Race, Deadly Force, and the Shooting of Siale Angilau
By Ken K. Gourdin
Introduction – A few weeks ago, a United States Deputy Marshal shot and killed Siale Angilau after Angilau charged a witness who was testifying at trial against him in the United States District Court for the District of Utah and attempted to harm or kill the witness with a pen. The claim is now circulating (including on a brief [and now closed] thread at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion) that Mr. Angilau was shot, not chiefly because he posed a serious risk of harm or death to the witness, but rather because of his race. A commenter on that thread said this:
I don’t feel he deserved to get killed, maybe a bullet to the shoulder or hand. The other night I watched something on [television] where it showed this man that had just been dumped by his girlfriend, put a chair in the road and sat down with a gun in his hand threatening to shoot himself, waving the gun around. His demand was for the cops or swat team to bring the girl to him or he’ll shoot himself. They all surrounded him, waiting [and] watching, while this guy could potentially shoot at them. They decided to find a marksman who was the best in his field, who proceeded to shoot the gun right out of this guy’s hand.
Amazing the length they took not to shoot this guy and compare it to Mr. [Angilau]. I understand that one is a gangster who robbed 7-11 stores and hit a poor woman, but not sure it warrants him being shot at several times, especially when all he had was a pen.
Oh, but I don’t blame the federal [marshal] to react, but shooting more than once, makes me wonder if he was at some of the scenes with this guy before, or has had to deal with gangs in the past.
(1) Police are trained to shoot at “center mass” (the torso) rather than at extremities. Why? Because the same adrenaline that kicks in and enables officers to respond to situations which may call for the use of deadly force also makes them less accurate: better to shoot at center mass and hit something, rather than to shoot at an extremity and miss entirely (and worse, to not neutralize the threat). And
(2) Attempting to negotiate with someone to prevent him from harming himself or others, buying time for a sniper to pick the best line of sight and line of fire available, get set up, account for such variables as wind (granted, the Angilau shooting was indoors, but many are not), sight his target through a scope, and fire at an extremity to dislodge a weapon from a hand, is a completely different situation than having just a split second (or one or two seconds, at most) to perceive a threat, decide to act, take aim, and fire accurately at someone, on the other hand. Marshal Matt Dillon shooting the gun out of an outlaw’s hand from fifty yards while atop a horse at full gallop might make for a great episode of Gunsmoke, but it ain’t real life.
As for the only weapon Mr. Angilau having being a pen, do you know what many of the most hardened incarcerated criminals do with much of their time behind bars? They figure out how to put the most seemingly-harmless objects to the most dangerous, most lethal uses possible (including, and especially, their hands). Even something as seemingly innocuous as a pen placed in just the right spot is capable of killing or seriously wounding someone in short order. And as for the federal marshal shooting more than once, law enforcement’s job isn’t simply to engage those who are bent on seriously hurting or killing other people in a fair fight: it’s to neutralize the threat they pose—period. How many times should an officer, agent, or marshal shoot somebody? As many times as it takes.
And the federal marshal who shot Mr. Angilau is a she. She receives the same training, is held to the same standards, and does the same job as her male counterparts. I doubt anyone has ever told her, “You know, unlike these guys, you’re really good at talking to people. Granted, your job is the same as the guys (to protect everyone in that courtroom), but I’ll bet if a defendant springs from his chair and charges a witness in a manner that would give any reasonable person the idea that he wishes to do the witness grave harm (if not to kill him), you could probably talk him out of it!” No, she’s told the same thing as everyone else in the United States Marshal’s Service: “Your job is to do whatever it takes to protect everybody in that courtroom—period.”
At the risk of repeating myself, for more of my thoughts on law enforcement use of deadly force, see here [last accessed today]: http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=12787276&itype=storyID.
The original post that spawned these comments, from Dr. Gina Colvin at Patheos (aka “KiwiMormon”), can be found here, last accessed today: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kiwimormon/2014/05/utah-where-being-a-brown-brother-with-a-pen-can-cost-you-your-life/.
And here is my comment to Dr. Colvin:
It’s never easy to lose someone we know or with whom we are acquainted, even if only casually. It’s always disquieting to think that perhaps if a person had made different choices after we part ways with him that he’d still be here today. So to that extent, I understand what you’re saying. But we do both the people for whom we grieve and ourselves an injustice when we mischaracterize the choices that led to their deaths.
Mr. Angilau didn’t just “reach” for the pen. It wasn’t as though he was probably simply going to write something down … Still, In a way, you’re right, Dr. Colvin. He should have followed your example of what to do with that pen: if he had, at least he could have given vent to the feelings he had and the injustice he felt. But he didn’t do that. That wasn’t the choice he made.
Instead, he used it it after grabbing it because it was what was available to perpetrate a crime of violence. He wasn’t shot because he was brown; he wasn’t shot because of his heritage; he wasn’t shot because Utahns are racist (by the way, the Deputy U.S. Marshal who shot him could be from any of the 49 other states: when one works in federal law enforcement, more often than not, one goes where they tell her, when they tell her to go there); he wasn’t shot because the person who shot him didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt about whether he was simply going to use that pen in the way most of us (such as you and I) use it. He was shot because he charged a witness intent on doing that witness serious harm (if not killing him).
[And I posted a link to this post.]
Update, May 15, 2014: Dr. Colvin apparently prefers an echo-chamber, where her thoughts are parroted back to her. My post has been removed from her blog. I’m shocked … shocked, I tell you! :-O ;-D. Ah, well. I’m still on record here, for what that’s worth.
Update, July 15, 2014: The Feberal Bureau of Investigation has cleared the still-unnamed Deputy U.S. Marshal in the shooting of Angilau, and has found the shooting justified. See, e.g., here, last accessed today: