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Police Shootings Of Unarmed Citizens Prompt Training Debate

Recent officer-involved shootings have spotlighted the issue of lethal force, and some suggest instinctual responses require new training for police.
Posted at 2:51 PM, Sep 25, 2014

Prosecutors charged a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper Wednesday for shooting an unarmed man during a traffic stop for a seat belt violation.

A warning — the dash cam video prosecutors showed in court Wednesday can be considered graphic. Sean Groubert's arrest and felony charges followed weeks of angry calls from community leaders for answers over why he shot Levar Jones in the hip.

TROOPER GROUBERT: "Can I see your license, please? Get out of the car! Get out of the car!" << four gunshots >> "Get on the ground! Get on the ground!" (Video via The State)

Immediately after those shots, you can hear a very confused Jones say to the trooper, "I just got my license. You said get my license."

Groubert appeared in court Wednesday night charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. (Video via WLTX)

The state highway patrol fired the 31-year-old last week.

Civil rights activists nationwide have had plenty of officer-involved violence to talk about the last two months in their calls for a review of how police use lethal force.

Most notably, Michael Brown — the unarmed teen shot and killed by a police officer in early August in a St. Louis suburb after police said he struggled with the officer. Brown's death led to violent protests and clashes as police in Ferguson tried to control protesters angered by Brown's death and the lack of criminal charges against the officer who pulled the trigger.

And just Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced it would look into the shooting death of John Crawford III in early August after two officers shot him while he held a pellet gun in an Ohio Walmart. (Video via Beavercreek Police Dept.)

Crawford, like Jones and Brown, was a black man shot by a white officer.

Nationwide, laws generally give police significant leeway when it comes to using deadly force, especially if the officer says they felt threatened.

Thursday morning, NPR aired a four-minute piece featuring the research of a Washington State professor and former police officer who says in intense moments, physiological research is showing conscious decision-making ends and officers go into fight mode.

MARTIN KASTE, NPR REPORTER: "And if it turns out we're asking police to do the impossible, he says it may be time to rethink police tactics. Find ways to move back the clock, maybe train cops to back off more and wait for reinforcements."

That sentiment isn't exactly unique. In a 1989 editorial for the Los Angeles Times, a UC-Irvine professor wrote of the need to change training after the death of a man running away from officers.

He called for "a comprehensive training approach based on an attitude of protection of life — all life — rather than on the archaic 'officer survival' mentality."