Police across the country facing career-ending criminal charges for split-second life or death decisions

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2020 was a wild ride – especially for law enforcement. After the George Floyd incident sparked protests all over the country, more spotlight has been put on police.

As public pressure is mounting on government officials, many opportunistic politicians are on a witch-hunt to sacrifice any police officer. What civilians, politicians and even celebrities don’t understand, are the complexities of law enforcement.

Police officers are often put in a position where they have to make a split-second decision with limited information and a lot at stake.

When a suspect is ignoring lawful commands and starts acting unpredictably, the officer starts thinking: What is the suspect’s intent? What is he capable of? What is he doing with his hands? The questions go on and on. The officer is asking and answering these questions in a matter of seconds and has to make a decision within that time frame.

Not an easy task. Best case scenario is your decision was favorable in the eyes of the department and the public.
Worst case scenario is the decision will be scrutinized closely and political pressure will mount to pursue criminal charges.

Only few know the split-second decision scenario better then Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance.

In 2014, Clint was deployed to Afghanistan as a Platoon Leader of an Army infantry combat unit. During a routine patrol in an area of Kandahar province known for IED’s (improvised explosive devices) and random attacks on U.S. forces, Clint ran into a situation.

Several Afghan motorcyclists approached his platoon and they ignored orders to stop. He was faced with a split-second decision.

Clint tells LET:

“During those few seconds I had to decide, I was thinking about the intelligence reports that I was very familiar with and how the Taliban would place C-4 explosives under the seat of the motorcycle in such a way you couldn’t even see it.”

Clint gave the order to fire, and two of the motorcyclists were killed. The military disagreed with the decision and subsequently charged and convicted him with ‘unpremeditated murder’ and sentenced to twenty years in Leavenworth.

The case was later picked up by United American Patriots, UAP.org, who advocates on behalf of servicemen and women who are wrongfully imprisoned by providing free legal services. And after mounting evidence supporting Clint’s case was exposed by UAP (such as bomb-making residue found on the motorcyclists hands), Clint was pardoned by President Trump late 2019.

His story was re-told in a Starz documentary entitled Leavenworth.

There were a lot of parallels when it came to Clint’s case and those among police officers Use of Force incidents becoming politicized. Clint feels he was a scapegoat for military’s upper brass looking to charge servicemen and women to appease politicians.

Clint said:

“Senators often put pressure on the Pentagon to push political agendas. When it comes time for a General’s promotion and it goes to a Senate confirmation hearing, Senators have the authority to say ‘No’.”

Sound familiar? That’s like a mayor putting pressure on a DA to pursue criminal charges against an officer to appease the public to secure votes. Meanwhile, due process and the law take a backseat. That’s as un-American as it gets.

Split second decisions are tricky. You have to consider every factor, formulate several conclusions and execute a decision in seconds, maybe less- that is very difficult.

Clint said:

“I had a duty to react because if I didn’t, I could’ve been sending soldiers home in a body bag. That’s the thing with war; you have to know what the enemy could potentially do.”

And law enforcement officers know what suspects could potentially do, which leads to split second decisions. Many civilians and politicians expect an officer to make the best possible decision every single time- which is unrealistic.

Furthermore, the idea that many departments nationwide are instituting a ‘civilian oversight’ committee as law enforcement watchdogs are both futile and irresponsible. Civilians simply don’t understand the dynamics of split second decisions when deadly use of force is a real possibility.

If you ever find yourself in a political tug-of-war, as several officers have in the last year, know your rights and put yourself in a favorable position.

Clint said:

“Don’t say anything to anyone other than your PBA rep. Also, if I could go back, I would sell everything I own and get a better attorney.”

Of course every case is different. And it all starts with understanding what role politics play when it comes to criminal charges and Use of Force. It’s a shame that we have to look at it that way- but that’s the reality we are in.

Or, you could actually do something about it, as Clint is.

Clint said:

“I enrolled in law school to be a part of the solution. Too many politicians push their own agendas and justice gets moved aside and that’s crap!”

He continues:

“Charging the people (police) who carry the heaviest burdens in our society must be a fair and objective process.”

If an officer is charged with a crime, it should be based on facts and laws. Then the officer should face the consequences fairly in accordance with due process- not politics.

About the writer:

Eddie Molina is a leadership professional, blogger and author. He voluntarily writes articles to keep the law enforcement, first responder and military community informed on important issues. For more information go to www.eddiemolina.com

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Officer charged with assault year after fight with man who violently attacked cops

December 24, 2020

ELMIRA, NY An officer with the upstate New York village of Elmira has just been charged with second-degree assault after being involved with a response to a combative suspect who died in an altercation with police in August 2019.

Elmira NY officer indictaed on assault charges after combative suspect dies
Screenshot courtesy of YouTube

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who acts as a special prosecutor in many police use-of-force cases in the state, announced the indictment Wednesday morning:

“After an exhaustive investigation, we concluded that there was sufficient evidence that the crime of assault had been committed to warrant a presentation to a grand jury.

“Last week, the grand jury voted, and returned an indictment against Elmira Police Officer Eduardo Oropallo on charges of Assault in the Second Degree.”

This case, and whether a conviction is made against the officer, could mark a significant case law disadvantage for police officers in similar scenarios.  As readers may recall, a San Francisco officer was recently indicted over the year-old, nonfatal shooting of a home-invasion suspect while defending a woman and her infant. 

That situation — along with an emphasis on re-evaluations of officer-involved shootings and other use-of-force scenarios — could have a crippling impact on the law enforcement career field, according to many in police union leadership.

Attorney General James defended her decision to seek an indictment against Oropallo. She said: 

“We take this prosecution with the utmost seriousness and look forward to presenting our case in court.

“All of our communities deserve justice, and we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that justice is served.”

Officer Oropallo was arraigned on the charge Wednesday morning, according to the attorney general’s office.

The series of events that led up to the death of 47-year-old Gary Strobridge began on August 22, 2019, when Elmira police received a report that a man was behaving erratically on the roof of a two-story home on Horner Street. 

When officers arrived at the scene, the emotionally disturbed suspect climbed off the roof, was “acting unusual” and started yelling and chasing his neighbor, according to the original police report.

Police said Strobridge “was clearly a danger to himself and/or others” so they attempted to take him into custody under the Mental Hygiene law.  The suspect resisted their efforts and allegedly punched one of the officers in the face, resulting in a physical altercation between him and police.

One officer deployed a stun gun before Strobridge was finally subdued and transported to a hospital.

According to police, Strobridge was initially calm while being treated at the hospital, but then his “behavior suddenly changed and he physically attacked” another Elmira police officer.

Police brawled with the combative suspect yet again, at which point Strobridge suddenly fell limp and unresponsive.

According to the indictment, Oropallo allegedly struck the suspect’s face against the floor intentionally during the fight, causing serious injuries, the Star-Gazette reported.

It was reported that Strobridge received medical treatment before being transported to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where he later died.

The suspect’s family sued the Elmira Police Department and the city of Elmira in September, alleging that multiple law enforcement officers used excessive force while dealing with Strobridge, as reported by the Star-Gazette.

The lawsuit further claimed the suspect was in the midst of a mental health crisis at the time, and alleged the officers’ use of force “directly contributed to Mr. Strobridge’s demise,” WENY reported at the time.

Oropallo is the only officer who has been indicted in connection with Strobridge’s arrest, the Star-Gazette reported.

Oropallo, a U.S. Army veteran, faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Oropallo is a Notre Dame graduate, served with the New York City Police Department and the Corning Police Department before joining the EPD in March 2014, WENY reported.

In reference to the case law discussion, this is the third case out of more than 40 deaths investigated by Attorney General James’ office since 2015 that has resulted in criminal charges against a police officer.

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