When You Kill The Wrong Guy

Every time a cop kills a person, there’s a story.  The problem is that sometimes, it’s hard to come up with a story that makes much sense, but there’s still a dead body on the ground and a cop whose brain is whirling a million miles an hour. You can’t kill a guy and just say, “oops.” Even among cops, it’s frowned upon.

So when an unnamed Downey, California, police officer shot and killed an unarmed Michael Nida, he did the best he could.

A Downey officer responding to the Saturday night robbery call spotted Michael Nida, a 31-year-old unarmed father of four who matched the description of the suspect, said Lt. Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has taken over the shooting investigation.

Customers at a nearby ATM had been robbed at gunpoint minutes earlier and Dolson said it was believed Nida was the suspect.

“It very well looks like it could be a matter of perception,” Dolson told KNX radio. “This individual somewhat matches the description of an armed robber who robbed people at the ATM.”

Somewhat matches the description is awfully vague.  Maybe he was a human being of the male persuasion, walking upright, just like the ATM bandit? 

Family members told CBS News station KCBS-TV that Nida had jaywalked across a busy street to buy cigarettes as his wife bought gas. Nida was spotted by a Downey officer, who said he was acting suspiciously. The officer asked Nida to sit down.

“He got up and ran away,” Dolson said.

Guys who jaywalk will do that, you know.  Act suspiciously, I mean.  And run away from a cop because he didn’t want to go down on jaywalking.  They take jaywalking very seriously in California.

Nida was found a short distance away and officers ordered him to get on the ground, but he got up and ran again, Dolson said. Officers never checked Nida for a weapon and, believing he was armed, an officer shot him, the lieutenant said. No gun was found.

When a guy flees once, he’s just your run of the mill jaywalker. Twice? Well, that’s a threat if ever there was one.

The officer apparently “believed in his mind that this man presented quite a danger to the people around him,” Dolson said.

And really, a guy running away from a bunch of cops with guns because of jaywalking, because you have to remember that Nida knew nothing about the ATM robbery, is obviously the sort of thing that makes a cop “believe in his mind” (as opposed the various other places a cop might be inclined to believe) that he’s about to go on a murderous spree and harm everyone around them, cops included.

This may be one of the all-time worst stories ever devised to justify a police shooting.  There is nothing, no part of it, that rings true.  And it goes from ridiculous to absurd, and yet what makes it so significant is that everyone, most notably the investigating officer at the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department, talks about it without breaking out laughing.

Sure, it means that the unnamed Downey cop (who is likely going on long term leave at full pay for therapeutic purposes given the traumatic stress of killing an innocent, unarmed man) didn’t have a throwaway to plant on Nida.  Boy, wouldn’t that have made life simpler?

If nothing else, couldn’t he have come up with a story that amused?  Maybe armed space aliens? 

That Michael Nida lies dead for having the misfortune of coming within the line of fire of this unnamed Downey cop is tragic.  He had a family. He had four children.  When a cop goes down, there’s a fund for the children.  It’s unlikely that the police will start a fund for Nida’s children.  They won’t get a medal for their father being a hero.  They will just go to a funeral and walk away wondering why this had to happen.

The family has  started a fund to give Nida a “proper burial.”  They probably didn’t expect that he would be shot and killed by a Downey cop for jaywalking and hadn’t saved enough money to lay him to rest.  Maybe they’ll get an anonymous donation with a Downey postmark.

The least the unnamed Downey cop could have done is come up with a better story.  This one sucks.

H/T Radley Balko

One thought on “When You Kill The Wrong Guy

  1. Mary-Fa'alima Harris

    I have just read your post about Michael Nida, and would like to thank you for your insight and empathy for his family.

    Last night, I spoke at the Downey City Council Meeting, along with other friends and family members, about the death of Michael Nida at the hands of their police department. We are protesting the shooting, and demanding a full investigation. We believe that there needs to be change in police policy and culture.

    The Downey Police Department is responsible for two deaths in the past month alone. Their officers are using lethal force when other non-lethal methods could be used as an alternative. Michael Nida was an unarmed man, and we feel that his death was a homicide, not a justifiable self-defense shooting as the police department is trying to portray it to be. If the police officers involved had detained him and searched him, they would have discovered that he was not the bank robber, was innocent, and he would be alive today. If they had truly believed that he was a threat, other non-lethal methods of force could’ve been used, such as rubber bullets, bean bags, or tasers, as I have seen them used in other instances. No description of the supposed bank robbers has ever been released, and this incident seems to be one of apparent racial profiling and not one of reasonable or rational suspicion.

    Police harassment and brutality is all to prevalent in the inner city, especially among people of color. Young blacks and Latinos experience firsthand just how intimidating and aggressive police officers can be. Yes, it is true, that there are criminals who are black, there are criminals who are Latino, and these delinquents should be dealt with accordingly. But when someone is racially profiled, demeaned, mistreated, abused, and even killed, because they fit a predetermined description of what a criminal probably looks like – this is a social disgrace and a unjust tragedy. People question why Michael Nida would run. I have been teaching for seven years, and the stories that my students have shared with me over the years would shock me, if not because I myself have experienced firsthand what it is like to fear for your life at the hands of a police officer, in the dark, away from witnesses, wondering if you will make it away alive to tell the story, but knowing better than to even bother reporting it since no one will ever believe you. Being raised in a poverty-stricken and crime infested community is already difficult, but the burden of experiencing mistreatment from law enforcement officers, from those who you are told are there to protect and serve, is the worst condition of all. It robs you of innocence, of hope, and of a sense of liberty and justice. It makes you apathetic, hateful, and scared. It creates a culture of the people versus the police, which is not ideal, is not fair, and leads to incidents like this where the police mistrust people of color and people of color mistrust the police.

    It is time for change…

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