PortandTerminal.com, July 22, 2020
Recent instances of unidentified military/police forces attacking protestors in the United States have raised troubling questions on many fronts. For example, if a person is being attacked by someone who they believe is impersonating a police officer – can they use lethal force to defend themselves?
WASHINGTON – Imagine a scenario where you are being physically threatened or attacked by someone who looks like a military officer, but perhaps isn’t. You don’t know. His badge is covered with tape as are all of the other usual items legitimate officers use to identify themselves. Maybe he isn’t wearing any identifying insignia at all.
Unsure of who you are being threatened by, you ask your attacker to identify himself. He ignores your question and starts to beat you with a baton.
Frightened and in severe pain, you ask your attacker once more to identify himself. “Tell me which police force you are with” you plead. He refuses to answer and continues to attack you with a baton, breaking your hand and then sprays you in the face with pepper spray. Terrified and fearing for your life now, you draw your legally registered handgun and shoot your unidentified attacker. He dies in the exchange.
“Pettibone said he was scared when men in green military fatigues and generic “police” patches jumped out of an unmarked minivan early Wednesday. He did not know whether the men were police or far-right extremists, who frequently don military-like outfits and harass left-leaning protesters in Portland. (Washington Post, July 17, 2020)
Shaken, you escape the scene to return home and to tend to your wounds. You watch scenes on TV broadcast by the local news showing protestors like you being taken to the hospital. Badly shaken but still too scared to visit a hospital yourself, you call your lawyer and explain to her what just happened that evening as you tried to peacefully protest and were attacked.
Describe your attacker she asks. “Male, heavily armed, wearing camouflage gear. No ID. Refused to identify himself,” you tell her.
Last month, Americans were shocked as hundreds of unidentified security personnel appeared in Washington, DC during the George Floyd protests.
Without badges or other identifying insignia, protestors on the ground were left to wonder who they were being policed by. Were they “real” police or paramilitary personnel? Or maybe something else altogether?
The frightening debacle raised many questions and concerns.
You can have this weird thing where you have these militia group guys just dressed up in their gear, which they like to do anyway, show up and just start pushing protesters around,” explained former FBI agent Clint Watts. “And if you’re a protester, you don’t know if you have to respond to this person.”
One question it raised involve the rights and responsibilities of the protestors who interact with unidentified paramilitary personnel on American soil.
If threatened by someone who refuses to identify themselves as a police officer, do Stand Your Ground laws apply for example? Could a protestor legally defend themselves with lethal force against an unidentified, uniformed person who is threatening them?
Twenty-five states have enacted State Your Ground laws. Oregon to note does not have a Stand Your Ground law. As the likelihood of these mystery police surfacing in states that do have Stand Your Ground in place, the point applies.
A stand-your-ground law (sometimes called “line in the sand” or “no duty to retreat” law) establishes a right by which a person may defend one’s self or others (right of self-defense) against threats or perceived threats, even to the point of applying lethal force, regardless of whether safely retreating from the situation might have been possible.
“Anybody can go to the store and buy… used combat fatigues, get an unmarked minivan, and then go off and abduct people off the streets. And we won’t know if that’s the federal government or just some civilians playing dress-up.” – Christopher David, the man assaulted by federal agents in Portland on Saturday.
We are not by any stretch of the imagination legal experts. Our understanding though is that the only time when self-defense against a police officer is legal is when you do not know and have no reasonable way that you could have known that the person attacking you is a police officer.
In almost all other scenarios you have a duty to submit.
A valid self-defense claim might arise though when someone has an objectively reasonable reason to think that someone claiming to be a police officer is really just a criminal impersonating a police officer, even if that belief is, in fact, mistaken.
BOP (Bureau of Prisons) confirmed to CBS News that the riot officers were their employees, saying in a statement that they weren’t wearing marked clothing because they were “serving a broader mission.” (WUSA9 reporting)
We’ll leave you with a meme that has been doing the circuit on the internet today.
Copyright © 2020 PortandTerminal.com