Elijah Smith Complied (and was shot dead anyway)

“If only he did as the cops commanded” is a ready retort to the guy shot to death when he inadvertantly flinched, or completely ignored, police orders. Sometimes there is a good reason for it, conflicting commands, multiple cops screaming simultaneously, so that it’s impossible to know what to do, how to stay alive.

But the underlying premise is that if only they followed orders, they wouldn’t be dead. The critical piece of this scenario is that their death at the hands of cops is their own fault. They should have complied. They should have listened. They’re dead because they didn’t.

Elijah James Smith complied. He was ordered to raise his hands. He raised his hands. He was shot to death for it.

It’s not that Smith was a poor innocent, though others are.

West Valley City police officers pursued 20-year-old Elijah James Smith on April 8, as he matched the description of a suspect accused of stealing from a nearby cell phone store, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Police said Smith hopped the fence to the backyard of a home in an effort to flee, but the homeowner asked him to leave. That’s when he barged into another neighborhood home and hid in its garage.

When officers arrived at the second home, a 13-year-old boy answered the door and told them a man had enterered into his house. Two other children, aged 9 and 10, were also inside the home at the time of the incident.

Burglary isn’t a good crime. It’s even worse when there are people in the house, children in this case. But what burglary is not is a capital offense. It’s not the sort of crime for which you execute a person.

Police soon went down to the garage where they found Smith standing next to the car.

“Put your hands up now. Let me see your hands,” officers shout repeatedly from the stairs that led to the garage. Smith initially only raised his left hand but left his right hand tucked in his pocket, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Another officer is heard ordering the man to take out his other hand, after which Smith raised his right elbow as he removed his right hand.

Smith was ordered to “get your hand out of your pocket.” Officers shouted for him to raise “his other hand.” He raised his other hand.

Three shots are fired, one of them striking Smith. At the same time one officer fired their weapon, another officer discharged their stun gun, which didn’t reach the suspect. Smith would later die from his injuries.

The rationalization was that he raised his hand too “rapidly.” He wasn’t ordered to raise it slowly. If he raised it too slowly, that would be the excuse to shoot. Is there a speed with which one raises one’s hand and gets to live? So he was shot and killed. For doing as he was told.

After the shooting, authorities said they found a “modified” screwdriver on the floor next to the Smith. Investigators think it was the object tucked in his right-side pocket when he was reluctant to remove his hand.

Reminiscent of the myth surrounding Troy Canty threatening Bernie Goetz, the best they could come up with was a screwdriver, amorphously described as “modified” as if a chainsaw had been added at the end of its shaft. Even that wasn’t on Smith, but connected at best by speculation using the magic of law enforcement chaos theory.

What this serves to highlight is that Smith had no priors, which would invariably be trotted out to prove that his life was less than worthwhile, and so no one should lose sleep over his death.*

This doesn’t prove that every cop is a killer, or that every person who complies with an officer’s direction will end up dead. But what it does show is that the common excuse for the needless death of an unarmed person, even one engaged in criminal conduct, that he brought it on himself by his failure to comply, doesn’t fly. There is no guarantee that complying with police commands will save your life.

In anticipation of the next level of excuse for this needless killing, almost certainly another example of the Reasonably Scare Cop Rule, the simplistic retort will be that if he didn’t commit a crime, if he wasn’t in somebody else’s home, he wouldn’t have been killed.

The commission of a crime is, for the most part, a bad thing. That’s why they call it a crime. You don’t get a medal for it. But you don’t deserve to die for it either. It’s not a simplistic justification for killing people. We do not engage in extra-judicial killing because someone did something against the law. We do not brush off needless killing because the person killed was engaged in illegal conduct.

This was a 20-year-old kid. What he was doing in the garage will never quite be known, as he’s dead and can’t explain himself. But whatever it was, it was not so horrible that he deserved to die for it.

  • I’ve been corrected:

The Seattle Tribune reports: “Smith’s prior criminal record consists
only of a few misdemeanor convictions, including intoxication,
criminal trespass, false information to a peace officer and possession
of alcohol by a minor, according to Utah court records.”

H/T Nick Lidakis

32 comments on “Elijah Smith Complied (and was shot dead anyway)

  1. Pat Riot

    Sorry, BS article. From the video (I am assuming cops’ bodycams) I would have assumed there was enough cause for him to be shot. It looked to me like he could be pulling a gun from his pocket or belt. why not get both hands right up even without being ordered? So, no, “Elijah Smith Complied (and was shot dead anyway)” ES was stupid enough to first, break into a store, then into homes, then run away, then not have both hands up as soon as he heard someone come into the garage, then not get both hands up even before the cops asked him to… there are better examples of guys being shot for no reason. This is not it. Try again.

    1. SHG Post author

      Don’t be sorry. Some people are perfectly fine with cops killing people whenever they sniff any potential threat because in the relative balance of life, of the job, of their sympathies, they just don’t concede that someone taking the job of police officer should take any risk whatsoever, and elevate any rationalization, no matter how vaccuous, into an excuse for cops killing people.

      You’re not alone. You’re the apologist that enables this to continue, but not alone.

      1. Ahaz

        You forgot to mention that the life of the officer is much more valuable than the life of the suspect. Only one really deserves to go home at the end of the day. It’s particularly frustrating to see what the “objectively reasonable” standard has morphed into today. Perception is more than enough to legally take he life of a citizen…and too many of the public support it.

      2. Jeff

        You want the officers to take the risk of him not having a gun by not shooting when he makes janky and suspicious movements? What sense does that make. If he actually did have a gun, would that change your article?

        They say hindsight is 20/20, but obviously knowing what we know now, they shouldn’t of shot. That is still NOT a excuse for what Elijah did.

        In the situation they were in with the guy not doing as the officers commanded, with him suspiciously keeping a hand in his pocket, you really think the officers should of just been like, ‘hey maybe it’s just a chocolate bar, lets not react.’

        And obviously the job of police officer comes with risk, but at what level of risk would you be okay with lethal force being expended? Is it when the gun potentially comes out and visible? When he holds the gun to someone head? To yours? When he fires at you? Or before all of that and when it appears to be a viable threat..

        I mean, come on guy…

        1. SHG Post author

          No need to explain that some cops are too stupid and cowardly for the job. That was already understood.

          1. Grampton St. Rumpterfrabble

            Guy posts rational and logical retort, you respond not with a thoughtful, intelligent response, but with a vapid trolling attempt. Back your words up, SHG. Or, you can just delete my post again.

            1. SHG Post author

              Since I’m in a jovial mood, I’ll suffer a fool momentarily. This is a law blog, for lawyers and judges. Save the “rational and logical retort” for the blithering idiots who don’t know better and buy into lies that cowards tell to cover their sorry asses. If you’re a cop shill, you suck at it. If you’re legit, you’re too stupid to breathe. Either way, sell the crap elsewhere. We’ve heard this nonsense a thousand times, and nobody here is buying. Now go find somebody who gives a shit.

            2. Sgt. Schultz

              Hello, fellow badgelicker. No cop should ever have to suffer risk because they’re special and we love them so very, very much. Ignore that vapid troll SHG and let’s get on our knees and blow us some ‘fraidy cop.

            3. SHG Post author

              I get the sense you aren’t entirely convinced. Isn’t it adorable how the shills show up to spew whenever a cop kills? It’s almost like they’re . . . sensitive.

            4. Sgt. Schultz

              It’s so sweet how they show up with the best argument they can muster, moronic though it may be, and fight for the honor of cowardice. As if nobody realizes that they spewing garbage, and then they get angry that you WON’T TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY !!!

          2. Grampton St. Rumpterfrabble

            SHG once again gives a crybaby-ish, insulting reply instead of a legit argument, and doesn’t allow a “reply” link like the limp-dick, pussy-ass coward that he is (which is why I’m posting up here). And I’m no cop shill…I agree that too many people, especially people of color, are killed by police in this country, that too many cops get off for straight-up murder, and that fundamental changes are needed to how police access and react to situations such as this. It demonstrates your lack of intelligence and shitty narrow-mindedness to make the assumptions you have, but that’s all the internet is good for…being an echo chamber where dumbasses (read as: you) can shout “LOOK AT ME! I’M RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING!” to the void. Enjoy that. Oh, and I KNOW this will be deleted, but it warms my heart that you’ll have to read it before doing so. Fuck you, princess.

            1. SHG Post author

              Delete this? It’s hysterical. How could I deny any other reader the joy of your comment. But now you’re done. The princess says so.

            2. David

              Amazing how it’s always the same comment with the same stupidity, as if it hasn’t happened a thousand times before. But the princess is a nice twist.

    2. REvers

      Okay, then. He was stupid enough to do all of those things. He was also unfortunate enough to encounter a group of cowards with guns.

      So he had to die, I suppose.

    3. DaveL

      Surely, anybody who is ordered to take his hands out of his pockets could be pulling a gun out along with them as he complied, so anybody complying with such an order could be shot. Also, anybody not complying with such an order, because noncompliance implies a threat. Does that just about cover it?

  2. Mike

    This was not some guy minding his own business. This was a rabid dog boxed into a corner. The cops went into that garage knowing that. If he had a gun he could have had it trained on the door as they opened it. It was a stupid move barging in like that. There is about a 20 second cut in the tape. Was that really enough time to get the kids out to safety? Did they plan their tactics for entering in that time? Did the mutt respond to their command to come out? Why is there a cut in the tape?

    More questions than answers here.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not a single thing that went through you had bore upon the only point that was raised. How do you manage to do that?

    2. DaveL

      If he had a gun he could have had it trained on the door as they opened it.

      Please, tell us more about your grandma’s balls and equestrian sports for beggars.

      1. Mike

        The inquisitive mind makes connections. If the cops were adrenaline crazed enough to run into a cage with a dangerous animal why would they care one way or the other about the reaction to and the specific words used in their orders. They were screaming at him to provoke a reaction. The guy didn’t have a chance the moment they opened the door.

        1. SHG Post author

          The imaginative mind creates an entire scenario built on their own fantasy and doesn’t understand why others don’t see his fantasy as clearly as he does.

  3. Weebs

    The cop who walked to the back of the car looks to be pointing a taser. That would have been a much better tool to use since it’s not clear if the suspect has a gun when he pulls his hand from his pocket.

    If nothing else, perhaps it would give them the extra couple of seconds to determine if he is armed.

    1. SHG Post author

      Apparently, he fired the taser as they fired the handguns. One hit. The other did not. Certainly a taser would have been the lesser lethal force, but was any force required?

      1. Weebs

        Great question, but even if force wasn’t required, better it be in the form of 1200V than a .40 cal bullet at 1200 FPS.

        I used to be an NRA-certified firearms instructor. When discussing safety, one of the first things I taught was “You can’t unshoot a bullet.” Those cops would do well to learn that lesson.

        1. LocoYokel

          They know that very well. Unfortunately for the rest of us there are no consequences for them when they shoot that bullet for any reason whatsoever, or no reason, so they don’t really care.

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