Tyler Heilman, 24, was shot and killed outside of his home in Kastoa, Minnesota by Deputy Sheriff Todd Waldron. The shooting is particularly controversial because Heilman was unarmed and wearing only a speedo swimsuit.
Waldron had followed Heilman from a pool in an unmarked Dodge Durango. Police say that he was driving erratically and even went up an embankment at one point.
The family says that Waldron never identified himself as an officer despite the fact that he demanded to see Heilman’s license. The two got into a scuffle and after wrestling on the ground, Heilman got up. It was then that, according to the family, he saw the badge on Waldron’s belt and was raising his hands, when Waldron, 37, fired four shots – two hitting Heilman.
The family insists that Waldron never told Heilman to freeze or gave him a chance.
The incident raises a legitimate question over the use of lethal force. Assaulting the officer certainly allows an officer to take efforts to subdue the suspect with a baton, taser or even pulling his service weapon. A past assault is insufficient if the suspect is raising his hands or not continuing to assault the officer. Such a use would be viewed as retaliation rather than self-defense.
In Tennessee v. Garner, the Court held that lethal force cannot be used to apprehend a suspect:
The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead. The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against such fleeing suspects.
An officer cannot only use lethal force if he is under threat of serious harm or protecting others from such an imminent threat. If he pulled the weapon and fired without further provocation or threat from Heilman, there is a real problem with this shooting. The investigation will have to determine if Heilman was charging the officer at the same of the shooting. The prior assault makes the case a difficult one. Even if Waldron did not identify himself as claimed, one usually assumes that someone asking to look at your license is an officer — particularly after (as claimed by the police) you have been driving erratically.
Heilman is survived by a three-year-old son. The family has announced plans for a lawsuit, here.