Dancing in the street and “walking with a purpose” were among Ryan Keith Bolinger’s alleged last actions before Des Moines officer Vanessa Miller shot and killed him last Tuesday.
Bolinger was unarmed and Miller shot him through her rolled up cruiser window. Bolinger was 28 years old with no criminal history.
In a press conference the following day, Des Moines Police Sergeant Jason Halifax claimed that Bolinger was behaving erratically, pulling up to an ongoing traffic stop and parking his vehicle next to Des Moines police officer Ian Lawler’s cruise so close that the cop was unable to exit through his driver-side door.
Bolinger then exited his vehicle and began dancing in the street before driving away without exceeding the speed limit, prompting officer Miller to give chase. The officer caught up to him and cut him off with her car, forcing him to stop.
Halifax claims there is some unknown part of the story that the police aren’t telling us that makes this killing okay.
Halifax added, “[Miller] obviously felt something, and it involved what she was perceiving at the time, but that will be up to the grand jury to hear next.”
Police dash-cam video was rolling at the time of the incident, though it didn’t capture the shooting, Halifax said.
Microphones worn by officers were also operating, but that audio won’t be available until after the grand jury investigation.
Officers were not wearing body cameras, since the department is still in the process of making those purchases.
The Des Moines Register released the dispatcher audio of the incident, posted below, but reported that the audio from the officer’s mics would not be made public until after a grand jury investigation.
If the police story is accurate, then Bolinger sounds like he needed medical help.
Instead he got a bullet.
For all intents and purposes, officers are allowed to kill at will in America as long as they later they claim that they were afraid for their, or anyone else’s, life at the time regardless of whether it is a reasonable fear. Proving beyond a doubt what an officer’s state of mind was is usually impossible.
Halifax’s version of the shooting fits the standard justification narrative for police killings.
Despite the already ludicrously expansive protections afforded to police who kill, this case could set a dangerous precedent. Miller seems to have shot and killed Bolinger simply for acting weird, then walking up to her car.
It is hard to understand why Miller would have felt threatened to the point of firing through her window at Bolinger. She was armed, sitting in a vehicle, facing an unarmed man and had backup on the way. Bolinger was clearly outside of the car, meaning she could have driven away and monitored Bolinger while waiting for backup. It’s difficult to understand why lethal force was seemingly her first option and not her last.
Instead of transparency, John Sarcone, the Polk County Attorney, will present the case to a grand jury in a secretive hearing. Sarcone’s ability to do his job as a prosecutor relies on the credibility of the police departments who build the cases he prosecutes. Despite this conflict of interests and the blow-back against Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch after the Michael Brown case, “Sarcone said he wouldn’t recuse himself or select a special prosecutor in this case”.
It is troubling that the police and local prosecutors are holding back the audio recordings from Miller and Lawler’s microphones. The secret grand jury process further blocks the public from seeing the evidence in this case. The current atmosphere of public distrust in police and in the justice system can only be fixed by transparency and accountability. Whether the shooting is ultimately found to be justified or not, the public deserves to hear the recordings, and see the evidence so that there can be a fully informed discussion of how policing is done in Des Moines and across America.
On Saturday, local activists held a protest against the shooting in front of this Des Moines Police Department.