incident where Grant was charged with resisting arrest in a 2006 traffic stop to show what they consider to be a pattern of behavior.

Despite whatever prior incidents Grant might have been involved in, amateur video and dozens of eye witness accounts of his shooting death clearly show that Grant was not resisting arrest and was not a threat to anyone when Mehserle shot him in his back as Grant lay face down on the train platform. That’s all I need to convince me that he should be convicted of second-degree murder.

Jury selection and trial begin next month.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected].