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In Grassi’s experience, the first officers that respond to a call about a citizen using a gun would also be tasked with gathering critical information, and so they are going to ask you questions. “The overwhelming majority of these incidents happen at night. As a result, there is not going to be a detective available immediately. Most police and sheriff departments don’t have detectives available 24-7,” he explains.
Where is the citizen held until it is all sorted out? Grassi predicts, “You’re going to be in the back of a police car and you will probably be held there for a while. Often these cases occur at home, and you may be held inside your home, though you would be in handcuffs.” Other situations may see the citizen taken to the police station for questioning. The Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to seize the shooter and other evidence, Grassi explains. “Because you were part of a scene of violence, I can’t just let you wander off. I have to arrest you and I’m seizing your gun.”
Of course protocols vary from one agency to the next, Grassi notes. Where he worked, the shooter would be taken to the police station where, “I would usually get him a coffee and then we would pull out the Miranda warning.” The 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona requires giving that familiar warning before custodial interrogation by a law enforcement officer. Grassi’s agency required that the interview be videotaped. “You have no expectation of privacy,” he warns. “You must assume that when you talk to a police officer that your conversation is recorded” because despite various state law on recording, the Federal rule is to allow one-party consent.
“Even if I have you in the back of a police car and I put your spouse in there to talk to you and you go, ‘Oh, gee, I guess I am in trouble now that I had to shoot that son of a bitch,’ that is going to be recorded and good luck keeping that from a jury!” he cautions.
Asked about the likelihood of being jailed until investigators were available, Grassi estimates, “In a holding cell? I don’t know it would be that way. Most jurisdictions have an interview room that is secured. In an interview room, just presume that you are being recorded on videotape. Now, don’t put on an act! If you are so shocked by what happened to the extent that you actually have no feelings, well, that happens to some people,” Grassi explains. Experienced officers will recognize the preternatural calm that accompanies severe shock, he predicts.
The victim should not give exact details including distance from the assailant or how many shots either he or you fired, Grassi reiterates, noting, “Now we get into details with which I am not going to be accurate.” Avoid details like a description of an assailant’s gun, he adds. “There would be so many things I couldn’t tell because I just don’t know and I’m not going to know until I start to settle down and that might take some help.” With a minimum 24-hour delay before taking statements in an officer-involved shooting common, Grassi asks how the same consideration can be denied the citizen.
When I express concern that failing to answer questions until 24 hours have elapsed may breed suspicion, Grassi responds, “That may be something for the attorney, not you, to bring up. Obviously, you want the attorney to be there, and they can say, ‘Fellows, a 24-hour wait is in your own policy. Come on! This guy has a business here in town. He’s married and has a history here. He is not going to run away.”
POLICE CONCERNS AT A CALLWe start our conversation with Furhman by asking about officer mindset during initial contact with an armed citizen who has acted in self defense. “You have to go in with an open mind because you don’t know what you are going to see or what kind of interaction you are going to have with somebody,” he explains. Today’s officers “are much more sensitized to people being victims, as it is so prevalent. It crosses into their own families even,” he suggests, adding that police–once mostly Irish or white–now come from all heritages, and “growing up in their own cultures inside the United States, they are more apt to deal with law enforcement well before they become a police officer.”
Entering a shooting scene requires considerable vigilance, he continues. “Your senses need to be very sharpened, you have to see in a 360-degree view, and you have to be able to interpret things very quickly. You may have your firearm drawn, your heart racing, because you are coming into an environment in which you don’t know what is behind a door or corner. Homes are not built as cookie-cutter homes, so you are not going to know the easy path through. You have to be very, very aware with every step you take. The safety of you and your fellow officers is the first thing,” he details.