SVU Episode #15-10: Amaro’s One-Eighty

Every police officer who’s ever walked a beat knows that dangers can lurk around any corner. Tonight’s SVU highlighted the uncertainty that officers face- and the regret that can follow a split-second decision. And it showed how a good cop can unravel when everything is taken from him.

Recap:

Just when you thought it was safe to go to back to Olivia’s house …

Olivia throws a dinner party where the brussels sprouts are tragically less popular than the wine. On the walk home, Nick and Amanda come across a pair of police in hot pursuit. “He’s got a gun!” shouts a uniformed officer, right after a taxi plows into him. Amanda tends to the injured cop while Nick helps the remaining officer – a female rookie – chase the bad guy.

They run into an apartment building, where shots are fired, and the rookie is shot in the leg. Nick points his gun around the corner and fires back. It’s exactly what he’s been trained to do. And it has tragic results. After the smoke clears, he sees that he shot a fourteen-year-old kid.

Despite his union delegate’s best dilatory efforts, Nick’s blood alcohol level is tested and is a .049 – close to the legal limit for intoxication.

And, it turns out, the only shots fired were from the rookie cop. The bullet in her leg was a ricochet from her own gun. The kid they chased was a minor drug dealer – but not a cop killer.
Internal Affairs quickly charges Nick with … something. (They never said exactly what.) He’s willing to plead guilty to misdemeanor reckless endangerment and retire from the force. But the evil Special Prosecutor insists he plead guilty to a hate crime. Egads.

Nick balks, testifies before the Grand Jury, expresses his regret, and narrowly escapes being indicted. But not before he’s been arrested, arraigned, internally tormented, called a racist in the press, forced to re-mortgage his house to pay for bail, given up custody of his daughter, and had shots fired into his windows. Also, he almost beats up the shooter’s unarmed friends with a baseball bat, on camera. And just to make his litany of woe complete … did I mention the brussels sprouts?

Nick gets to keep his job, but Captain Cragen retires! Cragen gives a heartwarming speech to his squad, and then a tear-jerking one to Olivia, as he passes the SVU reins to her. She will now be Sgt. Benson. “I gave all my life to SVU, and didn’t leave any for myself,” Cragen says. He advises Olivia not to do the same. “Take care of yourself,” he tells her. “You deserve it.” As usual, the good captain is right.

Verdict: B+

I thought this was a terrific episode: smart, tense, and very realistic on most topics. But the political witch hunt seemed so far-fetched, I couldn’t give it an “A.”

What they got right:

This was a realistic exploration of a police shooting. It highlighted how hard it is to tell what’s happening in the heat of the moment. (I had to rewind my DVR three times before I caught it all – imagine if that shooting happened to you in real life.) Soldiers call it “the fog of war.” Every day, cops go out and put their lives on the line, never knowing what’s around the proverbial corner – just as Nick didn’t know what was around the actual corner tonight. They have to make decisions that could save lives, or take them, in highly stressful circumstances, within an instant.

And then they have to live with it.

Often, police officers involved in shootings have to go through years of therapy to get over it. Even if it was justified, the mere act of shooting someone can be an extremely traumatic event.

The points about the police delegate and defense attorney were authentic. After a shooting, a police officer would be assigned delegate from his union. Anything said between Nick and the delegate would not be privileged – but the delegate is very strongly on the officer’s side.

The defense attorney advised Nick not to talk, either to Internal Affairs or to the Grand Jury. She was right. Nick refused to follow her advice, and in the end, it worked out for him. But in real life, any defense attorney worth her salt would insist that Nick assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Not that he had anything to hide. But you saw what happened when he started answering questions – every time he opened his mouth, he damned himself.

The Grand Jury procedures were right on point. A grand jury would decide whether to charge Nick with a felony or not. The prosecutor would ask questions, and the jurors themselves could follow up with questions of their own. And, unlike a trial jury’s “guilty” verdict, a Grand Jury vote to indict does not have to be unanimous.

Finally, as a matter of atmospherics, I appreciated this poster on Cragen’s wall. I have seen the same poster hanging in the offices of many real police officers and prosecutors, who see firsthand the violent and tragic effect that widespread handguns have in America. It was an authentic touch, and thematically relevant to tonight’s show.

2014-01-16-guncontrolposter.pngw700

What they got wrong:

The political vendetta was silly. Sure, there’s really a new mayor in New York City, and he has promised to reform NYPD. But that doesn’t mean that the next police shooting is going to be a political witch hunt. In real life, 99% of police shootings end up with the officer being cleared. Generally, police and prosecutors are more likely to be on each other’s side, not eager to throw each other under the bus.

Similarly, charging Nick with a hate crime was ridiculous. A police officer had just been shot in the leg and was bleeding on the floor! Bullets were ricocheting off the walls before Nick drew his gun. Not only was this not a racially motivated crime, it was pretty classic self-defense.

Finally, arresting Nick before he was indicted was weird. In a case like this, a prosecutor would finish his investigation and ask the Grand Jury to charge Nick before any arrest was made. The only reason they arrested Nick tonight was so we could get that dramatic scene of him being led off to jail.

What do you think, SVU fans? Who’s the next SVU detective we’ll see wearing orange? Does NY Mayor Bill de Blasio have it out for Nick? And should Olivia take cooking lessons? Leave your comments!

Comments

  1. James Pollock says:

    Sure, the prosecutor overcharged… but the “no bill” doesn’t really mean that Det. Amaro committed no crime. Seems like there’s a pretty clear case for reckless endangerment, in the sense that he discharged his firearm blindly. Yes, he thought he was under fire, but… there could have been a whole group of bystanders down that hall. A big part of responsible gun handling is knowing when not to pull the trigger.

    I’d say the city will be paying out a pretty penny for his mistake, when it comes time to settle the civil suit.

    All in all, this episode did not suggest that NYPD firearm-handling training is adequate.

    • “there could have been a whole group of bystanders down that hall”

      Or maybe he DID take that into consideration and that’s why he felt the need to put a stop to it.

      Also with a cop that was shot next to him. I think it was well beyond the point where “not pulling the trigger” was gonna do any good; for all he knows he could’ve been shot right then and there, and the cop that was shot could’ve died if something had happened to him. Obviously the environment was already hostile and talking down the one firing off the gun did nothing; so I can understand why Nick made the decision he did. It was mostly a judgement call he made in the heat of the moment.

      • James Pollock says:

        ?I think it was well beyond the point where “not pulling the trigger” was gonna do any good.”
        Are we talking about the same episode? In the one I saw, nobody is armed but the cops. Nobody is shooting but the cops. Ergo, if the cops decide not to fire any shots, then “not pulling the trigger” IS gonna do some good.

        “Or maybe he DID take that into consideration and that’s why he felt the need to put a stop to it.”
        Shooting bystanders is pretty much never goning to be the right answer on the exam, even for NYPD.

        “Obviously the environment was already hostile and talking down the one firing off the gun did nothing.”
        Whereas shooting blindly nearly killed an unarmed teenager, and needlessly endangered everyone in the vicinity. And again, the one firing off the gun was the other officer.

        “It was mostly a judgement[sic] call he made in the heat of the moment.”
        Yes, and his judgment was wrong. He fired off several rounds without looking to see what he was shooting at first. That’s reckless. He believed he was under hostile fire, meanting that he was authorized to use deadly force against the source of that attack… but he fired BLINDLY. You know, without looking to see if he was firing at the threat, or at nothing at all, or at completely innocent bystanders. When gang members do this we question their very humanity.

        The difference between reckless endangerment and depraved-indifference murder is luck. Amaro is lucky that heshot only the kid

        • “Whereas shooting blindly nearly killed an unarmed teenager, and needlessly endangered everyone in the vicinity. And again, the one firing off the gun was the other officer.”

          And Nick was psychic and knew the bullet was ricocheted right away and didn’t come from a potentially armed civillian? Not to mention, all he knew was that shots were fired, the information about the rookie cop being the only one who did the shooting was not given to him. So some of the fault lies with the rookie cop.

          • James Pollock says:

            “And Nick was psychic and knew the bullet was ricocheted right away and didn’t come from a potentially armed civillian? Not to mention, all he knew was that shots were fired”

            We need to work out the difference between “this justifies shooting at somebody” and “this justifies shooting blindly in a populated area.”
            More correctly, you do.

            True life example. There was a mass shooting at the mall near where I live. There was a guy, an off-duty security guard, who was armed and saw the shooter. He fired off exactly 0 shots at the bad guy.
            I think it’s entirely fair to ask our trained police officers to know when they have a clear shot at an armed threat, and when they do not. Amaro, in this episode, did not.

          • I’m sorry but I feel that’s a poor counterpoint to this. Your asking me treat this mall situation that you described as being just as complicated as this one. But what you described didn’t sound nearly as complicated. Maybe it was a complex situation, but your description doesn’t give me that impression at all. I know far more about NIck’s situation than I know about the vague mall shooting.
            Without knowing details like how it went down, how it started, how it was ended, etc. asking me to apply or compare that scenario to this one is just ridiculous.

            Further to the point, I went back and watched the episode, and Nick’s so called blind shooting is a little more complicated then what you described:

            Before NIck started firing he peaked around the corner briefly to see what/who he would be firing at. While trying to keep from getting shot. Admittedly the camera doesn’t do the best job of getting this across.
            He was firing in the same general direction that Officer McKenna already was before hand. Once she started firing one COULD make the argument that the worry of any other bystandars in the hallway wasn’t as much of an issue. The alleged shooter was the issue.

            Other notes:
            -The officer told NIck the suspect was at the end of the hall cornered. She kept firing multiple times, even after she was down, and this cop DID have a clear shot.
            -He thought that the shooting still could’ve been coming from the suspect.
            - At that point he has a general idea on WHERE the suspect is, because how else could the suspect potentially shoot her unless she was in the line of sight. Not to mention peeking around the corner as I pointed out above.
            -With the chance that the alleged armed suspect COULD shoot someone else that COULD come in the hallway, he doesn’t exactly have the time to wait for a more convenient shot.
            -Especially IF he gets shot then, the suspect might still shoot someone else.

            If this episode has a failing at all I feel it was the fact that Officer McKenna was not questioned by IAB like Nick was. The firing of shots didn’t start until she came around the corner and stepped into the hallway. It was later established the boy had no gun and the only bullets that were in the hall were from her gun and Amaro’s, so exactly what did she see the boy do with what she thought was a gun that made her shoot repeatedly even after being hit? McKenna’s continued shooting at “something” is what triggered Amaro to continue to fire. She seemed to be shooting blindly at a threat SHE perceived, yet unlike Amaro, McKenna seemed to be given a free pass for the shooting.
            If anything I feel this cop should’ve been sent packing.

          • James Pollock says:

            “-The officer told NIck the suspect was at the end of the hall cornered. She kept firing multiple times, even after she was down, and this cop DID have a clear shot.”

            Yeah. The other officer fired one shot by accident after tripping. That’s not even vaguely criminal, it’s a training issue (Learn how to carry your weapon so that it doesn’t discharge by accident.)
            After that first shot, she was struck by a bullet and jusified in firing at the suspect. Note that she could see what she was shooting at. At that point, Amaro also would have been justified in shooting at the suspect… but that’s not what he did.

            “-With the chance that the alleged armed suspect COULD shoot someone else that COULD come in the hallway, he doesn’t exactly have the time to wait for a more convenient shot.”
            Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not the way they are trained. As a general rule, you don’t get to shoot people because the COULD shoot someone else at an unspecified future time, particularly if that someone else is not even known to exist.

          • “Yeah. The other officer fired one shot by accident after tripping. That’s not even vaguely criminal, it’s a training issue (Learn how to carry your weapon so that it doesn’t discharge by accident.)”

            Huh? I just watched the scene again today. Her firing her gun the 1st time was NO ACCIDENT it was intentional, as was every other shot she took. She fell on the floor BECAUSE her bullet ricocheted back at her leg. She didn’t trip at all, go back and watch the scene again.

            “but that’s not what he did.”

            I just told you how he had peeked around the corner so he would know what/who he was shooting at. How is that not what he did?

            “As a general rule, you don’t get to shoot people because the COULD shoot someone else at an unspecified future time, particularly if that someone else is not even known to exist.”

            Generally sure, but I don’t think this is a situation where “general” applies. Also, you or Nick don’t know if that same cop could’ve been shot again, after being shot the first time.

          • *correction she got shot in her arm. She looked like she jumped to the floor. But NOTHING there proves she tripped OR that her gun went off by accident. The first shot was heard BEFORE she was seen heading for the floor in the next shot.

          • James Pollock says:

            “She fell on the floor BECAUSE her bullet ricocheted back at her leg. She didn’t trip at all, go back and watch the scene again.”

            Go back and watch the whole thing, and this time listen for the exposition that explains why Amaro was before the grand jury and not the other officer. Then, examine the logic that says why this officer, who could see what she was shooting at, fired off several rounds, hitting… herself.
            As I said, training issue.

          • Which would be fine, except two things:

            1.) McKenna WRONGLY identified the boy having a gun.

            2.) They were charging Nick with a hate crime assuming HE shot the kid because of where he was from. Either he was shot because it was sloppy, OR he shot him because the kid wasn’t from this country. You can’t have it both ways in a situation like this. Plus as Stefi and I have already pointed out, Nick was MORE than justified in making an unsighted shot like this given the common sense of self defense.

  2. Nick was slightly drunk. are cops allowed to use there guns when they aren’t sober (if it’s a life and death situation)?

  3. Isaac Priestley says:

    The shooting blindly around the corner was the main thing I was wondering about–

    Is that really the official policy, that it’s OK to just point your gun around the corner and shoot blindly?

    Nick kept insisting he did everything by the book, but it seems reckless under almost any circumstances to shoot blindly around a corner without knowing anything about who’s around there.

    • “it seems reckless under almost any circumstances to shoot blindly around a corner without knowing anything about who’s around there.”

      He thought there was an armed person around the corner due to the cop being “shot”; he didn’t make that assumption blindly. Sure the bullet was ricocheted, but he didn’t know that “at the time” and when your in the heat of the moment and think a cop has been shot; you don’t necessarily have time to second guess and think “maybe the bullet was ricocheted” without a hint of that being the case “in the moment”.

    • James Pollock says:

      “Is that really the official policy, that it’s OK to just point your gun around the corner and shoot blindly?”

      No. Because it’s stupid, and puts people at risk. Cops are allowed to return fire when fired upon or when threatened with a weapon. But they’re supposed to ONLY shoot at people who are a threat. If you can’t see who or what you’re shooting at, you’re not following policy.

      “when your in the heat of the moment and think a cop has been shot; you don’t necessarily have time to second guess ”
      That’s why they have training. “Don’t shoot unless you know what you’re shooting at” is a simple rule. Amaro was justified in shooting at the suspect. He was not justified in shooting blindly. Amongst other reasons, around that corner might have been the suspect, a bystander, a bystander who’d just shot the suspect, or another cop who’d just shot the suspect. Had he been following procedure, he’d have held his fire until he knew which one it was. The general policy is “wait for backup, if you can”.

      • I disagree, it’s irrelevant whether the shots were sighted or unsighted. He was acting in self-defense and has a defense in law for the shooting of the suspect. Had he accidental shot an innocent by-stander he still would have had a legal defense. You can’t be negligent whilst acting in self-defense.

  4. I agree Allison, obviously a straight forward case of self-defense. He reasonably believed the suspect was armed and shooting at a downed officer whose life was in peril. He also had cause to believe that if he put his head round the corner he would shot and as he had no reason to believe any innocent bystander were standing in the corridor it was reasonable to return fire around the corner due to the immediacy and deadly nature of the threat he perceived to the downed officer’s life.

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