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Mo. Senate debates deadly force measure

Mo. Senate debates deadly force measure

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JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Senators spent about an hour Tuesday debating a measure that would bring the state's use-of-force law in line with federal law.

Missouri's law allows a police officer to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon under any circumstances. That conflicts with a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case, Tennessee vs. Garner.

The law drew a spotlight after a grand jury decided in November against charging Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime for killing Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

In fact, Missouri jury instructions already have been updated to match the court case, which says deadly force should be used to prevent a suspect's escape only when the officer believes the suspect poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Legislators say the law needs to be brought in line with the court decision to provide clarity. Not all senators agreed.

"If police officers are taught how to behave based on the Supreme Court ruling, why do we have to change" Missouri statute? asked Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Under the measure, the officer would have to have "probable cause" to believe that the suspect has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving serious injury, is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon or may otherwise pose a threat of serious physical injury to the officer or others.

It also adds wording that says the use of force when making an arrest isn't justified unless the amount of force used was objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances the officer faced.

Schaaf also argued that he would want an officer to be able to use deadly force if someone was fleeing with his life savings, for example.

"I'm kind of like, it's my life savings, shoot him," Schaaf said.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, responded: "We shouldn't shoot people over money."

Senators did not vote on the measure.

The bill is Senate Bill 199.

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Alex Stuckey is a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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