Officer Involved Shooting On Video
On a crisp evening on March 6, 2014, driving along Alabama’s I-85, active duty Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Davidson had no idea he was about to be the target of an officer involved shooting.
The young man was on his way to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina after having finished training at Sheppard Air Force Base (F-15 Avionics) in Wichita Falls, Texas.
The then 20 year old Davidson was a 2012 graduate of Beckville High School in Texas.
While driving along I-85 and through the jurisdiction of the Opelika Police Department, Davidson’s SUV lightly sideswiped a tractor-trailer (semi) and so dutifully both drivers pulled over to report the accident. The semi driver, Samuel Thomas Sanders II, was a witness to what would unfold.
Prior to this accident the Opelika Police Department had received a phone call about a SUV driving erratically along I-85 (Airman Davidson was driving an SUV), and so the on-duty officer, Phillip Hancock, was in the area trying to observe the reported vehicle.
When the call came in of the SUV / tractor-trailer accident, the officer was practically right there already. The officer’s dash-cam shows that he was pulling up behind the two vehicles as they were both still pulling off of the roadway.
The officer in question, Phillip Hancock (pictured below), began working as a Police Officer in 2006 for the same department.
Airman Davidson, displaying amazing consideration for the officer’s safety, pulls way off to the edge of the shoulder so that the officer isn’t forced to stand in traffic as he works the accident. It was this consideration that ultimately led to the chain of events that would result in his being shot.
Because Davidson pulled over to the edge of the shoulder, and onto the grassy area, his SUV was leaning to the right which meant that as he tried to open his door it would keep trying to shut on him; probably every one of us has had it happen to us while parking.
This is a traffic accident investigation, not a narcotics intervention or the tail end of a police pursuit. So keep that “setting” in mind when understanding the actions of both the victim and the officer.
Next, in the video you can see that the driver of the semi-truck (Mr. Sanders) is walking back to talk to the officer and SUV driver. After all, no one outside of Hancock, not even the semi driver, thought this was a “dangerous situation”. When Sanders reaches the back of his truck and Davidson sees him, Davidson also begins to exit his SUV. You know, exchanging information, whatever, it’s a fender bender.
Airman Davidson is exiting the vehicle with his hands visible and extended towards the officer for visibility, and his wallet (again, being considerate) in his hand. When the weight of the angled door tries to shut back onto Davidson it sets off what Officer Hancock allegedly mistook to be a “life-threatening” door shutting event.
Officer Hancock yells at Davidson to “Let me see your hands” twice before firing. Not ‘Stop or I’ll shoot’ or ‘Let me see your hands or I’ll shoot’. Davidson got no fair warning that he was about to be shot if he failed to comply.
Ironically (in a twisted way) as Officer Hancock approaches the scene of the accident you can hear that his radio is playing the song “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Officer Hancock fired two rounds. One of those struck Airmen Davidson in the lower stomach area severing an artery and severely damaging his colon. He can be seen laying on the ground and bleeding profusely as officers walk around him and ponder his condition. The second bullet apparently struck the ground. Thankfully Officer Hancock wasn’t a good shot.
Remember, Officer Hancock was BEHIND his vehicle when the shooting occurred, so he had metal cover for protection. He had his headlights AND spotlight on Airman Davidson, so even if Davidson had wanted to shoot the officer with his wallet he couldn’t 1) see him and 2) have much of an opportunity to hit him (small target behind cover) before being shot himself.
Too Many Officer Involved Shootings
I was an officer for many years (including as a county Deputy working alone in a remote area, so I’ve had the fear factor) and later served as a County Sheriff, and if this scenario in which Officer Hancock shoots Mr. Davidson qualifies as a reasonable standard for law enforcement use of deadly force then yes, we have a problem.
If an officer is so afraid that he shoots someone simply because a door is shutting on them, then we have a problem. There simply has to be a better way of vetting law enforcement candidates so that we’re not getting the types of officers who can’t adequately analyze proper ‘shoot’, ‘don’t shoot’ situations.
As Sheriff I had a deputy under my command lawfully use lethal force on a suspect who died of those injuries; I understand the peril that law enforcement officers face every day. This isn’t about creating a ridiculous standard where officers are afraid to use force, it’s about not lowering the standard to ridiculous levels which place citizens like Airmen Davidson at unnecessary risk of losing their lives.
If the situation preceding this shooting were a police chase, or something with violent activity or potential, then perhaps we’re having a different conversation based on what could loosely be called a resemblance of a weapon (the wallet). But on a traffic stop / accident investigation, the shooting is way beyond a reasonable response by an officer.
I’m not saying that the officer should be held criminally liable… I doubt that Officer Hancock had criminal or ill-intent. He was just poorly prepared to be in that situation, either because of training (or lack thereof) or he was simply mentally incapable of responding correctly in that type of split second situation.
Hancock may be the nicest, sweetest, gentlest man to ever walk the streets of Opelika. But in this case he made a mistake. He’s not a demon or a bad guy. He made a mistake. And it’s one serious enough that there has to be consequences.
And because law enforcement officers face these situations frequently they must get them right, period. Failing to “get it right” in these situations means that we’re going to accept a certain number of innocent shootings and deaths of citizens, and that’s just not alright.
Anyone who knows me (you can read my opinions on this site) can attest, I’m a 100% hard-core law enforcement supporter. I hate crime and thugs. But sensible men and women cannot turn a blind eye to bad actions and then wonder when citizens start to doubt the police.
To my fellow law enforcement officers reading this, you cannot support any and every shooting another cop is engaged in regardless of the facts. If you love this country and her people, and our laws which provide us a veil of security and safety, then you must also condemn wrong acts by other officers, even if it’s simply an unfortunate event.
Otherwise we won’t have learned from it and a patriotic American suffers without compensation because of it. Airman Davidson shouldn’t be walking around with a Colostomy bag that he had to pay for, among what must be an enormous amount of other medical bills.
When turds pull weapons on cops, or threaten them in some physical way, and later get shot in the act of being stupid, then there’s no pity. Law and order means law and order. You obey the laws and you shouldn’t get hurt.
When you do get hurt wrongfully, as did Airman Davidson, then there must be consequences.
I hope that this case is appealed to the Supreme Court and that the sensible men and women of the court can listen to the evidence and watch this case unfold for themselves, and see that this was a negligent act, plain and simple.
Office Involved Shooting – Officer Hancock vs Wallet
Here’s the dash cam so that you can watch the events unfold for yourself.
What stands out after watching it? First, when I see this is just pisses me off. That could be you or I, or our family. Getting awkwardly out of the car now warrants deadly force… wow.
Over 5 minutes went by as this American citizen and U.S. serviceman laid on the ground bleeding (an artery was severed by Hancock’s bullet, as witnessed by the growing pool of blood) and not one police officer put on rubber gloves and tried to render medical aid (stop the bleeding, etc…), 5 flipping minutes! They walked around him like it was a side-show. How would you feel if it was your brother or son, or you?
Yes, law enforcement did later recover opened packets of the synthetic drug Spice (synthetic marijuana) from inside of Davidson’s SUV, but that’s really irrelevant because Davidson didn’t do or say anything inappropriate that would lead a reasonable officer to shoot him and the officer had no knowledge of it when the shooting occurred.
Davidson was in a fender bender and pulled over to report it. He went out of his way to be polite and cooperative. Click here to see the full front page of this police report.
Hancock Cleared In Officer Involved Shooting
Davidson rightfully filed a lawsuit against the officer and the city, which you can read here.
The 3 Judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts ruling, in favor of the police officer, by stating:
“After careful consideration and review of a video recording of the shooting, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Davidson, we conclude that a reasonable officer in Hancock’s position would have feared for his life.“
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama Eastern Division, which issued the original decision on the lawsuit in December 2016, also ordered Davidson to pay $15,354.82 for legal costs to the city of Opelika, Hancock and McEachern. Can the B.S. get any deeper in this case?
People say “you don’t know what it’s like to be a cop” or “you do that job“. Well, yes I do. And I have.
Cops don’t get to shoot innocent people and get away with it. Even if they did it on accident or they “thought” they were acting properly but were later shown to “not” have been. There has to be consequences like getting fired, or at the very least the employer having to pay for damages.
If you had a CCW and made a similar mistake you would almost certainly be in trouble.
Concluding This Opinion Piece
My parting words are this. If anyone pulls a knife or gun on a cop, or is reasonably believed to have a knife or gun, or otherwise shows the intent and capability to harm a law enforcement officer then those officers have every right (and I expect them to) shoot those suspects.
Those people who threaten and do harm to law enforcement, what do you suppose they would do to you and your family in a confrontation? Exactly… they’re bad people and when those criminals are killed or injured by law enforcement in a justifiable way then it’s one less turd on the street.
We live in a society of laws and moral decency, and we expect it from every citizen and even more so from the men and women who wear the badges of honor that we bestow upon them.
In my opinion officers get into situations like this if they’re always looking for the bad guys and fail to see the good ones, that’s why it all becomes a blur and this shit happens.
Law-abiding citizens should be safe from law enforcement errors, and there should be consequences when citizens are harmed by their protectors.
I hope the Davidsons pursue this appeal and perhaps even start a GoFundMe.com page.