Fred Sims: Comparing the Case to the Law: Which One Applies?
December 21, 2002
Here’s what we know. Fred Sims fired a shot that caused the death of Carl James. The Prosecutor, Gerry Horne, is charging him with manslaughter. We also know that Carl James was committing a crime against Fred Sims. If Fred Sims were not charged, Gerry Horne would have determined his actions fell within the scope of justifiable homicide.
First let’s look at the manslaughter laws. They are very brief and intentionally broad. First degree manslaughter would apply if Fred Sims recklessly caused Carl James death. It doesn’t seem to me to apply because at least part of the blame has to lie with Carl James stealing the car. Fred Sims did not just fire a gun recklessly. There was at least a small element of provocation. Second degree manslaughter, however, only requires that the death was caused because of ‘criminal negligence.’ It seems to me that this is the law that would apply. It is criminally negligent to fire a gun at a car. That action caused the death of Carl James.
The second part, however, is to look at any options Gerry Horne had to charging Fred Sims with manslaughter. If he were to forgive Mr. Sims, he would have to call Carl James’ death justifiable homicide.
Justifiable homicide is covered under RCW 9A.16.040. It says that the use of "deadly force is justifiable" when necessary for a "peace officer" to "arrest or apprehend a person who the officer reasonably believes has committed, has attempted to commit, is committing, or is attempting to commit a felony." Car theft is a felony. Fred Sims was trying to apprehend him. However, Fred Sims is not a peace officer.
So how does the law apply to him. At the end of the law, the legislature added this note:
Legislative recognition: "The legislature recognizes that RCW 9A.16.040 establishes a dual standard with respect to the use of deadly force by peace officers and private citizens, and further recognizes that private citizens’ permissible use of deadly force under the authority of RCW 9.01.200, 9A.16.020, or 9A.16.050 is not restricted and remains broader than the limitations imposed on peace officers." [1986 c 209 ? 3.]
In other words, Fred Sims is not to be held to the standards that would justify a cop using deadly force.
Finally, let’s look at a precedent and an antecedent.
Earlier this year an off-duty policeman killed a man who was loitering near the cop’s home. It was considered justifiable homicide. The officer, who is held to a higher standard than Fred Sims, armed himself and approached a vehicle with three people in it. One of them had a gun, and the officer shot and killed him. The gun was never fired, nor was it pointed at the officer. When considering the merits of the case, the prosecutor gave substantial weight to the respective criminal histories of the decedent and his killer.
If an armed man has the right to confront loiterers, certainly one would have the right to pursue a car thief. Neither man had a gun pointed or fired at them. Fred Sims criminal history compared to Carl James is exemplary. Since the other man is a "peace officer," he would have to meet a higher standard.
Just two days after Fred Sims pursued and shot a car thief, Deputy Clarkson pursued and shot a car thief. As in Fred Sims’ case, the person Deputy Clarkson shot was driving in a residential area. As in Fred Sims’ case, the driver crashed. Deputy Clarkson is as guilty of first degree assault and reckless endangerment, as Fred Sims is guilty of manslaughter. In fact, if anything, he is more guilty under the letter of the law, since he is held to a higher standard. This didn’t happen in King County, though. That would be a convenient excuse for the disparity in the precedent. This happened in Gerry Horne’s jurisdiction.
Gerry Horne should feel like his ass is painted into the corner on this one, because it is. He either has to drop the charges against Fred Sims, or charge Deputy Clarkson with first degree assault, to apply the law equally. Will he really charge a cop doing his job to show us that he meant it when he said that we place life above property? The only other option he has to charging Deputy Clarkson, or dropping charges against Fred Sims, is to be a hypocrite and a liar.
Some other things I've written about: