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Widow of unarmed man killed by Oakland police opens federal trial

Police officers have a duty to protect citizens from harm, and to treat those with criminal allegations with decency while attempting to question or apprehend them. Although it's permissible to use deadly force if an officer's safety is threatened by someone charged with a crime, this action is to be used as a last resort. Over the past few years, Oakland residents and judges have been scrutinizing the reputation of Oakland police officers, claiming many use undue force and "shoot first and justify it later," according to an attorney in a federal trial against two local police officers.

The widow of a barber from East Oakland has filed a federal civil rights trial against the city and two police officers who shot and killed her husband in 2010, as he attempted to run from questioning. The case was at first being treated as a misdemeanor domestic violence accusation, after the man's girlfriend told police he had tried to strangle her. During the civil rights trial, police testified they hadn't noticed any visible injuries on the woman. However, the prosecution is saying that after the man was killed, law enforcement changed their tactic to paint the alleged attack as an attempted murder.

The officers said they thought the man was reaching for a gun when they fired nine shots, six of which hit him. After the shooting, he was discovered to be unarmed. The city has settled a civil lawsuit with the man's parents for $225,000. His widow is seeking unspecified damages.

This case shows that there can be lasting consequences when a suspect is killed by police. Perhaps the outcome of this case will affect the way Oakland law enforcement handles people with criminal allegations, who are not armed.

Source: The Oakland Tribune, "Oakland police who shot unarmed man face federal jury civil trial," Thomas Peele, Mar. 20, 2013

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