But For Video: Why Dillon Taylor Had To Die

It was one of those videos that didn’t seem to make much sense, the shooting and killing of Dillon Taylor by Salt Lake City Police Officer Bron Cruz.  Shaun King at the Daily Kos gave a moment by moment run down of what happened, but it clarified nothing.

At 0:17, Officer Bron Cruz gets out of his vehicle. You will notice people confused by his presence.

At 0:22, Officer Cruz walks past two men who were friends with Dillon Taylor.

At 0:24, Officer Cruz walks behind Taylor, who has on a white T-shirt and is listening to music.

At 0:33, we see the officer has his gun drawn and is yelling at Taylor, who’s holding his sagging pants up and does not appear to hear Cruz.

At 0:36, the officer shoots Taylor. It would be fatal.

Starting at 0:41, you will notice the headphone cord coming out of Taylor’s pocket.

At 0:48, you will see that the headphones were clearly going up to Taylor’s ears.

At 0:52, the officer asks Dillon to “give me your hands,” but Taylor is already near death. His friends begin screaming and crying in the background.

At 1:03, the officer handcuffs Taylor.

At 1:48, the officer turns Taylor over, the headphones are visible, and the officer states “it’s clear”—meaning that Taylor was actually unarmed.

At 2:54, the officer turns Taylor completely over, keeping him handcuffed, and begins talking to him and trying to get him to talk. Taylor appears nearly dead and is completely covered in blood.

At 4:56, the officer is rummaging through Taylor’s pockets instead of providing any first aid.

It seems as if there was something significant missing from what could be seen, as it was just too bizarre, too inexplicable, to believe. And, indeed, there was more.

“He couldn’t hear them, so he just kept walking. Then … they had guns pointed at his face. That’s when he turned off the music,” Taylor’s brother Jerrail Taylor told the SLC Tribune. “I saw them point guns at my brother’s face, and I knew what was going to happen.”

One officer told Taylor to get on the ground, while another told him to put his hands on his head.

“He got confused, he went to pull up his pants to get on the ground, and they shot him,” Jerrail Taylor said.

After all, when you turn around and see a cop pointing a gun at center mass, one’s first reaction isn’t “are my pants hitched up on my waist at just the right height.”  But when one cop says “get down” while another says “hands up,” the choice of what to do isn’t exactly clear.

Added to the mix is that Taylor had no reason under the sun to think that either cop might have a reason to shoot him under any circumstances. After all, he was on the “good guy curve,” having done nothing wrong, and therefore having no reason to think that he was the target of the police per se, or the object of fear and loathing.

Dillon Taylor wasn’t just confused as to the commands being screamed at him, but as to why anyone would be screaming at him at all.  That was what was happening in his head.  In the cops’ head, the situation was different.

Taylor, his brother, and his cousin were exiting a 7-Eleven in an area where police were searching for a suspect who had allegedly been waving a gun around.  These uninvolved young men allegedly matched the description.

From the perspective of the cops, young men, description waving gun, meant that they were on a search and destroy mission, and justifiably so.  After all, that’s a recipe for violence and it was their job as cops to prevent such violence and save the public from harm. So they shot and killed the wrong guy who behaved exactly the way someone who wasn’t doing anything wrong would be expected to behave, because the cops had a different image in their minds.

And on October 1, the district attorney in Salt Lake City, Sim Gill, ruled that the killing of 20-year-old Taylor was justified. Even in his determination, though, he stated that “Taylor’s shooting was justified not because he posed an actual threat, but because (Officer) Cruz reasonably perceived a threat.”

Cruz was responding to a call about a young man with a gun. Taylor was a young man.  Should Cruz be forced to actually see something threatening before killing Taylor? Was it not enough that Cruz was unwilling to risk any potential violation of the First Rule of Policing by awaiting the glint of steel, or whatever glints off matte metal, before killing someone who may have been a young man in search of the perfect Slurpee?

That there was no actual threat is beyond dispute.  That there was no reasonable basis to perceive a threat should similarly be beyond dispute, but clearly that wasn’t the case.  The distinction is that “perceived threat” has morphed into perceived potential for a threat, rather than a threat itself.

Could, given the information Cruz had in his mind, this young man have had a gun, have reached for his waist and pulled it out, have then aimed it and shot it such that Cruz would be at risk of harm or death?  Sure.  But the risk was still steps away, hard factual steps that would, had Cruz not been so cowardly, scared and self-protective, have provided him with ample opportunity, his gun drawn, to protect himself if and when an actual, perceivable threat materialized.

It never did.  But Dillon Taylor is dead anyway, and a sigh of relief was heard throughout that Salt Lake City Police Department that the dead young man wasn’t one of theirs.  That’s all that really matters to them.


14 thoughts on “But For Video: Why Dillon Taylor Had To Die

  1. Ross

    My crotchety old brain thinks we pay police to take risks, and one of those risks is that they might get shot at while making sure that a suspect is a real threat, not a perceived threat. I don’t recall seeing any cases where an officer was killed by a suspect managing to deploy a firearm from clothing after officers arrive and pull their firearms.

    There also seems to be a common thread in these cases that indicate training is not adequate. Officers shouting opposing commands that a suspect cannot comply with, assuming that every suspect hears well, assuming that all suspects are physically capable of getting to the ground without using hands to help, are all issues that should be dealt with in training.

    1. SHG Post author

      On the issue of training, cops are trained to seize command, but there is no single command they are trained to yell. And indeed, we see this all the time, when there is more than one cop, there are conflicting commands which, by definition, means that the suspect is always disobeying someone. It’s untenable.

      Can there be effective training so that all cops at a given scene will issue the same command? I don’t think so, as they see every situation as fluid, demanding a response based upon what the officer perceives as being the proper command for the situation. They don’t want the cop limited so that he can’t issue the command he thinks is proper, and so there is no way to limit the cop’s prerogative in advance, and the conflict will invariably occur.

      Any cops want to opine?

      1. ShelbyC

        Would it be cynical to suspect that officers are trained to yell conflicting commands, so that no matter what happens, the can claim that he disobeyed lawful orders?

    2. David M.

      This is appalling even by the generous standards of an SJ reader. Can you imagine losing your life because some asshole who sounds like Mr. Garrison decided you weren’t obeying his nonsensical, contradictory command well enough?

      1. David M.

        Actually, this comment adds nothing. I’m sorry. Some of these things make me want to throw up.

  2. Onislandtime

    I live outside the city where Mr. Taylor died. I followed this sad sad story at the time, so just wanted to add some detail. I am not posting links per your policy, so let me know if you want them.

    You wrote that Mr. Taylor had no reason to fear being shot by the police. True. But he had written a few disturbing Facebook posts in the days presiding being shot to death that stated that he knew he was going to be picked up for a parole violation. He was in a very bad place mentally, claimed he was homeless, wrote that he would not go back into a cell and that he knew it was “his time”. His blood alcohol was reportedly .18 which would not contribute to clear thinking or reactions.

    I saw the frame by frame of the video from the officer’s body cam that was shown at the press conference when Gill announced no charges would be filed. Mr. Taylor, facing the officer, lifted his shirt with one hand. His other arm was across body, but you couldn’t see his hand in the photo. At that time his family said he was lifting his shirt to show the officer he was unarmed. The police obviously saw it differently.

    Sim Gill has prosecuted a police officer for manslaughter, Detective Shaun Cowley, who shot and killed Danielle Willard. The judge dismissed the charges and as of last week Cowley was reinstated. I admire Sim Gill. He is very accessible and engaged in the community, would not back down when charging Cowley, disbanded Cowley’s department due to corruption, and doesn’t seem to notice that he s vilified by the police union.

    In this situation, I trust that Gill is correct that the shooting would be considered ‘legal’ (I cannot bring myself to type ‘justified’.

    1. SHG Post author

      Much of this background info does little to illuminate, and potentially muddies the waters much more than before by introducing details that, because of irrelevance and immateriality, panders to the ignorant. Did Cruz know about Taylor’s Facebook page? If not, then it doesn’t matter, and adding it into the mix makes people stupider because people don’t recognize its irrelevancy to Cruz’s decision to shoot.

      As for Taylor’s being in a sad state others, or having some sort of premonition that something bad was going to happen, did that have anything to do with Cruz shooting him? If not, then so what? The media tends to dig up info without regard to its value. People are stupid and eat up info, which they then mistake as “insight” despite its being utterly inconsequential. It’s a constant nightmare in trying to understand the news.

      Now you’ve added this extraneous information to the mix, but to what end? People feel this compulsion to throw in every detail they know, just to show how much they know about something, which ultimately makes everyone else stupider for their having done so.

      Lawyers are constantly deluged with a mass of irrelevant information, and one of the most important skills is sifting through the crap to focus on the salient information. You have brought the crap to the mix. Was that what you were trying to accomplish?

  3. Fubar

    At 2:54, the officer turns Taylor completely over, keeping him handcuffed, and begins talking to him and trying to get him to talk. Taylor appears nearly dead and is completely covered in blood.

    At 4:56, the officer is rummaging through Taylor’s pockets instead of providing any first aid.

    [ Too hideous for a limerick. But I see the video sequence quite differently.

    At about 2:50 minutes, Cruz appears to open a small gauze bandage and stick it on Taylor’s chest, while shouting further orders to Taylor, “Hey! Hey! Talk to me, Buddy! Talk to me!”

    Rendered first aid? Check.

    Having rendered marginally pro forma First Aid, Cruz continues his interrogation, kicking and shaking Taylor’s near lifeless body while interrogating Taylor and commanding him to talk.

    Taylor does not properly invoke his right to remain silent under Salinas v. Texas.

    But, at about 4:15 it becomes obvious that Cruz’ post mortem interrogation is actually intended to establish post hoc his own exculpatory ignorance: “What the hell were you reaching for, man?”

    At about 4:56 Cruz’ rummaging indicates increasing desperation in his attempts to find evidence to exculpate himself.

    Perhaps there is a second rule of policing: if you neglected to establish at least a marginally exculpatory record before you decide to execute someone for the crime of not hearing you, use any means necessary to do so after the fact, including kicking around a corpse and ordering it to answer your questions, or sticking a piece of gauze on a sucking chest wound.

    A dead suspect will not invoke his right to counsel, or ask “am I free to leave?” He’s already left, in disobedience of your orders not to do so. And he inevitably will fail to invoke properly his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. So, your self-serving interrogation is perfectly lawful.

    1. SHG Post author

      The problem isn’t that Cruz asked, but that he asked the wrong question:

      Cruz: If you weren’t about to kill me, say so now.
      Cruz: Well, that proves it.

  4. Andrew_M_Garland

    Possibly it is the public which needs more training. The police should advertise that holding hands up (or out and away if on the ground) is a universal, compliant response to any police order at the beginning of an encounter. There is then time to do other things with permission.

    If the suspect is facing away from the police, then stopping and raising hands, without turning, is the safe response. In a car, hands on the steering wheel.

    I’m not blaming Taylor. I’m looking for a safe-harbor response to any initial police encounter, a response that the police must respect.

    If the police turned this suggestion from a safe-harbor into a required response, then my suggestion would make things worse. Police might shoot anyone not holding his hands up. That isn’t my intent.

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t think you understand “command presence.” It’s not about where your hands are, but about doing as commanded to establish that the cop is in control.

    2. Wrongway

      I like the idea & intent.. but.. no.. that would become a law.. & that’d be a bad thang…
      i’m not saying this would happen but.. if a person jaywalking was tryin to keep his pants up, (I say get a belt but I’m an ‘old fart’..) with earbuds, doesn’t deserve to die because he didn’t hear the command, let alone for failing to “assume the position”..

      just sayin..

    3. Brenda A. Linder

      There is no “safe harbor,” and I would be more concerned if people actually thought there was. The correct response or “position” to be assumed, if one can actually hear the command, is whatever the authority deems would have been appropriate, after the fact.

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