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Ex-Cop Sentenced to 5 Years for Shooting Handcuffed Suspect

By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 14, 2014

A former Maryland police officer and Iraq war veteran has been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for shooting and paralyzing a handcuffed suspect.

Johnnie Riley, 44, formerly a sergeant with the District Heights Police Department, was convicted of shooting Kalvin Kyle in the back after Kyle tried to flee, while handcuffed, from a police cruiser. According to The Associated Press, Kyle was left paralyzed and Riley could've faced up to 45 years in prison.

How did the court arrive at Riley's sentence for the shooting?

Assault and Misconduct Convictions

In July, Riley was convicted of first and second degree assault, use of a handgun during commission of a crime of violence, and misconduct in office. Washington, D.C.'s WRC-TV reports that Riley's trial concluded after only four days of testimony, with jurors taking just a few days to reach a verdict.

The jury had heard testimony about how Kyle was pulled over on suspicion of riding a stolen motorcycle, and how he was handcuffed and placed in the back of Riley's squad car. Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks told WRC-TV that by convicting Riley, jurors agreed that it is "not acceptable to shoot a person in the back, even a fleeing thief, when they are handcuffed and running away from you."

Legally speaking, police are allowed to open fire on fleeing felons when they have:

  • Committed a dangerous felony; and
  • Present an imminent danger or harm if they escape.

Apparently the jury didn't believe that Kyle was too much of a threat when he was running away while handcuffed.

Fairly Light Sentence?

For an officer who crippled a suspect with his gun, five years might seem somewhat light. This becomes even more apparent when you remember that Riley was facing a maximum of 45 years in prison for his three convictions. So why did he get off so easily?

Well, it's possible that the judge considered Riley's lack of criminal record, his remorse for his actions, and maybe even that the crime occurred during a stressful situation. The Washington Times reports that Alsobrooks was dissatisfied with the five-year sentence, explaining that "this sends the wrong message to our community."

With increasing legal focus on deadly interaction between cops and civilians, it isn't hard to see her point.

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