Raheem_Howard

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, (left) speaks to the media with attorney Ronald Haley Jr. (right) and two family members of Raheem Howard, who both declined to give their full names. Howard, 21,  was arrested in the Aug. 7 traffic stop turned officer-involved shooting. Police say Howard fired a weapon first at a Baton Rouge Police officer, before the officer fired. 

It’s always a tough thing to deal in hypotheticals or “what ifs.”

What would have happened if this or that had happened? You just don’t know. But “what ifs” are good for launching conversations and deep thought.

Some say hypotheticals stink. Well, this case stinks.

There are a lot of “what ifs” in looking at the recent case of the Baton Rouge Police officer who shot at a retreating suspect while claiming the suspect fired at him. So far, police investigators have found no evidence to support the officer.

Police Officer Yuseff Hamadeh says 21-year-old Raheem Howard shot at him while running from a traffic stop about a missing license plate and that he returned fire. Trouble is Hamadeh has nothing to prove that.

He could have. He was wearing a body camera — the city paid over $2 million for the cameras — and his car was equipped with a dash camera, both of which could have easily proven his case. But he didn’t turn either on.

Now let’s start with the what-ifs, and there are a lot of them. Here are a few key ones.

First, what if Howard had not been able to give his passionate interview to a TV reporter claiming he didn’t have a gun nor did he shoot at the officer on the way to being placed in a police cruiser. Howard, by no means a choir boy, was impressive when he implored viewers to look at the police cameras which he said would prove what he was saying.

At the time, Howard didn’t know that the officer had neither his body camera nor his dashcam operating. He was willing to risk his freedom on what the camera would show

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he saw the television interview and that he was intrigued by the passion in the suspect’s claim. “People always say they didn’t do it. ... But he didn’t know at the time that the cameras were not turned on,” Moore said.

Moore’s investigation lead to his declining to pursue charges of attempted murder of a police officer and illegal use of a weapon. He did say he could not totally rule out that further investigation could find other evidence.

Here’s another what-if. What if the police officer’s errant bullet had struck and killed a bystander? Would Howard have been looking at a murder charge even though he was not a threat to the officer or the community?

And, what if a shell casing, not necessarily from Howard's, was found in the vicinity of the alleged shooting, would it have given validity to the officer’s, at least at this point, erroneous claim?

But there are some things that stink about this case.

I am just like the rest of the public in having a desire to support police officers. Several of my high school classmates were city police officers and detectives. They are the difference between a peaceful society and mayhem. We respect that. But every now then something happens that rattles that security and it needs to be dealt with to protect the honor of people wearing the badge.

My question is if Howard did not have a gun and did not fire or throw a bullet at the police officer, can the officer be charged with a crime? If not, why not?

Let’s take some hypotheticals. Given what is known, should Hamadeh be charged with attempted murder, or illegal discharge of a weapon or attempted manslaughter or reckless endangerment or anything like it? Should he be charged with lying to authorities?

There is always the chance that the officer will say the magic words that closes cases against law enforcement shooting: “I fired because I feared for my life and the public.” Most times that’s true. But not always.

This is not the first time that Hamadeh has fired his weapon. He shot and killed a man in 2017 after a traffic stop. He killed Jordan Frazier after police said Frazier pointed a weapon at officers. There are some people have suggested that investigators take a second look at that incident.

In all of this, Police Chief Murphy Paul is in a tough spot. If he disciplines or arrest the officer, no doubt a large portion of the police force will not be happy. If he does nothing, then a lot of community support he was tried to win over, will begin to erode.

Is there any disciplinary action for failing to turn on those cameras?

This whole thing stinks and the smell is getting worse the longer this plays out and nothing is done.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.

Watch, listen: Baton Rouge police release the limited video, audio from August officer shooting