HOUSTON - The recent high profile George Zimmerman trial in Florida put the "Stand your Ground" defense in the spotlight. A similar law exists here in Texas and on Friday Harris County prosecutors took steps to lay out what qualifies as self-defense under our law.
The training gives grand jurors insight into split-second decisions officers have to make -- whether to shoot or not to shoot. Police officers confronting an armed suspect often have only tenths of a second to react to a situation.
"A lot of people have misconceptions about what police are supposed to do when they encounter someone with a weapon because of TV and other things, shoot the weapon out of there hand, shoot to injure them. Police officers are trained to shoot until the threat is gone," says Kirk Bonsal, Harris Co. District Attorney's Office Investigator.
During training, Harris County Grand Jurors get the opportunity to participate in the same shoot/no shoot simulations used to train police officers. We got to try the simulator and with sweaty palms and adrenaline pumping, we had to make those same split-second decisions officers make each day.
"This sort of places an individual into a police officer's shoes," says Chief Julian Ramirez, with the Harris Co. DA's Office Civil Rights Division.
Whenever a police officer shoots and injures or kills a civilian, the DA's office investigates the scene just as the police do. They present what they've learned to a grand jury, who will determine whether or not criminal charges should be brought in connection with that shooting.
Grand jurors are often called upon to apply self-defense and apparent danger laws in the context of use of deadly force by police officers.
"When evaluating self-defense, the question is did the actor act reasonably? What the presentation does, and simulator does, it allows the grand jurors to place themselves in the shoes of actor, and to determine whether or not, how they would need to act in that given situation," says Ramirez.
Simulation training has been used for about 10 years to train grand jurors.
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