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.
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.