But For Video: Adam Coy Charged With Murdering Andre Hill

It’s a nifty feature, that a police body cam can capture 60 seconds of video before it’s turned on. It’s because of that feature that video exists of former 19-year Columbus Police Officer Adam Coy shooting, killing, 47-year-old Andre Hill. Without it, the only thing anyone would have known about the killing is what Coy told them. He probably would not have told them he shot without reason, he shot too soon, he shot because, well, he just did.

Coy was responding to reports of a vehicle being continuously restarted when he encountered Hill coming out of a garage in the early morning hours. Hill, who was holding a cell phone in his left hand and whose right hand was not visible, was shot several times seconds after the two saw each other.

There was no information to suggest that Hill was armed or posed a threat. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear why anyone called the cops to begin with.* Maybe there was something said that gave rise to a concern that’s less than obvious (although Coy’s partner, Amy Detweiler, says Hill neither said nor did anything to suggest he was a threat), but the fact that Coy failed to turn his body cam on earlier, as required by policy, is no one’s fault but his. The fact that after shooting Hill, Coy cuffed him and let him bleed on the ground for almost six minutes is no one’s fault but Coy’s either.

There’s a lot about this scenario that’s hard to fathom absent more information. As a 19-year veteran cop, Coy shouldn’t be so overly scared as to shoot without reason. Then again, maybe he was always a scared cop, reacting prematurely to any hint of a potential threat. Or maybe he has a history of improper use of force. Or maybe he hates black guys. Or maybe he was a good cop with no history of jumping to force. Maybe, like most cops, he never shot his weapon until this time. Who knows?

As to anyone who might fight reality to justify the shoot, Andre Hill had no weapon and was engaged in no wrongdoing. When Coy approached, Hill was on the good-guy curve. behaving exactly as anyone who had done nothing wrong would behave. There is nothing to fault him for, no matter how hard one might try.

Coy was immediately fired from the job, mostly on the basis of his not having turned his body cam on and likely because he let Andre Hill bleed for almost six minutes after shooting him. Regardless of the basis for the shooting, there was no justification for either of these, and there was little about the national Black Lives Matter reaction to cops killing black guys that left any doubt that turning a blind eye to a police officer letting the guy he shot bleed out would be tolerated.

But it didn’t end with Coy’s termination.

A Columbus police officer who was fired after fatally shooting a Black man in December was arrested and charged with felony murder on Wednesday, Attorney General Dave Yost of Ohio announced.

The officer, Adam Coy, a 19-year veteran who is white, was also charged with felonious assault and two counts of dereliction of duty.

The basis for the felony murder charge is hard to understand. The AG’s press release provides no link to the indictment and offers nothing to explain the basis for the charge. Presumably, the only possible underlying felony was the separately charged felonious assault of shooting Hill four times, with perhaps the intervening failure to provide aid for almost six minutes serving as the distinction between the assault and murder.

The problem is that such a charge would be precluded by the felony murder “merger doctrine,” an issue that was discussed when Derek Chauvin was indicted for killing George Floyd. Ohio does not appear to have adopted the merger doctrine, so that the shooting can serve as a predicate for the felony murder, the consequence of the shooting.

There is no question that Coy’s shooting Hill was functionally unjustified and unjustifiable. Hill did nothing to justify a level of fear of a threat to resort to deadly force. Indeed, there was nothing about the entire scenario that should have made Coy walk into it with fear. But then, what gave rise to a 19-year veteran cop deciding that this was the day to pump four bullets into this guy?

At trial, it’s likely that Coy’s defense will present expert testimony from the cottage industry of cop apologists about why Coy was reasonably afraid for his life, about how Hill’s unseen right hand could have held a gun which could have been used to kill Coy, and how Hill could have avoided any of this by simply dropping whatever was in his hands and raising them to where Coy could see them, even though a law-abiding citizen is under no such duty to avoid being executed by a cop because of whatever is running through a cop’s head.

It also possible that Adam Coy will testify that he was scared, and his shooting was justified under the Reasonably Scared Cop Rule, which functionally absolves cops from culpability for bad shoots. Without greater understanding of the Ohio charging regime (Gamso?), it’s unclear why there was no indictment for crimes requiring a lesser mens rea, like recklessness or negligence, which might better address the issue of the reasonableness of Coy’s claim of threat.

But what’s most significant is that Coy is being charged here, rather than swept under the rug as it would have been, and has been, until the public attention made it untenable to pretend that unjustified police killings could be ignored with impunity. And without the body cam, and particularly its 60 second capture in advance of being turned on, there would be nothing more than Coy’s word for what happened.

Rest in peace, Andre Hill.

*The shooting occurred in a garage in a residential neighborhood. Whose house and garage it was, and what connection Hill had to the house or car, is not explained.

13 thoughts on “But For Video: Adam Coy Charged With Murdering Andre Hill

  1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    Re felony murder: According to the Ohio AG in a video from a press conference announcing the charges, the predicate felony is indeed the count of felonious assault. Interestingly, the grand jury no-true-billed Coy on plain-vanilla murder.

    [P]erhaps the intervening failure to provide aid for almost six minutes serv[es] as the distinction between the assault and murder.

    If the AG’s making such a distinction, he didn’t feel the need to mention it at the press conference.

    1. SHG Post author

      Since Ohio hasn’t adopted the merger doctrine, it opens the door to the shooting being a distinct offense upon which the felony murder can be based. While the sense of being charged with “murder” is more publicly satisfying, it’s legally unseemly. Ohio also has reckless and negligent homicide options, but they, too, were not charged. Lots of curious things happening here.

      1. LocoYokel

        Dumb Joe on the street take…

        Political / Public Relations decision? Most of the public doesn’t understand the differences and purposes of the various charges and murder sounds better in a sound-bite. If they have to stretch a bit to make it stick who’s gonna know besides the lawyers, and they’re not the target audience. If it gets a not guilty verdict because they over-reached at least they can say they tried and blame it on the jury. (And they may or may not consider that a bug.)

        “Look, this cop killed a black guy unjustifiably and we’re charging him with murder rather than some ‘slap on the wrist’ lesser charge. Please don’t riot and destroy our city.”

  2. jeffrey gamso

    I haven’t seen the indictment (it doesn’t appear to be publicly available yet), but the charge is presumably Revised Code § 2929.02(B). “No person shall cause the death of another as a proximate result of the offender’s committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree and that is not a violation of section 2903.03 or 2903.04 of the Revised Code.”*

    Murder B, as we call it, was enacted because our legislature was pissed that it hadn’t made involuntary manslaughter’s 10-year prison possibility (it’s 11 now, and maybe 11-16.5 depending on how the latest iteration holds up against various challenges) sufficiently punitive. I represented the first guy in the state charged with Murder B (as we call it) under that section of the murder statute. He ended up pleading to a lesser, which was the right result.

    *2903 and 2904 are involuntary and voluntary manslaughter.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m never sure if I’m supposed to love or hate felony murder, but given that the merger doctrine doesn’t apply in Ohio, there doesn’t seem to be much use for manslaughter, voluntary or otherwise.

      1. DaveL

        “Felony murder” played better with the focus groups than the original name, “Manslaughter But F**k You”.

      2. Jeffrey M Gamso

        The good (?) news is that involuntary manslaughter is still what you have for lower level felonies and misdemeanors that end up causing death. And I can’t think of a time when the grand jury charged voluntary manslaughter – that’s really there for the defense to convince the judge to offer it to the jury as a lesser option.

        Ain’t no way this state will get rid of felony murder in my lifetime (an increasingly short stretch of time, of course, since I’m old, but still).

      3. Bryan Burroughs

        Based on the NPR piece I heard today, I think we are currently supposed to hate them. Or maybe that’s only when it’s used against people we like. It’s so confusing.

  3. B. McLeod

    Kind of looks like Hill might have been taking video with his cellphone too. As in the Walter Scott case, officers can’t assume that their cameras are the only ones on the scene. It will be interesting to see how this turns out, as there have been acquittals in some more egregious cases.

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