District Attorney Marc Bennett’s decision not to file criminal charges against the Wichita police officer who shot and killed Andrew Finch on Dec. 28 shouldn’t be a surprise.
Some will say it’s not a surprise because a district attorney is prone to protect law enforcement — people he works with closely.
Others will agree with Bennett and say Kansas law is clear, that the officer fired under concern for fellow officers closer to Finch, who had come out of his family’s home and was thought to be — because of a swatting call to police — someone who had killed his father and was holding other family members hostage.
After Bennett’s announcement — his 42-page report, and 10 body-camera videos released Thursday — those opinions, and any in between, are possible.
This was no easy investigation for the district attorney’s office, and Bennett should be credited for explaining his decision in detail and in front of media. The swatting aspect of the incident — which led to 25-year-old Tyler Barriss being charged with involuntary manslaughter — created national headlines and gave people an opportunity to divide blame.
Bennett said the shooting should not have happened, but he emphasized hindsight and how what the public knows now and what officers knew at 6:28 p.m. on Dec. 28 are much different. He concluded that the officer acted reasonably, meaning evidence had to be reviewed based on what the officer knew at the time. The hoax call created the impression that Finch could have just murdered a family member. It would then be logical to assume he was armed.
But while Bennett’s announcement settled one question, many remain:
▪ Why wasn’t one of the officers’ body camera activated before the shooting? Identified as Officer 3, he was stationed to the east of the home and provided a clear angle to the shooting, but it was not activated until after the shot. The first second of his video shows Finch falling to the ground.
▪ Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay has said that only the video from an officer across the street from the Finch home was released publicly because it offered the best view of Finch. That’s true, but preventing the release of nine other videos kept the public from hearing the different and possibly confusing oral commands coming from police.
From the videos, at least three commands can be heard simultaneously before the shot: “Hands, hands, hands!” “Show me your hands!” and “Walk this way!”
▪ Why is the officer’s name still unknown? Bennett said he doesn’t release the names of people he doesn’t charge. That will likely be the same response from police. Likely civil litigation may be the first time his name becomes public.
▪ Would a special prosecutor have come to a different conclusion? Critics of the police and its officer had called for someone other than Bennett and his office to investigate. Would Kansas law have looked any different to another attorney?
We won’t know. What we do know is only a few people who were there on Dec. 28 had an up-close view on whether Bennett’s decision is correct. His report shows city and county officers saw different things when Finch came out of his front door. Police said an internal investigation can now begin.
Finch’s death was a mistake, with blame to be placed with more than one person. But the officer who shot Finch, in Bennett’s interpretation of state law, did not commit a criminal act because he acted reasonably — even though Finch did not have a weapon.
One question was answered Thursday. More answers are needed.