The recent drug war killing of South Carolina teenager Zachary Hammond is drawing national attention, but he wasn't the only one to be killed by police enforcing drug laws in the month of July. At least three others have been killed as well.
July's deaths mark the 33rd, 34th, 35th, and 36th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year
Hammond's case appears especially outrageous -- it was a small-time pot bust, he wasn't even the target, and there is evidence he was shot from behind -- but the three other cases ought to also be cause for concern.
In two of them -- both young black men -- the victims were unarmed, but both cases also included automobiles as threats. In one, the dead man hit and injured an officer before fleeing on foot and then being shot while "reaching for his waistband" (no gun was found); in the other, the dead man attempted to flee in a deputy's police cruiser.
The third case -- a middle-aged white man -- appears more easily justifiable. The man allegedly fired at police coming to arrest him. But that begs the question of why police are arresting drug users and small-time sellers in the first place.
In any case, the combination of aggressive drug law enforcement, widespread access to guns, racially-tinged policing, and -- apparently -- cars, ensures that readers come back and read another story just like this one next month. At least now, in this period of intense scrutiny on police use of force, some of them will get the attention they deserve.
July's drug war dead:
Kevin Lamont Judson
On July 1, in McMinnville, Oregon, a Yamhill County sheriff's deputy shot and killed Judson, 24, after he fled a traffic stop, ran across the highway, and jumped into the deputy's car. He was unarmed.
According to KOIN TV, citing police accounts, a deputy stopped a motorist at 7:30 a.m., and during the stop, Judson bolted from the vehicle, dropped a meth pipe, and took off running. Deputy Richard Broyles chased him in his patrol vehicle, and the two were "involved in a struggle." Broyles shot Judson twice, killing him.
"At the time he was shot, (Judson) was alone in the driver's patrol vehicle," McMinnville police said in a release.
The Yamhill Valley News-Register quoted Yamhill County District Brad Berry as saying he didn't know if Judson was armed or trying to arm himself.
"I don't have that information," he said. "I'm not in a position at this time to state factually the sequence of events, and I won't be until the investigation is completed."
Surveillance video from a local business showed Deputy Broyles and Judson struggling at the vehicle's driver side door, but the video is truncated -- showing only the roof of the vehicle and the tops of their heads. Broyles appears to shoot Judson through the open door, and the vehicle then takes off in reverse, arcing backwards until it crashes into an antenna and stops.
Two weeks later, the Yamhill County District Attorney announced that the killing was justified.
Judson may have fled because not only was he in a vehicle with meth, he was already wanted for failure to appear on probation violation charge related to a 2011 meth possession conviction.
Clay Alan Lickteig
On July1, in Franklin, North Carolina, police officers serving a felony drug probation violation warrant shot and killed Lickteig, 52, after a confrontation at his home.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, citing police sources, Lickteig was standing in his driveway when officers arrived, threatened them, and refused to show his hands. They then tased him, and he pulled a pistol from behind his back and fired at them. The officers then returned fire, killing Lickteig.
One officer suffered a slight injury and was treated and released at a local hospital.
Two weeks later, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Macon County District Attorney's Office announced that the killing was justified.
On July 2, in Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office undercover officers doing a day-long operation targeting street drug sales shot and killed Larosa, 33, after he struck one officer with a vehicle while attempting to flee. But he wasn't killed while driving the vehicle.
According to Action News Jacksonville, citing police sources, once cops made a drug buy from Larosa, he began driving off before their "apprehension team" could arrive to bust him. Sgt. D.R. White, a member of the team, signaled for Larosa to stop, but Larosa instead struck White. It's not clear if White was in uniform or undercover.
Larosa then drove off, striking multiple vehicles before his car was pinned by a police cruiser. He then took off running, but tripped and fell with an officer in close pursuit. He was then shot multiple times and killed.
According to the Florida Times-Union, again citing police accounts, the police shooter was narcotics detective Mike Boree, who said Larosa tripped jumping over a fence, landed on his hands in a push-up position, then turned toward Boree and "reached for his waistband."
No weapon was found.
Police could have thought they were dealing with a cop-killer. Sgt. White, who had been struck by Larosa as he made his escape, hit his head on the pavement and lost his weapon on impact.
"Officers on the scene, detectives at the scene thought he was dead right there," sheriff's office director of investigations and homeland security Mike Bruno said.
But White was treated and released from a local hospital the same day.
On July 26, in Columbia, South Carolina, Hammond , 19, was shot and killed by an undercover Columbia police officer after driving a woman friend to fast food restaurant parking lot so she could sell a small amount of marijuana.
According to the Columbia Daily Journal, citing police accounts, the undercover officer pulled up beside Hammond's car, and a uniformed officer was approaching to help with arrests when Hammond drove toward the officer, forcing him to open fire.
But that account has been challenged by Eric Bland, an attorney representing Hammond's family. Bland said that the autopsy report showed that Hammond had been shot from behind and that the vehicle was not moving. The autopsy showed a first shot entering the teen's left rear shoulder and a second in his side five inches away that went through his heart and lungs before exiting his lower right side.
"It is clearly, clearly from the back," Bland said after viewing pictures of the bullet wounds at the coroner's office. "It is physically impossible for him to be trying to flee or run over the officer that shot him. This is a 19-year-old kid without a weapon in his car, clearly in the Hardee's parking lot on a date, and within five minutes he has two shots that appear to be in his back and his side, from an officer shooting him from the back -- and he's dead and this family needs answers."
Bland is calling on the state attorney general to convene a statewide grand jury investigation of the shooting.