ST. LOUIS – Members of the black caucus in the Missouri legislature are joining demonstrators on the streets to rail against a system they believe fails to hold some officers accountable in deadly shootings.
Since the unrest in Ferguson three years ago, many local lawmakers have asked the state to review the law that justifies deadly force in Missouri. It is considered by judges and read aloud to juries in the courtroom before they make a decision in an officer-involved shooting case.
Many legal experts believe Missouri’s deadly force law allows officers to use force against any fleeing felon.
The state law is not in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1985 case Tennessee v. Garner.
The court decided then that an officer may not shoot a fleeing suspect without “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
"I’ve been saying for a while that in a situation where an officer says, they feared for their life based on some subjective belief that they got from a person they killed -- if that subjective belief did not hold up to be true, that they [the court] would then waive any protection from sovereign immunity from that behavior,” said Attorney Anthony Gray, who represents members of the Ethical Society of Police. “So if you think someone is armed, you shoot them under that belief and it turns out that you're wrong, then I think that the sovereign immunity protection that's generally applied, should be waived under those situations."
Former St. Louis Alderman Antonio French would also like to see the state law changed.
“The standard right now that it is almost impossible to convict a police officer for killing a citizen as long as he has said that he felt fear for his life,” French said. “Fear alone shouldn't be the standard."
The chairman of the black caucus told Fox 2 News he is glad Gov. Greitens met with him last Thursday ahead of the ruling, but is frustrated legislative leaders did not change the law in the years since Ferguson.
"The governor gave us the opportunity to vent ourselves and talk about our community,” said Rep. Alan Green, D-Florissant. “When we're talking about these issues here we need more than that, I’m going to be honest. We need to look at how we can make these changes from the areas of employment in our community to criminal justice reform. By sitting down and talking to him about these issues and he did listen, that was something that we needed to do."
Green, Gray and French said only so much can be done at the state level. They said area police departments need to dress the issues raised by police shootings internally.