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Controversial Police Shootings Rooted in Questionable Training?

The fatal shooting of a Colorado police officer by a fellow officer and which led to a multi-million legal settlement last week is symptomatic of a nationwide problem of questionable law enforcement training that encourages police to shoot first and ask questions later, the complaint citizens are raising in controversial police shootings in Chicago, Cleveland and this past week in Tulsa, says the dead officer’s attorney.

Earlier this month, the City of Lakewood paid $3.5 million to settle The Estate of James Davies v. City of Lakewood, et al., Case No. 14-cv-01285-RBJ-NYW (D. Colo.), a lawsuit filed by the estate of James Davies, a Lakewood police officer killed by a fellow officer during a SWAT operation in 2012.

Attorney Clayton Wire of Denver-based firm Ogborn Mihm, LLC, believes law enforcement needs to stop using training programs that promote and reinforce what he calls a “shoot first and ask questions later,” or “cowboy style” of policing.   Increasingly alleged by victims of police shootings, this style of law enforcement in deadly force situations became apparent as the city and shooter defended themselves in the Davies lawsuit, Wire said.

“The Lakewood police and the shooter retained police psychology experts who train police officers to essentially shoot first and ask questions later,” Wire said.

The experts hired by the city and the shooter were from the Force Science Institute (FSI), an organization operated by Dr. Bill Lewinski in Mankato, Minnesota.  FSI, often hired in the wake of police shootings nationwide by law enforcement agencies to justify the officers’ use of deadly force, says it studies the science and human dynamics behind deadly force encounters.

“In my opinion, these sorts of training and expert witness organizations teach officers that they must shoot first, and shoot before they have even confirmed the victim has a weapon, because if they don’t the victim could shoot them first,” Wire said. “The message and directive behind such training is that police officers should shoot before fully assessing the actual threat presented by the situation.”

Lewinski was the subject of a 2015 exposé by The New York Times, entitled “Training Officers to Shoot First, and He Will Answer Questions Later,” which discussed how he and other FSI representatives use questionable scientific conclusions to repeatedly justify heinous shootings by police officers.

“Ultimately, as a result of expert testimony exposing their pseudo-science, the judge­ in our case significantly limited the testimony of the Force Science Institute experts,” Wire said.  “The judge ruled they were not qualified to testify about the misapplied and incorrect principles they sought to introduce.”

James Davies, then a 35-year-old Lakewood police officer, was shot and killed in 2012 outside a single-story house that he and fellow officers from numerous departments were checking after hearing shots fired there.  Davies’s wife and estate was represented by Wire and his colleagues at Ogborn Mihm, LLP, attorneys Murray Ogborn and Thomas Neville.

In the lawsuit, James Davies’ wife, Tamara, asserted on behalf of her husband’s estate that the officer who killed her husband had acted in a reckless and unreasonable manner, supervisory officers on the scene had caused the death of her husband, and that the police department’s policies and customs caused the shooting to occur. In the settlement the City did not admit fault.

Experts for Ms. Davies, and experts retained by the city, identified numerous errors by the police officers and supervisors, as well as the department. The reconstruction and analysis conducted by Ms. Davies’ experts also revealed the reckless and unreasonable nature of the shooting.

Wire said the Lakewood police and other law enforcement agencies nationwide need to evaluate deadly force training and focus specifically on what happened to Officer Davies.

“Besides addressing and working to remedy the “shoot first” mentality in many agencies, police departments need to train their officers effectively so they can identify and track fellow officers during operations,” Wire said.

Agent Davies was shot by an officer who first went inside the house attempting to clear it and then came out with his AR-15 rifle drawn into a darkened backyard, without first obtaining necessary information regarding the location of perimeter officers, Wire said.

“Despite having a central role, this officer, an experienced member of the SWAT team, claimed he did not know Davies was stationed at the back fence when he came outside, shot multiple times and killed him,” Wire said.

About Ogborn Mihm LLP

Ogborn Mihm, LLP is a law firm for clients who need stand-up trial lawyers in high-stakes litigation.  Our attorneys have represented clients in hundreds of jury trials, bench trials and arbitrations.  We take on the toughest cases, such as commercial and business tort litigation, plaintiff legal malpractice litigation, and employment and whistle-blower litigation.  We represent injured people and families in serious personal injury lawsuits.  We take on the insurance industry in insurance bad faith and recovery litigation.  We handle probate and estate litigation.  For our construction contractor clients, we have a substantial contract dispute and construction defect practice.   Our clients range from small family-owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies.  While the majority of our clients are businesses or business owners, many of our clients are individual people from every walk of life.

Ogborn Mihm LLP is a member of the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.


The general information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.

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