Monday, January 12, 2009
A dramatic (and controversial) defensive shooting occurred in Baton Rouge on February 17, 2006.
A citizen shot and killed a man who had overpowered and was viciously beating a police officer. The results of that incident have scarred the lives of several people and families.
As with many shootings of this type, the basic facts of the event were covered, but finite details were left out of the reports. Print media will carry the gist of the story, but the nuts and bolts, the details that cover the precise nature of the incident are rarely discussed. Broadcast media reports do little more than cover the high spots, adding drama, but little depth.
Perry Stephens saved a man’s life that day. No witness who watched the event contradicts that statement. George Temple was beating Brian Harrison viciously, slamming his head into the pavement, and trying to take his duty handgun from him when Stephens shot him.
This story has been reported, written about, dissected, and generally beaten into a shapeless mass—and still there were many questions I had as a defensive handgun and concealed carry instructor that were not answered in any of the stories I reviewed in the media. For instance, in no newspaper report or broadcast script I could locate, was it ever stated exactly what happened to Brian Harrison’s gun during this incident.
This is a critical element—if Harrison was sustaining a beating, and a struggle was ensuing for control of the gun, the case for the use of deadly force would be even stronger. One could even wonder if this almost vital fact was purposefully overlooked to lessen the argument that intervention by a bystander was really necessary.
Since we used the incident in our classes, I had a number of questions about what really occurred that day. I wanted a lot of small details that had never been covered in news articles. Since I once taught a class with him as a student, and knew him, I went to the source—Perry Stephens.
Reviewing his collection of news stories and incidence reports, I was able to piece together a much more definitive story of what occurred that afternoon when the stars all crossed, and Perry Stephens used deadly force to save another human being…
Stephens was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer rig on the interstate in the early 90’s. Since that time he has undergone almost continuous cycles of surgeries, recuperation, physical therapy, and more surgeries. He wears a neck brace constantly, and when it is removed, you see the beginnings of a horrendous scar that travels from the base of his hairline down his spine. He currently is recuperating from surgery that placed steel rods in his spine. He has been unable to work full time since the accident, and generally walks with the aid of a cane. He lives with constant, debilitating pain.
On the afternoon of February 17, 2006, Stephens stopped by an Auto Zone store located at the corner of Joor Road and Greenwell Springs Road--a major East-West thoroughfare that goes from blue collar North Baton Rouge through areas of industrial parks and older shopping centers, to a satellite community of Baton Rouge named Central.
Perry Stephens resided in Central, an upper-middle class enclave that has grown up around a sleepy semi-rural community outside the city limits.
Someone had backed into Stephen’s wife’s truck, and he was picking up body repair materials and paint to try to cosmetically fix the damage to the truck.
When he pulled into the lot of the Auto Zone and parked in a handicapped parking place, he noticed a large number of cars in the lot, but it seemed as if most of the occupants were outside, talking and visiting—the store had few customers inside.
As he paid for his purchase and walked out, he noticed a motorcycle cop had pulled a black 2006 Mercedes SL550 into the parking lot, and was apparently writing its occupant a ticket.
As Stephens entered his truck, placing his cane and purchases on the passenger’s side, a fight broke out between the white motorcycle cop and the African/American male who was driving the Mercedes. He saw the driver of the Mercedes turn and strike the cop with his fists.
Stephens was wearing a neck brace, a body brace, and a leg brace, and walking with the aid of a cane. As the driver of the car slugged the cop and drove him backwards with multiple blows to the head and body, Stephens reached into his glove box and pulled out his Sig Sauer P-220 semi-automatic pistol. The gun was loaded with 230 grain Hydra-Shock hollowpoints.
Stephens heard the officer, Brian Harrison, scream for help as George Temple, a six-foot body builder and boxer, pounded Harrison’s face and torso, forcing him backwards and driving him to the ground, dropping on top of him. Stephens heard two gunshots, and Harrison screaming “Somebody help me! Anybody, help me!”
Brian Harrison had been a cop for over 10 years. He had started his career as a reserve deputy with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, and as often happens, fell in love with the job, and joined the office as a full-time deputy. He was assigned to the Parish Prison in 1995 when he was involved in a shooting incident during an armed robbery of a convenience store, and was given a three-day suspension for his actions in that incident.
By the time of the fateful shooting on February 17, 2006, he had been a Baton Rouge City Police Officer for a number of years and was assigned to the Motorcycle Division. He was respected by his fellow cops as a professional officer.
On that day, he had gone on duty at 0545 in the morning, and was off duty at 1345 hours. He was working an off-duty detail with another motorcycle officer escorting a funeral that afternoon after getting off work.
While escorting the funeral, and changing positions constantly with his partner as they blocked intersections to allow the funeral cortege unhindered progress, Harrison observed a black 2006 Mercedes SL550 enter the procession by coming up from behind the procession and cutting in front of a family car. The SL550 is an expensive, low-slung, two-door sport model.
This “funeral-jumping” is a common practice of motorists in a hurry. They will cut into a procession, frequently turn on their lights, and turn out of the procession when they reach their destination or turning point. The Baton Rouge Chief of Police, Jeff LeDuff, spent a great deal of his time professionally as a motor officer. After the incident, he said he had written “hundreds” of such citations.
Harrison was blocking the intersection, and as the Mercedes passed him, he motioned to the driver to pull over, out of the procession. The driver ignored him.
Harrison then caught up with the Mercedes, and riding beside it, ordered it to pull over. The driver rolled down the window and looked at Harrison, then looked straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge the motorcycle officer.
The driver ignored Harrison’s continued motions and verbal commands to pull over for some distance, but finally turned right into the parking lot of the Auto Zone, pulling into a parking spot.
Harrison later stated the subject yelled out of the window as he was pulling in the lot, “I don’t know why you are doing this!”
Harrison dismounted his motorcycle, approached the vehicle, and informed the driver he was being ticketed for interfering with a funeral procession.
Upon being told this, Temple became aggressive and abusive, telling Harrison, “This is not going anywhere. This is just a waste of time. Call your boss. Look what kind of car I’m driving, man. This will all be taken care of.”
Harrison continued to write the ticket, then asked Temple to sign it, informing him it was not an admission of guilt, simply a statement he would appear in court to answer the charge.
When Harrison tore off the ticket and handed it to him, Temple reached into his pocket and pulled a roll of money from it, asking “What’s it going to cost to make this go away?” The roll of money was later determined to contain over $3500.00.
At this attempt at bribery, Harrison informed Temple he was under arrest. He placed the ticket book on the top of the car and ordered Temple to exit the vehicle and to turn and place his hands on the car. Harrison opened the door for Temple who stepped from the car. The car began to roll backwards, and Temple reached back in to put it in park. Temple then grabbed his cell phone and jammed it to his ear, attempting to make a phone call, jamming himself into the wedge of the open door.
Harrison ordered Temple to step away from the car and put his hands behind his back. Temple refused to submit when Harrison attempted to pull his arm behind him for handcuffing, and began fighting. Harrison sprayed Temple with pepper spray, which had no discernible effect on Temple.
Temple was at this time on probation for simple battery and criminal damage to property according to clerk of court records obtained by The Advocate, the Baton Rouge daily newspaper.
Six months earlier he had forced his way into the home of the mother of his son. An accomplice held a gun on her roommate while Temple assaulted his ex-girlfriend in an argument over the child. He was later arrested and charged with simple battery and other misdemeanor charges for the assault. He had so terrified the two women, they had made several complaints to the city police about the beating and threats by Temple, and both had purchased handguns to protect themselves from him.
As Harrison reached again for Temple’s arm to bring it around and handcuff him, Temple swung around and struck Harrison in the face with his fist, staggering Harrison.
As Harrison fell backwards, Temple attacked him, striking him rapidly in the face and torso with his fists. Harrison fell backwards with Temple coming down on top of him. As they fell, Harrison pulled his .40 S&W Glock 22 and fired one shot into the ribs of Temple. Temple was heard to cry out “I’m hit! I’m hit!”
The round was later found to have ricocheted off Temple’s rib, doing little damage.
An eyewitness came forward after the incident stating to a local TV station he heard exactly what was said between the officer and Temple. He stated he was parked a couple of spaces away, and didn’t pay much attention to the incident until the officer and the subject began yelling at one another. He said Temple called the officer a “punk…” and said “you’re just jealous of my car” after they began to struggle.
The witness said the officer took quite a beating. “You could hear them muffled…’Mother’ this and that. ‘I told you not to mess with me. I told you—I’m a beast, I told you not to mess with me. I told you. I told you.’”
He stated: “I mean, Mr. Temple was a big man…the man probably saved the officer’s life…But if this would have been on a dark road, we would probably be looking for a cop killer, to be honest with you.”
Harrison, who was taking a tremendous beating, was desperately trying to keep his weapon from falling into the hands of Temple. Temple was slugging him, and grasping his gun hand. He pushed the slide of the gun into the pavement, and fired it twice. He later told Stephens he was trying to empty it, or cause it to jam to keep Temple from getting it from him and killing him with his own gun. He succeeded. The gun malfunctioned, and was later found to have a spent casing still in the chamber.
Stephens said he counted over 15 people witnessing this incident from the front of the building and around the parking lot. Harrison was screaming for help as Temple beat him, “Somebody help me! Anybody help me! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
An off-duty sheriff’s deputy saw the incident occurring and heard the shots fired as Harrison desperately tried to keep his duty weapon from being taken by his assailant. The deputy tried to fight his way around traffic, making the corner, but by the time he pulled into the lot, the incident was over, and Temple was dead.
As he got into his truck, and saw the fight begin, Stephens reached into his glove box and pulled out his Sig Sauer P-220 semi-automatic pistol. He exited the truck and stood beside the rear of it, not intending to get involved unless the cop couldn’t contain the incident. Then he heard the shots and realized Harrison was in serious trouble.
Hobbling over within 6-8 feet of the two men, he hollered several times at Temple to stop, leave Harrison alone, and get off him.
Stephens could not see that Harrison had jammed his duty pistol under his body, trying to keep it from Temple who was continuing to rain powerful blows on his face, and slamming Harrison’s head into the pavement.
Stephen’s statement: “The driver dominated the officer through the entire incident. The driver stayed on top of the officer, pinning him to the pavement. The officer’s body was positioned with his legs and buttocks on the pavement—his upper body wrenched to the left with his left shoulder and left side against the pavement.”
“The driver was straddled across the officer pinning the officer’s legs with his legs, holding the officer with his left hand and beating the officer with his right fist.”
“Not heeding my commands to stop, I fired my pistol rapidly several times…The driver didn’t appear phased (sic) by the shots and continued beating the officer. I quickly gave another command for the driver to ‘Get off.’”
“Instantly the driver grabbed the officer behind the neck and head and slammed his face into the pavement. At the same instant, the driver thrust his right hand/arm under the officer’s upper body…”
With Harrison continuing to scream for help, and Temple continuing to beat him, Stephens placed his walking cane under his left arm, and took aim with both hands to get a better angle of shot and avoid hitting Harrison. The first shot hit Temple in the left breast, under the nipple. Stephens did not shoot at Temple from the rear as has been frequently stated, but rather from a side position. The bullet entered Temple’s chest, and came out through his scapula (shoulder blade.) His next three shots struck Temple in the left shoulder and upper back area.
After the four shots, with Temple showing no effect from the four bullets, Stephens again ordered Temple off Harrison. Temple ignored the orders and continued to beat Harrison.
Stephens then took one step forward, reaching within approximately three feet of the men, Temple still viciously beating Harrison. Temple was still on top of Harrison, his left arm on Harrison’s neck, and his right hand and arm under Harrison. As Temple slammed Harrison’s head forward to the pavement and lunged forward with his hand and arm under Harrison, Stephens fired his final shot into Temple’s head behind his ear. The bullet exited the rear of Temple’s head. Stephens said while he did not actually see the gun, other witnesses told him Temple had finally wrested control of the duty Glock from Harrison and was pulling it from under Harrison’s body when Stephens shot him in the side of the head.
At that shot, Temple ceased beating Harrison, and turned, reaching towards Stephens with a look on his face Stephens described as “rage.”
Temple then fell over, off Harrison, and made two attempts to sit back up, looking at Stephens before he collapsed and expired.
Harrison struggled to stand up. According to Stephens his face was covered with blood and he would have been “unrecognizable.” Various reports later stated Harrison suffered a fractured jaw. Harrison himself thought his jaw had been broken. Later reports are unclear as to whether bones were broken, but his contusions and cuts were treated at a local hospital. Stephens handed his handgun to Harrison, who removed the magazine, unloaded it, and placed it on the trunk of a car until it could be secured by evidence officers.
Numerous calls to 911 had been placed by Auto Zone customers and motorists who had witnessed the incident, and units were on the scene from both the city police and the Sheriff’s Office within minutes. It was determined the incident had taken place just outside of the city limits, and the Sheriff’s Office would be the investigative agency with responsibility. Several detectives and uniforms from that office quickly took control of the scene, began gathering evidence, and interviewing what would turn out to be numerous witnesses to the incident.
Stephens was transported to the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office where his statement was taken. A lieutenant with the office, an African-American, transported him back to his truck later, only to find a crowd still gathered on the scene, and several deputies engaged in crowd control, as the group exhibited angry tendencies.
The lieutenant ordered one of the deputies on the scene to get Stephen’s truck and bring it to the substation. It was deemed too dangerous for Stephens to be allowed to get out of the EBRSO unit and drive his own truck off the lot. This was done, and Stephens was transported to the substation where he was reunited his truck.
Numerous articles were written and broadcasts were made about this incident, which inflamed a large portion of the African-American community. The NAACP called for a Justice Department investigation, as well as a citizens’ review board of police shootings. The Justice Department investigation was initiated, but later dropped with no criticism of the investigation of the incident by all participating agencies.
The Mayor of Baton Rouge, and the Police Chief, both African-American, steadfastly refused to consider any sort of citizen review board, standing up to intense pressure from the African-American community.
The investigations by the sheriff’s office and city police, containing reams of evidence and interviews with multiple witnesses were turned over to the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office for final determination in the case.
The actions of both Brian Harrison and Perry Stephens were found to have fallen in the parameters of the justifiable homicide statutes under Louisiana law. No charges were filed against either of them.
A lawsuit was filed by the mother of George Temple’s son, accusing Brian Harrison of excessive force in his attempt to effect an illegal arrest, and Stephens of “vigilante” action in coming to the aid of Harrison.
Among the claims listed as a reason for the lawsuit was a “loss of consortium” with Temple.
The lawsuit, the only one filed in this case, is still pending.
Louisiana Revised Statute 14:20 (2) of the Louisiana Criminal Code
20. Justifiable Homicide
A homicide is justifiable:
(2) When committed for the purpose of preventing a violent or forcible felony involving danger to life or of great bodily harm, by one who reasonably believes that such an offense is about to be committed and that such action is necessary for its prevention. The circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fear of a reasonable person that there would be serious danger to his own life or person if he attempted to prevent the felony without the killing.
22. Defense of others
It is justifiable to use force or violence or to kill in the defense of another person when it is reasonably apparent that the person attacked could have justifiably used such means himself, and when it is reasonably believed that such intervention is necessary to protect the life of the other person.