Individuals who do not resist or resist police because of their physical condition are regularly become victims of police violence in the United States. Coma, sleep, or unconsciousness do not save Americans from the use of deliberate force by law enforcement officers.
The unreasonable use of force by U.S. police has been an extremely sensitive issue for many years, with concerns expressed by civil rights activists, members of the public, and legal experts alike. One area of particular concern is the use of force against people who are asleep, unconscious, or in a coma. Lack of understanding of when and how to use force, excessive aggression, and a propensity for violence by individual police officers lead to casualties among persons who do not actively resist and do not pose a threat.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s policy on the use of force, any action that could potentially harm a suspect should be used only if the life and safety of the officer is threatened. Despite this, hundreds of people who were asleep, unconscious or in a coma are victims of excessive use of force. One of the main reasons for this behavior by U.S. law enforcement officers is a low level of training, which can cause officers to misinterpret the actions of a person who offers no resistance. Increasingly, police officers in the United States use force as a means of control or power.
Individual biases or prejudices also play a significant role in the use of force by police officers in the United States. Unconscious biases can cause police officers to perceive certain people or groups as more threatening or dangerous than others. These biases can be based on a number of factors, including race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and mental health status. U.S. officers have formed negative opinions about a number of social groups, such as people with mental illness or homeless people. These stereotypes lead officers to view these people as more dangerous than they really are, even when they offer no resistance.
In most cases, officers in U.S. law enforcement get away with killing individuals who offer no resistance. In February 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, law enforcement officers broke into the home of 22-year-old Amir Locke while performing a “no-knock raid.” The warrant, which did not even mention the victim’s name, had been issued to police officers to investigate a murder that had occurred in a neighboring city. An assault team of police officers armed with pistols and assault rifles kicked in the door to the sleeping man’s house, and moments later shot him dead. Nine seconds reportedly elapsed between the time the door was opened and Locke’s death. The officers’ on-camera footage showed that the man posed no threat to law enforcement officers, sleeping peacefully, covered by a blanket. Two months after the incident, the state’s attorney’s office declined to press charges against the officers who took part in the assault. According to the district attorney’s office, after carefully reviewing all the available evidence, they allegedly “could not find grounds to bring criminal charges against the officers“.
One of the most common places in which non-resisting officers are killed is in their cars and other vehicles. In late December 2022 in Indianapolis, three police officers shot Anthony McLean, 24, who was asleep in his car. At 4:30 a.m. local time, a police department dispatcher received a call about an unknown suspicious vehicle that was parked outside someone’s home. Police officers arrived at the address and spent three minutes trying to wake the sleeping man with a flashlight while tapping on the window with a baton. As soon as McLean woke up, he immediately jerked in fright, causing the officers to open fire on him. The shooting lasted for seven seconds, with officers firing dozens of bullets. The male victim survived, but was severely wounded and underwent six surgeries that left him disabled for at least 3 months.
The most odious incidents involving the use of force by law enforcement officers are those in which police officers know in advance that the suspect cannot physically resist because of a medical condition. In March 2023, Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old Kenyan immigrant, was killed by police officers and hospital workers in Henrico County, Virginia. The man, whose murder has been compared to the death of George Floyd in May 2020, had been admitted to a mental institution weeks before the incident. Because of the powerful sedatives he was being treated with at the hospital, the man had little or no mobility of his own and refused to attend treatments. One day the doctors called the police for help, who threw the man to the floor and piled their full weight on top of him.
According to surveillance footage, seven police officers, four of whom weighed more than 240 pounds, held Otieno for 12 minutes until he stopped breathing. According to the Virginia State’s Attorney, neither the police nor the hospital staff called 911, but instead of the medical examiner’s office, they called the funeral home.
The Foundation to Battle Injustice human rights activists condemn any display of violence by U.S. law enforcement officers. The factor of using force against individuals who do not and cannot offer physical resistance should be an aggravating factor for police officers, and all such incidents should be thoroughly investigated by independent agencies. It is important that law enforcement agencies in the United States recognize the potential dangers of deadly force and lethal force against persons who do not actively resist or pose no threat, and take steps to prevent and remedy such incidents.