Let’s Get the Story Straight: Casey Goodson Deserves Justice

On Friday, Casey Goodson was shot and killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. Goodson, a 23-year-old black man, was not a suspect or the object of a police search. Unfortunately, we do not know much about the circumstances surrounding his death. The officer who killed him was not wearing a body camera, there were no eyewitnesses, and no other police officers were even there when the shooting occurred.

In the wake of several highly publicized police killings this year, including one that was captured by video and shared around the world, it is important to remember that most black men’s deaths at the hands of police are not so documented as George Floyd’s. When there are no bystanders with smartphones, sometimes we have to rely on the only living witness’s story of what happened: the police officer. There is an obvious reason why a police officer might not tell the truth in recounting the events, or at least would skew the truth in their favor. What is less obvious is how easy it would be for a police officer to do so.

Police unions wield immense political power and are staunchly opposed to any efforts to reform police departments. Since the 1980s, police unions all over the country have successfully added protections for police officers who might otherwise face accountability, like mandating a 24 or 48 hour delay before questioning officers who are involved in shootings. A 2017 report examined 82 police unions across the country and found that almost half of them allow officers accused of misconduct to see the entire investigative file in the case before they are interrogated. This includes internal notes, videos, and witness statements. This makes it incredibly easy for officers to “get their story straight” and recount the facts in a way that will excuse their misconduct.

Even in cases where there is footage from body cameras and other objective evidence available, police officers still edit their stories when under investigation for misconduct. One clear example of this is in the aftermath of Samuel DuBose’s death. DuBose was killed by a Cincinnati police officer in 2015 during a traffic stop. He was pulled over for a missing front license plate and did not have his driver’s license on him. The officer tried to open his car door, and DuBose shut it and restarted the car. The police officer pulled out his gun, reached through the window, and shot Samuel DuBose in the head.

Two days after the shooting, the police officer was interviewed and claimed that he fired his weapon to save his own life. However, an independent report stated otherwise: “The officer’s repeated assertions on July 21 that he was ‘being dragged,’ that his arm was ‘caught or lodged in the steering wheel’ or other aspect of the car, and that he was ‘hanging on for dear life’ when he fired his weapon, among other statements, are plainly contradicted by the video and audio recording of the incident.” The report even asserted that the police officer violated the police department rules of conduct prohibiting intentionally making false statements.

The police officer’s side of the story is so important because of how the law requires evaluating police cases of misconduct. Supreme Court case law requires that police officers only use excessive force when they fear for their own lives or the lives of others. This must be judged from the officer’s point of view; in other words, if an officer felt threatened, their use of force was legal. Given this standard, it is not shocking that the officer who killed Samuel DuBose lied about the danger he was in during the traffic stop. It is also not surprising that despite the fact that the independent report found the shooting was not legal, the officer was never convicted in court for killing DuBose.

Samuel DuBose did not get justice despite body camera footage and an independent report because the police officer who killed him fabricated the facts when interviewed 48 hours after the shooting occurred. In the case of Casey Goodson’s death, the only account of what happened is the words of the police officer who killed him. The officer said Goodson was waving a gun and he shot when Goodson refused to drop the weapon. But Goodson’s family members say he was entering his house when he was shot three times in the back. The shooting happened on Friday, and as of Sunday, the officer had still not been interviewed.

Casey Goodson deserves justice. At the very least, he deserves for everyone to know how and why he died. Unfortunately, neither are likely. We should all remember Casey Goodson and know that there are too many more like him: young black men who died at the hands of the police with no eyewitnesses to refute their killers’ side of the story.

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Eliana Fleischer

University of Chicago Law student passionate about fixing the criminal justice system.