Auburn Police Standards and the Shooting of Melissa Boarts

I picked up a copy of the most recent Plainsman the other day on my way to an appointment on campus. Behold the most predictable headline in the history of newspaper headlines.

Here's a copy of the front page of the Auburn Plainsman, with the headline "AUBURN POLICE SAY SHOOTING JUSTIFIED."

It’s a reference to the Auburn police who followed, confronted and killed Melissa Boarts on the highway last week. The police were following her because her parents called 911 out of fear that Melissa might be suicidal. The police followed her for miles until she stopped, then they saved her from harming herself by confronting her and shooting her to death.

The headline is more predictable than Dog Bites Man. If you programmed a Police Shooting Response robot that took police shooting reports as input and produced a claim of justification 100% of the time, only filling in the blanks with facts taken from the input and not adjusting the template in the slightest, you’d get the same headlines that you actually get from local police statements. Based on the extremely limited information that has been released so far, it’s possible that the police went overboard even by their own standards; it’s also perfectly possible that when the dash cam and body cam footage is released, it will turn out that the killing meets the police’s internal standards for justification — but if so, the police standards themselves are the problem. We don’t know how much police officers knew about how she was armed. The weapon that La Jura keeps talking about, always as a quote-unquote weapon without further clarification, was actually a small knife. Melissa’s parents and their lawyer say that they told the 911 dispatch that she had a knife; police claim that when she got out of the car they didn’t know what weapon she had in her hand. It may be that she brandished the knife in a way that would meet the police’s policies for using lethal force against her. But if so, then morally I think the problem with police procedures is that they take no real account of who initiated the confrontation, who escalated it, what other less-forceful options were available. We have here a case in which police pursued a woman who had committed no crime, followed her car for miles out of their own jurisdiction and into Macon County, cornered her when they were told she was upset and panicked and lightly armed, and then shot her to death when, they claim, she charged them. For ordinary people like you or me, a claim of self-defense requires that someone else is the aggressor; but police standards never take that into account.


Stories on the police shooting, what the police claim they knew, and what the family says they know about what happened, have appeared in the Huntsville Times (April 4), the Montgomery Advertiser (April 5), and The World According to Vladimir Putin (April 5). According to the Opelika-Auburn News (April 7), the family was desperately trying to reach Melissa’s car on the highway but the police cornered her and shot her before they could arrive; the OA News story also reports that there is both dash cam footage and body cam footage of the confrontation and the shooting. But the footage was given to the Alabama SBI, so that state police can investigate local police, and will not be released to the public until or unless the Macon County District Attorney decides that it should be. (The Macon County DA is putatively in charge of this decision because Auburn police followed her out of Auburn and pursued her on the highway into Macon County, where they shot her.)

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  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2016-05-14 – No Justice, No Peace. No Killer Police.:

    […] News. For more about the story, see also GT 2016-04-04: Auburn police killed a woman yesterday and GT 2016-04-13: Auburn Police Standards and the Shooting of Melissa Boarts. There’s a few photos from the protest […]