Speaking out from behind bars after evading a traffic stop by New Mexico State Police where shots were fired. In an op-ed published by The Taos News, Oriana Farrell appears to be defiant by expressing her belief that her arrest was an “injustice at its best.” If you ask any number of people who may have read this story, or saw the video as I have, there’s an overwhelming sense that she “got what she deserved.”
But don’t tell that to Farrell:
After witnessing uniformed police officers fire shots at a van carrying my five children, I have learned that the value of their lives only matters so much as criminal charges against me are concerned. A uniformed officer can shoot three bullets at my van and be considered to be “doing his job”, but my doing what I can to get my own children away from such a terrifying individual has been termed “child abuse” and “endangerment,” according to New Mexico law.
An officer can use a baton to smash a glass window directly into the faces of my four young sons who were riding in the backseat, but somehow my attempts to protect them from further harm are dismissed because the perpetrator wore an official “state uniform,” and has been hired to “protect and serve.” The media has been given authority to defame my character and to erroneously report partial facts pertaining to my case because an officer of the law was said to be “doing his job.” Injustice at its best. (read more here)
Personally, I cannot in good conscience cosign this belief. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I believe that Farrell’s actions were dead wrong. There’s no doubt in my mind that she deserves to feel the full weight of the law for her actions, which includes the endangerment of her children.
However, her actions should not be viewed or used to justify shots being fired by a police officer. So while I don’t see her arrest as ak injustice. I do, however, see the lack of judicial accountability of Elias Montoya — the officer who can be seen shooting at her vehicle in the video below — to be troubling; and, an injustice to larger society, and not just Farrell. Why? Because in 1985 the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner that the use of deadly force by law enforcement against a suspect fleeing felony arrest to be unconstitutional. Ironically the plaintiff in this ruling, like Farrell, was also a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. But unlike Farrell, Mr. Garner was shot and killed while attempting to avoid arrest.
A Tennessee statute provides that, if, after a police officer has given notice of an intent to arrest a criminal suspect, the suspect flees or forcibly resists, “the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest.” Acting under the authority of this statute, a Memphis police officer shot and killed appellee-respondent Garner’s son as, after being told to halt, the son fled over a fence at night in the backyard of a house he was suspected of burglarizing. The officer used deadly force despite being “reasonably sure” the suspect was unarmed and thinking that he was 17 or 18 years old, and of slight build. The father subsequently brought an action in Federal District Court, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for asserted violations of his son’s constitutional rights. The District Court held that the statute and the officer’s actions were constitutional. The Court of Appeals reversed.
Held: The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against, as in this case, an apparently unarmed, nondangerous fleeing suspect; such force may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. Pp. 497 U. S. 7-22.
(a) Apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement. To determine whether such a seizure is reasonable, the extent of the intrusion on the suspect’s rights under that Amendment must be balanced against the governmental interests in effective law enforcement. This balancing process demonstrates that, notwithstanding probable cause to seize a suspect, an officer may not always do so by killing him. The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. Pp. 471 U. S. 7-12.
The last time I checked, police officers do take an oath to uphold the very laws they are tasked with enforcing, no? Of course they do. So, to suggest or advance the argument that says that if Farell had just signed the ticket, she would not have been shot at is shortsighted. To Farrell’s point in her op-ed, it’s as though in the minds of some, officer Montoya’s actions were justified simply because Farrell refused to sign the ticket and evade arrest. Could it not be that Farrell was terrified? I could be wrong, but fear is known to bring out the most irrational behaviors in some, yes?
Of course I can hear some of you arguing that the same could be said of officer Montoya. Yep, it could be argued that Montoya’s split second decision was a natural reaction borne out of fear. The problem with that line of thinking is that Farrell posed no threat to any one of the officers present. If anything, once the chase developed, Farrell became a threat to the lives of herself, her children, and every driver along the route.
In my opinion, the point when Farrell endangered her children, was at the time of the high-speed chase. So again, while Farrell deserves to be prosecuted at the full extent of the law, let’s not pretend that officer Montoya has clean hands on this one. In my opinion, he should be held accountable for his actions. But hey, I suppose by wearing a badge an individual entrusted to uphold and enforce the law is exempt from doing so.
Watch the full video below.