Top 10 Controversial Police Shootings

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Police are constantly involved in situations where life and death are determined by split second decisions. Unfortunately, those decisions aren’t always correct or well received by the public. This is especially true in the case of guns and deadly force. Here is a list of what can be considered 10 of the top controversial police shootings.

10. Esteban Carlon

In a case of burglary gone horribly wrong, Estaban Carlon and his brother attempted to steal a truck in the Deerbrook Mall parking lot in the Humble region of Houston. After police began to surround the two, the brothers had nowhere to go. Estaban, believing an escape was still possible, climbed into the passenger side of the stolen truck and told his brother to book it. His brother refused. Little did Estaban know that going to jail would turn out to be the least of his concerns.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Estaban Carlon are murky at best. What we do know however, is that Estaban Carlon was “accidentally” shot and killed by Detective Craig Miller. According to Detective Miller’s story, he attempted to break the passenger window with his gun and it went off by mistake. Interestingly enough, Estaban Carlon died as the result of a single shot to the head. It appears that even by accident, Detective Miller is a pretty good shot.

Needless to say, some were a bit suspicious concerning the nature of the events that took place. Even some of Millers police buddies questioned his intentions, referring to Miller’s actions as unusual and not a part of protocol. These other officers didn’t believe Miller would have attempted to break out the window because it could have caused the gun to malfunction and break, putting his own life at risk. Miller left the force on administrative leave with pay.

9. Kenneth Harding

This case went far beyond controversial. Regardless of who was in the right, it was downright sickening. Let’s start with the graphic video of an unarmed Black teenager, Kenneth Harding, lying in a pool of his own blood, still alive, but slowly dying from gunshot wounds inflicted by police officers. Those same police officers stood around Harding, guns drawn while an angry San Francisco crowd gathered. Add to that Kenneth was being chased by police for (get ready) dodging two bucks in bus fare! Obviously, this story created a lot of drama in the Bayview area when it happened and everyone was forced to get their story straight.

After the initial incident, the San Francisco Police department was taking a lot of heat from the community. A reconstruction of the event showed that ten shots were fired in a matter of 6 seconds. According to the police, the first shot came from Harding who was firing at police with reckless abandon and no concern for others around. Police then fired back. Yet, by the time it was all said and done, Harding was dead, no weapon had been recovered, and police were being accused of excessive force.

Eventually, the police did recover a weapon and found it belonged to Harding. Autopsy results revealed that the bullet that killed Harding came from his own gun, suggesting suicide. The community however didn’t buy it and was vocal about their feelings concerning police corruption.

8. Stanley Gibson

What happens when you mix a disabled war veteran and police? Who knows, but death most certainly isn’t the first thing to pop into most people’s heads. Stanley Gibson was a veteran of the first Gulf War and was having it pretty rough in the country he once defended with his life. He was suffering from cancer related to his time overseas and had been diagnosed with a kind of chronic paranoia. He even took medicine. Apparently one night he forgot to take his meds and was driving around, trying to get home. He wound up in a neighborhood where suspicious residents phoned the police. His car was pinned by squad cars and police surrounded his vehicle. In yet another police shooting caught on tape, officers fired shots into Gibson’s vehicle, killing him. Oh, another small detail: Gibson was unarmed.

Police claimed the shooting was the result of tactical miscommunication and a misunderstanding of the circumstances surrounding the incident. No one had a story that would stick. The subsequent uproar led to discussions ranging from racism to the way America has failed to support war veterans upon their return to the states.

7. Caroline McGehee Small

Caroline McGehee Small was apparently in the parking lot of a hotel where a man saw her “heating something in her lap.” He subsequently called 911 and police located and approached Small. Small’s eyes were glazed and it was apparent she was under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. However, after the incident, no paraphenelia was recovered—just a half empty bottle of vodka. Small then drove off slowly, beginning a four mile “slow-speed” chase. She drove erratically, but never reached speeds higher than 35 mph. After she reached her neighborhood, police were able to pin her vehicle. Small, after a brief stop began to accelerate toward a gap between the squad cars. There were two police officers standing in the gap. They yelled for Small to stop nearly a dozen times before firing eight shots into the front windshield. Small was hit in the face and lost consciousness. One week later, she died in the hospital. Her autopsy results were not revealed.

The police maintain that they feared for their lives and believed they were in danger when Small began to advance toward them with the car. There is now debate over whether the officers should be charged in a court of law with either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

6. Patrick Limoges

Police were responding to a call about a man who was armed with a knife and causing havoc in downtown Montreal. After they found him, they fired ten shots, killing the suspect. Unfortunately, Patrick Limoges, a hospital tech who was walking to work, was hit by a stray bullet and killed as well. As if the circumstances surrounding the incident weren’t enough, more controversy was created when the public began to criticize the decision making skills of the officers. The community pleaded for an independent investigation. They were rewarded with an investigation by a neighboring police force already notorious for looking the other way. Rather than question the shooter and those involved directly, the investigating agency used statements written by police officers whole days after the incident happened. Needless to say the public wasn’t happy and advocated the creation of a separate investigating entity chaired and run by a civilian.

5. Antonio Cooks

Antonio was gunned down after police officers responded to a call from a woman who claimed there was a man with a ski mask on, dressed in all black attempting to break down her door. Once the police arrived, armed and ready to respond, they encountered Cooks along with another man and opened fire. Cooks died on the scene. Minutes earlier, Cooks had been standing side by side with police officers. Cooks and his partner were actually bail bondsmen and were attempting to apprehend a criminal who was apparently trying to jump his bail. Both of the bondsmen were wearing black shirts which read “Surety Agents”.

The bondsmen had called the police earlier for backup. When they knocked on the door initially, no one answered. After the officer left, Cooks put on a ski mask and attempted again to get into the house. Unfortunately, the house was in a patrol zone serviced by two different police departments. The second set of officers had no idea that the men outside the home were bail agents, no clue about their call to police just minutes earlier, or any information about the situation at all. So when they arrived and saw the armed masked man, the officer immediately shot Cooks down.

4. Deonte Rawlings

The case of Deonte Rawlings is a bloodsoaked tale that includes two off duty police officers, a stolen mini-bike and a fourteen year old boy. The two officers, James Haskel and Anthony Clay were driving around a neighborhood in Southeast DC looking for Haskel’s stolen bike. Both were officers and both were off duty. After searching for a bit, they find Deonte sitting on the bike. Haskel yells for the boy to drop the bike and by his account, was then fired upon with a gun. Haskel then fires eight shots from the driver side window with one hitting Rawlings in the back of the head. Without even checking to see if Rawlings is alive, Haskel flees on foot and flags down another police officer who is on duty. Haskel reported shots fired to the police department and he is then dropped off at his mother’s house. All the while, Rawlings died on the scene.

The fallout from this incident was major. There were press conferences, FBI investigations and a host of very angry DC citizens demanding justice for the brutal slaying of a child. Despite Haskel’s account of the incident, no evidence was found at the scene to suggest that Rawlings fired a single gunshot or that he even had a gun.

3. Mark Duggan

In August of 2011, Mark Duggan was shot dead after reported shootout. Police had been following Duggan in what was supposed to be a pre-planned arrest. Duggan was in a minicab. Eventually, shots rang out and Duggan was dead. Initially, the reports were that Duggan fired first mainly because of a bullet lodged in one of the officer’s radio. Duggan’s death led to a riot that required officers from at least four different towns in London and that went down in English history.

After an independent investigation into the matter, there was no evidence found to suggest that Duggan fired a gun. The lead investigator admitted his mistake that initial reports that Duggan shot first were inaccurate. Duggan’s family had lost all confidence in the police investigation and felt their chances of receiving justice were slim at best. They were upset that the media attempted to portray Duggan as a gang member and thug who fired at police officers. There were even members of the investigation committee who quit because of foul play during the process

2. Amadou Diallo

While standing near his apartment, Amadou Diallo was spotted by a group of officers dressed in plain clothing. They believed he fit the description of an at large serial rapist. The officers yelled for Diallo to put his hands up and identified themselves as NYPD. A confused Diallo ran and belted up the stairs toward his apartment. Breaking the cardinal rule, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a dark object. One of the officers, Sean Carroll yelled out to his other officers that Diallo had a gun. The other police, believing themselves to be in immediate danger, opened fire on Diallo. To make matters worse, Carroll fell backwards off of the stairs leading the other agents to believe he was shot. A grand total of 41 shots were fired, 19 hitting Diallo. He died on the scene. Turns out the dark object was his wallet and the serial rapist was later apprehended.

1. Sean Bell

Sean Bell was attending his bachelor party at a club Jamaica Queens. He and several of his friends, including Joseph Guzman were in attendance. A group of seven undercover police officers were in attendance as well, dressed in plain clothes. At some point Guzman got into an argument with someone outside of the club. One of the officers claimed to have at that point heard someone mention a gun, prompting him to notify the other officers. They met up with Bell and his entourage as they attempted to get in the car and leave. While Bell and his friends were preparing to leave, an unknown male approached the car with a gun. One of the detectives, Gescard Isnora claimed to have identified himself as a police officer and ordered Bell to stop. Bell, however, did not stop and accelerated, only to be hit by an unmarked, police vehicle. At this point, Isnora thought he saw Guzman reach for a gun and yelled out “Gun!” to his fellow officers. They all opened fire at the vehicle resulting in 50 shots. Bell was killed from shots to the neck and torso.

Guzman survived and claimed the officers never identified themselves at any point, including as they approached the car with a gun. A number of other conflicting accounts would eventually emerge, including some suggesting that the officers started firing immediately upon leaving their vehicles with no warning whatsoever.

When dealing with life and death, there is a very low margin for error. Inevitably however, mistakes will be made, lives will be lost, and people will be disappointed. In a number of these cases, the officers who made those mistakes were exonerated of any wrongdoing. That just goes to show, what may seem obvious to one person isn’t always apparent to others. Perception is reality and the gaps between what we see set the stage for controversy. What we’ve done here is try to count down the top ten most controversial police shootings.