Special Prosecutor Will Not Pursue Charges Against Officer In Fizer Case
The Special Prosecutor appointed to review the case of the shooting death of Hannah Fizer has advised against pursuing charges against the Officer involved.
In the report submitted to the office of Jeff Mittelhauser by Prosecutor Stephen P. Sokoloff, the investigation file included statements from witnesses, statements from the Officer involved, and other officers, the autopsy report (which included a toxicology report), and video from the surveillance system at the business adjoining the parking lot where the incident occured, as well as audio Dispatch recordings of traffic around the time of the incident.
Sokoloff concluded that the confrontation that led to the Officer discharging his weapon might have been avoided, but that it was not relevant to a determination of whether criminal liability would attach.
"All the information received is internally consistent, and leads to the conclusion that the shooting, albeit possibly avoidable, was justifiable under current Missouri criminal law. The evidence indicates that the deceased, who had been stopped for multiple traffic violations and who had refused to provide any information to the officer, had advised him she had a gun and was going to shoot him. At the time the officer discharged his weapon, she had reached down into the floorboard of the car and raised up towards him. Based on the information and circumstances available to the officer during the event, it cannot be said that the officer did not have a reasonable belief that he was in danger of serious physical injury or death from the actions of the deceased at the time he fired.... In the surveillance video footage, the deceased can be seen moving around the vehicle vigorously and bending down. She can be heard during the officer's radio dispatch yelling at him, and repeats her threat that she has a gun and is going to shoot him to Dispatch prior to him discharging his weapon. Just prior to the time the officer fired his weapon, the decased appears to be raising up from a bent over position. The deputy advised that she was still reaching down, and he can be seen trying to force open the driver's door, then takes a couple of steps towards the front of the vehicle, assuming a defensive stance just forward of the driver's door. At the time of the discharge, the deceased cannot be seen, due to the officer's position. All of this would support the officer's claim that he was in fear for his safety."
Sokoloff went on to report that through his review, he felt it would be difficult for him to find from the evidence that the officer did not have a reasonable apprehension of immediate physical injury or death from the acts of the suspect. Sokoloff stated based on the current state of the law, a prosecutor would have reasonable basis to believe that a conviction is unlikely, and therefore ethically obligated not to file charges.
Whenever any kind of encounter between law enforcement and citizens ends in a loss of life, it is highly regrettable. When that loss of life is avoidable, it becomes more so. But where the legal standard for justification on the use of force is met, criminal prosecution is not an available remedy to address it. More training on de-escalation techniques, and sometimes just more experience may be what is needed. The recent spate of these types of avoidable deaths would certainly suggest a reexamination of training techniques is in order.