The AB392 legislation popularly known as the California Act to Save Lives was recently passed by both chambers of the California state legislature. AB392 is authored by Assembly woman Shirley Weber and aims at changing the current lethal force standard from “reasonable” to “necessary.”
Right now police officers can use deadly force and kill someone even when other means are available to them. The change of the standards would then make it easier to file criminal charges against law enforcement officers that use lethal force instead of other methods available to them.
The AB 392 bill redefines circumstances under which homicide by a peace officer is deemed justifiable. One case that clearly indicates how this bill would change use of lethal force is the case against Officer Neal Browder.
In April of 2015, Officer Neal Browder shot and killed Fridoon Nehan. In the police video, Officer Browder is seen exiting his car and almost immediately drawing his weapon and shooting dead Nehan who was unarmed.
The then district attorney failed to prosecute Browder saying that it was reasonable for Browder to believe Nehad was an imminent threat. The video evidence however shows differently. Nehad wasn’t even approaching Officer Browder when he was shot and was not armed or violent.
Were the AB 392 already been in effect, it would have presented clarity for the district attorney in evaluating the legality of the killing. Browder did not issue any verbal commands that Nehad resisted, it isn’t clear whether he identified himself as a police officer and he might have used other means to subdue Nehad.
The amendments in AB392 authorize use of deadly force “to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person.” To clarify what an imminent threat is, AB392 states that “an imminent harm is not merely a fear of future harm no matter how great the fear and no matter how great the likelihood of the harm, but is one that, from appearances, must be instantly confronted and addressed.”
It goes on further to indicate that a peace officer should identify themselves and warn about the use of deadly force prior to using deadly force.
The 9th circuit that revived the civil lawsuit against Browder noted that he did not verbally identify himself, give any verbal commands or even activate the sirens to indicate he was a police officer,
If the AB392 was effect it would have been easy to hold the officer involved accountable if justification for use of deadly force was not found. The bill is clearly a step in the right direction and law enforcement officers should be held accountable for unlawful use of deadly force.