As of Tuesday, February 9, 2016
No one ever wants to see a law enforcement officer kill anyone, and bringing a firearm to bear is rarely necessary even in that dangerous line of work. Whenever it is necessary for an officer to draw down on a human being, there must be quick, clear accountability.
Every. Single. Time.
When the Federal Bureau of Investigation anticipated lethal force might be used in the course of taking down the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers, the FBI went far beyond what local law enforcement can do. Above the scene of the bust, they deployed a camera-equipped aircraft. The bust went bad. LaVoy Finicum sped away, crashed, tried to run, and was shot dead. But the circling plane allowed the FBI to publish, immediately, a self-explanatory video of what happened on YouTube for all to see.
Meanwhile, though months have passed since law enforcement in neighboring Adams County shot and killed Jack Yantis, an ongoing investigation has yielded no more clarity about what happened at that infamous encounter on U.S. 95.
In the wake of Finicum’s death, a public accounting for the Yantis shooting is even more urgent. The same element that now lionizes Finicum’s role in last month’s high-stakes staredown over federal land in Oregon is drawing bogus links between the two deaths. In Baker City, Ore., 65 miles due west of Council as the crow flies, county-level officials were invited to attend a rally dedicated “to the memory” of both men.
Anti-federal activists should not be allowed to exploit a delay in justice for Yantis. The Adams County deputies involved in the Yantis shooting should not be tried in the court of public opinion, but every day that passes without an official accounting of how he died is an outrage.
In stark contrast to Finicum’s last moments, it remains unclear whether video of Yantis’ death even exists. In November, the Idaho Statesman reported the two officers involved in the Yantis shooting wore body cameras – cameras that may not have been active – and that a dash-mounted camera certainly was “not even on.”
No airplane was circling above the scene of Yantis’ death, nor should one have been there. But the cameras that were there should have been on, and the footage those cameras should have captured should have been released to the public long ago.
The Idaho legislature should outfit law enforcement with the tools needed to quickly account for officer-involved shootings. These recent deaths have nothing but this in common: they show that law enforcement’s credibility goes to trial at the very moment the police pull the trigger. Even if no one dies, every time a cop shoots someone, the public needs to be able to see for itself what happened.
If state-, county- and city-level law enforcement officers aren’t properly equipped to provide quick accountability, the legislature ought to see to it that they be.