The police shoot dead a man at an animal shelter who was there to hand in a stray cat. What happened?
Despite the hard, detailed facts being somewhat sketchy, this appears, at first sight, as another one of those cases of police overreaction and an overzealous approach to using a firearm against a citizen of the United States when some other, more benign, more peaceful and less fatal method of restraint would have sufficed and been far preferable. Cops seem to have difficulty in defusing these events peaceably.
The facts, as we know them, are that a 30-year-old man, Robert Earl Lawrence entered an animal shelter in Alabama; the Dothan City Animal Shelter (which I understand may have a connection to the police force), to hand in a stray cat at about 12:30 PM on 1 January 2015. Mr Lawrence had a history of being an angry man, perhaps aggressive, and as having acquired a criminal history, but not a hugely serious one. Mr Lawrence couldn’t have been all bad because he was, after all, handing in a cat to a shelter which shows us that he had a sensitive side and perhaps this was one reason why he was angry because, arguably, sensitive people are more prone to be angry because the world looks harder to them (am I being too soft?). Perhaps Mr Lawrence had some agenda, of which we are unaware, in attending this animal shelter.
The shelter employee who served him told him that he couldn’t leave without showing identification. Is that normal? Was the shelter employee doing police work in asking for ID? Mr Lawrence did not have the usual identification documentation which I understand is a government issued ID card. He produced something else; a legal document which apparently stated that he was a legal citizen of the USA.
For some unknown reason, the shelter employee called the police who attempted to arrest Lawrence because he was agitated. Perhaps an altercation started between him and the police and it got out of hand. The whole event had been escalated by the shelter staff. This led to a struggle between Lawrence and the police officer who had decided to arrest him and the outcome of that struggle was that the police officer shot Mr Lawrence in the abdomen. He was taken to hospital and he died at 9:50 PM.
Despite the fact that Mr Lawrence had anger problems and a relatively modest criminal history, it seems, to an outsider, that the police officer’s response in killing him was over the top but I stress that we do not know the exact details of what happened.
It appears, Mr Lawrence had been angry with the Alabama State Department of Human Resources and, as a consequence, he may have had a grudge against authority in the state. This may have exacerbated the situation.
It appears that Mr Lawrence’s known violent history may have made the police nervous about his potential to be violent towards them, which in turn provoked the shooting. We don’t know but this story presents us with a rather sad connection between an animal shelter, a stray cat who was saved by a man and the death of that man at the hands of the police and his death appears to be unjustified on the face of the facts that we have.
When I read the story I felt that it may have been murder or manslaughter but of course the police are never charged or successfully prosecuted with murder because that would not be in the public’s interest. Sometimes police make mistakes. They overreact. They are only human. Their job puts them into a situation where they are more likely to make a mistake which can result in a tragic outcome. This might be one of those cases.