Chandra Law Logo

Was Dallas police's use of a robot to kill the mass shooter legal?

Monday, July 11, 2016


Like all civilized human beings, we at Chandra Law mourn last week's horrifying deadly shootings of police officers in Dallas, Texas following a peaceful protest, and the police-shootings of innocent African-American civilians in St. Paul, Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

We mourn both.

And we remain baffled by those who seem to believe that one cannot be dismayed about improper police use of deadly force against black lives while at the same time supporting our men and women in blue who literally risk their lives to protect and serve us, and those among them who respect the citizenry they serve.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Those truths are perfectly reconcilable.

Based on our experience in handling police-use-of-deadly-force cases, we have been asked to comment on legality of the Dallas police's use of a robot to kill the perpetrator.

Legally, this is non-issue. The U.S. Supreme Court holds that police use of deadly force must be "objectively reasonable".

To decide this, the Court requires answers to the following questions: First, how severe were the crimes the officer believed the suspect to have committed or be committing? Second, did the suspect present an immediate threat to the officers' or the public's safety? Third, was the suspect actively resisting arrest or attempting to escape?

Here, the crime was incredibly severe. The suspect continued to present an immediate threat to the officers' and the public's safety. And the suspect was actively resisting arrest and surely would have escaped had he been able.

What is making people uncomfortable is the means that police used, which were novel. But the robot-delivered bomb was in its effect no different for the perpetrator than the lethality of a police sniper's bullet―had that option been available.

It is difficult to imagine federal courts second-guessing the officers and finding that the officers under these extreme circumstances acted unreasonably. The law does not require that officers risk their own lives further by rushing the perpetrator and firing.

Using the bomb-delivering robot was a smart move, albeit an unusual one, once it was clear the suspect was not going to surrender, was claiming he had bombs, was clearly highly trained and had semi-automatic weapon(s), had already killed and wounded numerous people, and was continuing to act and talk erratically. The officers tried to negotiate with him. He wasn't having any of it and was making further threats. The C-4 explosive put fewer lives at risk.

And what if this heavily armed and dangerous perpetrator had found a means of escape? What then? How many more lives would have been lost?

As a prosecutor, on these facts and applying the law, I would not have sought to charge these officers. And no rational civil-rights lawyer would take this matter on contingency for the perpetrator's family or estate.

What's making people uncomfortable is the use of a remote-controlled robot as the delivery vehicle. That raises questions with which we may have to grapple down the road because of associated risks for both civilians and police. But we should be relieved that the officers here had a way of not putting themselves―or others―at further risk.

Unlike other trumped-up situations we have seen over the last few years, this was a true "active shooter" situation. And while all lives matter, this life needed to be taken out at that moment to protect others.

-Subodh Chandra

Related Practice Areas
Constitutional LawPolice Misconduct & Brutality

Making the right choice in legal representation can make the difference in whether you achieve a result that protects your legal rights and best interests.

Tell Us About Your Case