ASU prof explains gray area of law in recent police shootings

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Outrage over the deadly Phoenix Police Department shooting of drug suspect Rumain Brisbon is adding fuel to the national debate over police use of force.
Dr. Hank Fradella of  Arizona State University is a leading expert in criminal justice.
"Lethal force can only be used in three circumstances," he said. "When a police officer needs to defend him or herself, or to defend someone else or to stop a fleeing suspect who is dangerous and posing a high risk to the public."
Fradella says the gray area in recent cases that are grabbing national headlines centers on resisting arrest.

"If they are willing to use force against a police officer the police officer is legally privileged to respond," he said.
And the U.S. Supreme Court has set very strong precedents in defending the rights of police officers.
"In the heat of the moment, we do tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the law enforcement officer," Fradella explained. "When they reach for their waistband, the perception might be if that person gets out a gun I could be dead, so that is why the law gives police officers a tremendous amount of discretion."
Police say Brisbon reached for his waistband when the officer ordered him to put up his hands, and then he tussled with the officer.
Fradella says resisting arrest, is always a gray area for the courts.

"Here is the law in reality: It is not wise to resist arrest," he said. The amount of resistance you offer, the more force can be used and if that rises to the level of lethal force because you are threatening the life of a law-enforcement officer, then you might find yourself having lethal force used against you."

Should that happen, Fradella said the law will "most likely" be on the side of the officer.

He went on to explain that being unarmed might not matter in the court's eyes. Perception in the heat of the moment can be key in such situation.