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How Police Justify Killings at Traffic Stops: ‘The Car Was a Weapon’

In November 2020, Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office searched for a stolen car in Cocoa, Fla. He spotted a similar vehicle, which pulled into a driveway, then backed out. The deputy left his cruiser and stepped in front of the car, then fired 10 times as it moved slowly forward, the dash-cam video shows.

The driver, A.J. Crooms, 16, and a passenger, Sincere Pierce, 18, who had been planning to hang out with a friend, were dead. Officials later said that the vehicle was not the stolen car. (As in several other cases, guns were later found in or near the car, but they played no role in the confrontation.)

This April, Deputy Nolan Davis of the Delta County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado tried to pull over a white Honda with no license plates. The driver fled, eventually running over “stop sticks” placed by another deputy, which flattened the Honda’s tires. As the car attempted to maneuver between Deputy Davis’s patrol truck and a white truck, he stepped out of his car into the path of the Honda, body-cam footage shows. Deputy Davis moved backward as he fired eight times, even after the Honda passed him. Paige Pierce, 26, was dead.

The driver “was about to hit me,” Deputy Davis told his superior. “I had no choice, Sarge.”

Deputy Davis later said that when he stepped from his patrol truck he thought that the driver may have exited the Honda and been “possibly stopping to flee on foot,” according to a review by the district attorney.

Neither deputy lost their job or faced criminal charges.

In dozens of fatal cases over the past five years, officers reacted similarly, jumping in front of vehicles or failing to move out of the way.

Such decisions are dangerous for both motorists and officers. Over the past five years, three officers who leaned inside vehicles during stops were killed when the drivers took off. Six others were run over by vehicles they were facing down, like Amy Caprio, a Baltimore County police officer killed in May 2018 after responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle connected to a burglary.

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