When Law Enforcement Officers Lie

President Trump’s letter stating his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey implies that public confidence and trust in law enforcement officials matters. While Mr. Trump’s choice may be controversial, the importance of public confidence in law enforcement is probably an idea that few would challenge. The public relies on members of law enforcement to uphold and enforce the law, which is why their failures are so significant.

On April 29th, former officer Roy Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards while he was leaving a party. Initially, police stated that the car Edwards rode in was backing up toward the officers “in an aggressive manner.” However, police later said that body camera footage revealed that the vehicle was driving away from the officers at the time of the shooting according to a report by The Associated Press. Given that ex-officer Oliver was the shooter, it seems likely that the initial, false report came from him.

In 2015, Officer Michael Slager fatally shot Walter Scott five times in the back. As The Post and Courier pointed out, federal authorities said that Slager had lied to state investigators, saying Scott was coming at him when he fired. Video evidence contradicted this account. In 2014, former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shot Laquan McDonald 16 times. According to a report published by Chicago Tribune, the police car video contradicted the officers’ account that McDonald advanced on them in a “menacing way.” After shooting Levar Jones at a traffic stop, former South Carolina State Trooper Sean Groubert told his supervisor that Jones “kept moving toward [him]” after Groubert asked to see Jones’ hands. Video evidence did not support Groubert’s story. Each lie a law enforcement officer tells naturally raises questions about the legitimacy of their past actions.

The point here is not that all police officers lie. It is that any police officer can lie, especially when it is in their interest to do so. Furthermore, a police officer that commits an illegal act and is facing possible criminal charges has as much incentive to lie about it as anyone else. Avoiding undesirable consequences is a compelling motive. The role of law enforcement personnel is crucial, and their words have serious consequences. No one is above the law, and it ought to be obvious that no one is above lying, either.

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