A 40-year-old woman and mother of three from Ann Arbor, Michigan was shot and killed Sunday night after allegedly confronting police while holding a knife.
The woman’s boyfriend, Victor Stephens, 54, challenged the police on their handling of the incident, saying that the use of lethal force was excessive and that the situation could have been resolved through non lethal means. Stephens said: “Me and her, we had an argument. Glass was being broke, so I called the police to escort her out,”
Police were called at approximately 11:45 pm by Stephens to escort his girlfriend from his property. When officers arrived, Stephens was in a separate hallway in the house away from where the incident occurred and she was pronounced dead at the scene. There were 5 other people at the house. “They said ‘freeze’ and the next thing I know I heard (gunshots),” Stephens said. Significant questions are being raised regarding the circumstances surrounding the event, the use of lethal force in the encounter by Ann Arbor police and the investigation being launched by Michigan State police into the fatal shooting.
Ann Arbor Police issued this statement and Police Chief John Seto asked Michigan State Police to conduct an investigation into the incident, saying that those involved in the shooting and the community “deserve an objective, unbiased review of the facts surrounding this incident.”
Whether that goal can be achieved remains to be seen, as there are clear conflicts of interest with having the police investigate themselves as well as potential difficulties in ascertaining facts as a result.
This concern over objectivity is what prompted Wisconsin to become the first state to mandate outside reviews in police killings earlier this year as a result of activist movements in the state.
Retired Air Force officer Michael Bell, an advocate for this legislation had filed a wrongful death suit against police, who cleared themselves of any wrongdoing after killing his 21 year old son in an altercation. Bell hired his own investigators and submitted an 1,100 page report to the FBI and US attorneys, which brought important evidence and circumstances to light surrounding the incident and police response, and led to the case being settled after 6 years in court.
In researching, Bell also found that, “In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.” Demonstrating how difficult it can be for police to be impartial in their own investigations and citing lack of accountability as the culprit. Bell kept organizing and fighting for what ultimately became Wisconsin’s law mandating outside reviews.
In addition to objectivity in the investigation, police use of lethal force continues to be a major concern, with high profile incidents such as the recent Michael Brown shooting elevating the issue into the national consciousness.
Whether the investigation finds the killing justifiable or not, the question will remain of whether the deceased mother of three could have been disarmed and taken into custody without facing lethal force, and to what extent police should be responsible for attempting non-lethal means of resolution.
While some circumstances certainly justify the use of lethal force, it is intended to be the last resort in ending an altercation and only to be used when in extreme danger. If the facts come to show that this was not the case, accountability must be demanded. If nothing else, because the price for society is far too steep: 3 children will now enter adulthood in society with their mother having been taken from them by violence. And regardless of whether this woman was a good mother or not, this is not the kind of practice that engenders building a better society.