(CNN – Jan. 14, 2015) — The video appears to give us a rare glimpse into a police officer’s reaction after the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.
Officer Grant Morrison approaches a patrol car and collapses. Fellow officers help him up, and he keels over the hood of the car, face in hand, sobbing.
“I thought he was going to pull a gun on me,” Morrison, an officer in Billings, Montana, tells one of the officers assisting him.
Since Missouri teen Michael Brown’s death prompted a move to put body cameras on all of America’s policeman, Americans will likely witness more recordings of the crucial moment when an officer decides to pull the trigger.
It’s ugly, as a dash cam from Morrison’s patrol car reminds us. The video was presented as part of a coroner’s inquest into the April shooting of Richard Ramirez.
A squad car’s headlights shine on Morrison as he walks away from a dark driveway in the background, where he had pulled over a car carrying Ramirez, who Morrison thought was a suspect in an armed robbery and shooting. Morrison shot the man after he did not comply with orders to keep his hands in sight, dash cam video shows.
When Morrison reaches his fellow officer’s squad car — with its dash cam also running — he keels forward to the ground. He’s not wounded, but he sounds as though he’s hyperventilating.
Morrison had just learned Ramirez, whom he shot three times, was unarmed. Morrison appears to sob when he stands back up, his voice squelching when he tells a colleague he thought his life was in danger.
A colleague holds tight to Morrison as he appears to cry in heaves doubled over on the hood of the car. Another officer asks Morrison if she should call his wife.
It was the second time the drug enforcement officer had shot and killed someone.
Both times, dash cams were rolling. Both times Morrison faced an inquiry and the shootings were ruled justifiable, partly based on testimony analyzing the video, according to local media reports.
In Ramirez’s case, Morrison said he was facing a suspected armed robber and shooter who he thought might pull a gun on him, CNN affiliate KULR reported.
“I wish I just knew he didn’t have a gun but I couldn’t take the risk,” Morrison told a court earlier this month. “I couldn’t take the risk of him having a gun. I wanted to go home to my family and I wanted to see my son grow up.”
Despite the emotional breakdown — and despite the inquest clearing Morrison of wrongdoing — responses to a message posted by the Billings police chief on Facebook indicate there are plenty who feel Morrison used excessive force.
“He started out dropping f-bombs at the guy and then drew his pistol. He barely gave the guy a chance to surrender before plugging him three times at point blank range. This policeman is a murderer plain and simple,” Tony Galasso wrote.
“Even a blind man can see (and hear) that this was wrongdoing on the coward cop’s part. He was all jacked up as soon as he got to the car. Swearing and yelling. He clearly knew who the guy he shot was and wanted to shoot him by the sound of his voice,” Art Sharrard wrote.
One person even invoked the so-called loud-music murder trial in Florida, in which Michael Dunn was convicted of murder, despite his claim that he saw a gun and acted in self-defense.
“It’s odd that Michael Dunn was convicted for murder in the first degree of Jordan Davis, even as his claim to self-defense against an imaginary weapon was nearly identical to Morrison’s,” Troy Crumbo wrote.
Morrison and the Billings police had their supporters, too.
“Folks, when a cop stops you, it’s not about you. It’s about law and order. Help out. Do what you’re told,” Mona Letourneau responded, while Bryce Saunders posted, “Well said, Chief!! Thanks for all you and your Department do for the Citizens of Billings keeping everyone safe.”
The other shooting involving Morrison happened in February 2013 in front of a suspected drug house. A man reached for a gun in his pocket. It turned out to be a BB gun, the Billings Gazette reported after the inquiry.
That incident was also caught on video, and on it, you can hear Morrison and another man escalating into a shouting match.
“Get on the ground now!” Morrison yells. “I’m going to (expletive) shoot you!”
The male voice continues shouting at the officer, who keeps commanding him to get onto the ground. There’s a pulsating electric sound — perhaps a Taser — then a bang that sounds like a gunshot.
“You shot him?” a woman’s voice later asks.
“He had a gun in pocket,” Morrison answers.
“He had a BB gun,” she yells.
“I didn’t know that,” Morrison responds.
The man later died of his wounds.