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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Woman: The Car as Weapon Justification

     In June 2010, police in Brunswick, Georgia approached 35-year-old Carolyn M. Small who was sitting in her 1991 Buick smoking dope. When the suspect spotted the approaching officers she drove off. During the low-speed pursuit, with Small driving erratically on and off the road, officers flattened her front tires with stop sticks then forced her off the street into a telephone poll where she sat trapped inside her car. As a pair of Glynn County officers walked toward her car with their guns drawn, Small began rocking the car back and forth to get free. At that point the officers fired eight bullets at the unarmed woman. One of the slugs hit her in the face.

     An ambulance rushed Carolyn Small to the hospital where a week later, while on life-support, she died. In response to the question of why these officers had shot at this woman, the answer was predictable: because she was using her car as a deadly weapon, they feared for their lives.

     An internal police review of the shootings found that the officers, in using deadly force, had acted within departmental guidelines. A Glynn County grand jury heard the case and returned a no bill. No criminal wrongdoing here. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took up the case and agreed with the county police that the officers had been justified in killing this woman.

     In response to an open records request filed by The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the dashboard-camera video of the chase and the shooting. After shooting Small, neither officer rushed to check if she were alive. One of the officers said, "I hit her in the face....Right on the bridge of the nose."

     "I think I fired twice," said the other officer.

     A wrongful death lawsit has been filed against the officers and Glynn County by Carolyn Small's daughters aged five and twelve.

     Polce officers rarely shoot women, and when they do, it is usually because they are threatened by a crazy person with a knife. What isn't rare is the justification for the Carolyn Small shooting. The vehicle, as a deadly weapon against the police, is more frequently cited as the justification for deadly force than the posession of knives, shotguns, rifles, and blunt objects added together.

     While the fatal shooting of Carolyn Small may, under the letter of departmental policy and the law, be justified, the question has to be asked: was it necessary? 


     On October 13 the Florida Times-Union reported that the FBI would be investigating the police shooting of Caroline Small.

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