Main » 2013 » July » 2 » The Abuse of Deadly Control: Did Police Have to Fire on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?
2:39:39 PM
The Abuse of Deadly Control: Did Police Have to Fire on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

The murder of civilians by other civilians wielding assault rifles and hand guns captures our attention, however briefly. Sandy Hook’s massacre is still fresh in our minds, but so are the killings in Aurora, Colo., and at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. So far these murders have had little effect on laws regulating gun ownership in the United States.

The Boston Marathon Bombing has exposed another ugly facet of gun violence, the inordinate use of deadly force by law enforcement in the apprehension and interrogation of suspected criminals. This abuse of power is often swept under the rug, never properly addressed and the crimes never prosecuted.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon suspect now in custody in a federal medical facility awaiting trial, had holed up in a boat in Watertown, Mass., subject to a city-wide manhunt.

He was unarmed and under observation by a "forward looking infrared thermal imaging device” located in a police helicopter hovering overhead, but the police and the F.B.I. nevertheless fired a fusillade of at least 20 shots, critically injuring him.

No one is proclaiming his innocence. I am just questioning the use of that firepower under the circumstances. Was it necessary and proper?

Ibragim Todashev, a man suspected of being complicit with the Tsarnevs in an unrelated triple homicide in Waltham, Mass., was killed in Orlando, Fla., last week while being questioned by an F.B.I. agent and two Massachusetts State Police detectives. Reports on the details of the shooting are contradictory. One version has Todashev knocking the F.B.I. agent to the ground with a table [?] and running "at him with a metal pole” when shot. Another has him brandishing a knife. Yet a third reportedly states that he "might not have had anything in his hand.”

What is undisputable is that Todashev was killed by seven shots, "including [one] to the crown of his head,” all fired by the F.B.I. agent while the two detectives presumably just stood by. The gruesome post-autopsy photographs of his body have been posted on a Russian Web site, Kavkazskaya Politika, and can be found at 
I warn you that they make disturbing viewing with all of those bullet wounds.

What is further undisputable is that Todashev was interrogated for eight hours in his home on the day of the shooting because "he had refused to report to an official building for what would have been a third round of questioning.” Yet none of the three interrogations were recorded by video or audio tape, this in an age of the cell phone and the iPad. Why? Perhaps to avoid recording abuse of deadly force?

Abuse of deadly force occurs daily on our streets. Last August, on a sunny afternoon, a black man was smoking pot on 47th Street and Broadway in New York City. The police ordered him to stop disturbing the tourists in that pedestrian mall. The man bolted and, clearly deranged, kept retreating down Seventh Avenue waiving a knife and pursued by at least a dozen cops. Mace was used several times, and when that did not stop him, he was put down with 12, in-a-split-second, shots fired by police officers, one a woman. Abuse of deadly force is an equal opportunity employer.

Abuse of force need not be deadly to be illegal and improper. A detailed study by The New York Times [Aug. 15, 2012] found a "high [excessive] use of force” in four precincts in Harlem, The Bronx and Jackson Heights, precincts with large minority populations.

In December 2011, the Justice Department found the East Haven police engaging in widespread "biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizure, and the use of excessive force.”

In Danbury, surveillance tapes surfaced showing a police officer assaulting a prisoner in a holding cell while other cops looked on, not interfering. In Hamden, in April 2012 two Hispanic males named Angel were confronted by the police. One had a hammer and the other scissors in their hands when they died.

But it also happens in our own back yard and in affluent neighborhoods. In Ridgefield, police were called to the estate of John Valluzzo, a 75-year-old businessman and philanthropist who had founded the Military Museum in Danbury.

The police responded to a report of a "domestic disturbance” at 5:15 in the afternoon. One of the responding officers, Jorge Romero, ordered Mr. Valluzzo, who had a handgun in hand, to put it down.

What happened next is still under investigation, but we do know that Mr. Valuzzo was killed by "multiple gunshot wounds.”

The police have yet to file a full report on the incident. What is troubling is that the police flatly refuse to specify the number of shots fired, fired to stop a 75-year-old man. Why?

Guns are a deadly force used by both civilians and the police. Both should be strictly regulated and any violation severely punished.

Abuse by law enforcement is more egregious because it violates the trust we have delegated to those who police our laws.

By Deyan Ranko Brashich
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