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By Elias Atienza
The police shooting of Julian Betton, a resident of Myrtle Beach, Florida, occurred last year when he allegedly tried selling $100 worth of pot to his friend who happened to be a police informer. In the incident police shot 57 bullets, 9 of which hit Benton. Radley Balko at the Washington Post summarizes his injuries:
“He ended up losing his gallbladder and parts of his bowel, colon and rectum. The bullets also damaged his liver, small intestine and pancreas. His lung partially collapsed. His left leg was broken. One of his vertebrae was partially destroyed; two others were fractured. He’ll never walk again or be able to have kids of his own. He’ll also need to use a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.”
Strangely, upon reporting the incident, the police lied about why they shot him. They claimed Betton had started shooting at them first.
Unfortunately for the police department, ballistic tests would confirm that Betton never fired his weapon, which led to all the gun charges against him being dropped. Following the ballistics, the police then changed their story to reflect that Betton had pointed his weapon at officers.
As Balko writes:
“That still didn’t make much sense. The police claimed he did this after they made repeated knocks and announcements, and that they were wearing uniforms clearly indicating that they were law enforcement. This again would have had Betton knowingly taking on a well-armed, well-equipped tactical team with a handgun over a comparatively small amount of pot — but this time only pointing the gun at them. Also suspicious: The task force members gave strikingly similar, almost word-for-word accounts of the raid. The police also confronted one of Betton’s neighbor’s as they approached the house. That neighbor would later say he had no idea the raid team was law enforcement, and he thought he was being robbed. If the neighbor didn’t know the raid team were police officers, it’s hard to see how Betton should have.”
Turns out that the new story was false as well. Betton had a security camera and it showed the police breaking through his door with a battering ram. It’s hard, as Balko points out, to know if they announced themselves, but they didn’t knock which is required since they didn’t have a no-knock warrant. So they ended up busting down a door, shooting a man because he pointed a gun at him (which is understandable considering he had no idea they were cops as Balko mentions), and then lying about why they did it and how it happened.
Adding more fuel to the fire, all of the officers were wearing body cameras which weren’t turned on until after the raid was over. All of the cops were cleared by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which investigates police shootings.
“The SLED report of the Betton raid made only cursory mention of Betton’s surveillance footage. It doesn’t mention that the footage pretty clearly contradicts the officers’ account of what happened. The officers were never punished for their false claims about Betton firing his gun, the false claims about their uniforms, or their failure to knock and announce before battering down Betton’s door, which was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.”
Betton was convicted of one count of marijuana distribution and another charge of possession with intent to distribute, which would land him in jail for ten years, but the judge suspended his sentence. He will have a felony record for this. However, he is suing the task force and prominent lawyer Bradley Bannon joined his lawsuit.
Maybe it will work. Maybe not. After all, a federal appeals court ruled that an officer who shot and innocent man in his own home cannot be sued.