One of the least discussed aspect of the killing of cop-killer Micah Xavier Johnson is that it appears to be the first police killing via a robot. Rather than risk officers in a further fire fight, the police used an explosive ordnance disposal robot to carrying a small amount of C4 explosive into the room and detonate the C4 on an extension next to Johnson. The robotic killing raises some interesting questions under Tennessee v. Garner.
The robot appears to be an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robot and very likely a Northrop Grumman-made Andros F6 model with four wheels, a extendable claw arm and second, rigid arm.
The use of the robot made sense given Johnson’s refusal to surrender and shooting at police. There is however some areas of concern. While a robot is equipped with a camera and can be withdrawn, there may be a concern about the ability of a robot perform that same functions under the standard under Tennessee v. Garner (1985). Lethal force can be used constitutionally when it is “necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others.” Sending in a drone or robot may not offer the same contextual perspective or response time to make this decision. Indeed, one can imagine drone being used for greater versatility in delivering such an attack. It is also not clear whether robots or drone could not deliver a non-lethal hit just as well as a C4 charge.
After the successful detonation, the police tweeted “Our EOD robot took a hit from the initial explosion but is still functional and in use.”