Texas Grand Jury's Use Of A 'Shooting Simulator' Questioned After Police Cleared In Every Shooting Incident Over The Last Decade

by Tim Cushing
Techdirt
May. 15, 2014

We've discussed the multiple problems with the grand jury system here in the US -- a system that only survives in a handful of states. Grand juries are known both for their expedience and their willingness to indict nearly anyone for anything. True, they don't decide whether a person is guilty or innocent, but an indictment is the next best thing to a verdict for those indicted, many of which are imprisoned until they can be properly tried.

The grand jury in Harris County, Texas has an additional tool at its disposal, one not in use anywhere else in the state.
The armed carjacker projected on a large screen threatens to kill you if you don't give up your keys. Holding a modified gun that emits a beam, you pull the trigger when he draws his weapon, and seconds later fire again at another person who jumps in front with something in his hand.

The second person turns out to be a bystander holding a cellphone.

This interactive way of illustrating the use of deadly force is part of unusual training that Houston-area grand jurors can receive before they begin hearing cases, including those involving police officers.
This shooting simulator (which appears to be "Mad Dog McCree: Law Enforcement Edition," at least according to the published photo and the description above) puts grand jury members in the shoes of accused police officers. Grand juries may be able to indict ham sandwiches, but this particular grand jury has reached the conclusion that, despite derogatory slang linking the two, police officers are not ham sandwiches.
[A]n investigation by the Houston Chronicle last year found that Harris County grand juries have cleared Houston police officers in shootings 288 consecutive times since 2004.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any data on the simulator's effect on non-police shooting indictments. That the cops have been cleared 288 times without an indictment may not have as much to do with the shooting simulator's empathetic capabilities as it has to do with the grand jury being a grand jury.
Sandra Guerra Thompson, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said grand juries usually give officers the benefit of the doubt in shooting cases because of the dangerous nature of their jobs.
The problem is that the more this benefit of a doubt is given, the less likely it is that officers will use training or restraint when in unsafe situations. If a teen answers the door carrying a Wii remote, they're free to open fire before ascertaining that the held item isn't a weapon. Harris County's shooting simulator plays into that mindset, inserting jurors as proxy cops into situations they're not trained to handle and using those visceral reactions to guide their indictment decisions.

So far, the courts have sided with the use of the simulator. The DA's office finds it to be "educational and helpful." Opponents say it promotes "pro-law enforcement bias." Sadly, these viewpoints aren't contradictory. Most DAs would find anything that locks "bad guys" up and keeps "good guys" on the street "helpful." A "pro-law enforcement bias" achieves these aims. And the track record -- 288 consecutive findings in favor of police officers -- speaks for itself.







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