Justice demands patience in recent officer involved shooting

The recent officer involved shooting in Minneapolis will take time to investigate — perhaps more than usual. We need to support the process if we are serious about actual justice.

Recent media reports have disclosed information from the initial search warrant served by the BCA on the night of the officer involved shooting death of Andrew Tekle Sundberg. The information indicates the two officers who fired at Sundberg were “snipers” who had positioned themselves on the roof of a nearby building. A sniper-involved shooting is relatively rare. This will likely require more time to investigate as it adds a complexity to the use of deadly force that isn’t there with a close quarter shooting. Body cams are unlikely to be as conclusive or useful in this evaluation, though that is not yet known. 

The disclosed information also reveals that approximately a dozen rounds of less lethal spent cartridges were located outside Sundberg’s apartment — which is indicative of law enforcement trying to subdue Sundberg with the least possible force necessary.

While this information is interesting, its disclosure and future disclosures prior to the completion of the investigation are not helpful to a fair and impartial gathering and review of the facts. For the sake of all involved in this incident, we should rally around the idea that the investigation and subsequent legal review will produce an inherently superior level of justice if those gathering and reviewing the facts are reasonably shielded from media, community, and political pressures.

A slow “leak” of information can negatively affect an investigation by tainting witness recollection or creating other unintended or unforeseen consequences — all of which are avoidable and none of which serve justice.  

Authorities would be better served to stop expanding the precedent of sharing information before an investigation is complete. 

Fortunately, the Sundberg case has seen far less political opportunism than recent officer-involved cases. Appropriately there have been no statements from the governor, our U.S. senators, the attorney general, or county attorney. 

However, Sundberg’s parents, their attorneys, and some community members have been critical of the police response. Many of the criticisms contradict information already known — such as not being able to speak with their son during the standoff.

Interestingly, during a demonstration involving Sundberg’s parents, attorneys, and community members, one of the many victims of Sundberg’s violence the night he was killed interrupted the demonstration and powerfully turned many of the sentiments being shared upside down. See video here.   

Some have also been critical of the use of police at all in situations like this. They suggest Sundberg was in a mental health crisis, and community members or mental health professionals would have been better at resolving the situation than “police with guns.” 

We will learn after the investigation is completed, the extent to which Minneapolis Police went to involve crisis negotiators, mental health professionals, and even Sundberg’s family. The police, in situations like this, want nothing more than to resolve the situation peaceably. The notion that it would be more appropriate for mental health professionals and/or the community to deal with someone in a mental health crisis who is actively shooting at others, without police involvement, is absurd. 

Professor James Densley of Metropolitan State University’s School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice summed this absurdity up well: 

“We’ve just spent a number of years calling for community-based alternatives to police, but whenever there are guns present, the fallback is we need a law enforcement response. On the one hand, they’ve effectively been asked to stand down, because the community’s got this, but the evidence is suggesting that the community doesn’t have it.”  

While calls for more information and transparency are understandable, especially from a grieving family, we must understand that the best possible gathering and review of the facts will occur in an environment void of undue media, community, and political speculation and pressure. 

When the investigation is complete, and the legal review announced, it will be wholly appropriate for the media, community, and politicians to comment and critique. Not before.