After shooting and killing a 16-year-old boy, Columbus police have charged a 16-year-old girl with his murder. They allege that even though the teen was killed by a member of their SWAT team, it was all her fault.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, on December 7, Columbus police set up an undercover operation in an attempt to stop a series of robberies. Officers reportedly used social media to arrange a transaction with 16-year-old Julius Tate Jr. to purchase an item Tate had offered for sale online.
When the officers met with Tate, they say he pulled out a gun and robbed the agent. That’s when they say backup SWAT team member Eric Richard shot the teenager. Tate was pronounced dead at a local area hospital, according to Sgt. Chantay Boxill, a Columbus police spokesperson.
But, witnesses tell a different story.
Tate’s family are reportedly considering filing an unlawful death suit against the officers after the family attorney said that witnesses disputed the police account.
“I have a sworn affidavit from an eyewitness that says that this was done totally different than what has been put on the news,” said Byron Potts, who is representing the Tate family. “That he was basically shot in cold blood.”
Potts told WOSU that eyewitnesses have said that the deceased did not pull a gun and that officers only recovered a gun after searching Tate’s home.
“They shot him on the street, then came back to the house and got a gun from the house,” Potts says. “He did not have a gun on him at the time this happened.”
Shortly after the family began to speak out police charged Tate’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Masonique Saunders and charged her with murder and aggravated robbery, claiming she is to blame for his death.
Police allege that Saunders “played a role” in the robberies and is therefore responsible for Tate’s death.
“Under what historically has been called ‘felony murder,’ which means that you’re still responsible for a murder if you cause the death of another as an approximate result of committing certain kinds of serious offenses,” police spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis told WOSU.
“In a situation where say there’s two people involved in a robbery, they go in to rob and then police shoot somebody, and police are actually the ones who did the direct killing, we still say the felons were approximately causing that death and should be held responsible under this felony murder doctrine,” according to Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman.
Tate’s shooting was the second police shooting during a sting operation that week. Two days earlier, 18-year-old Kyler Collier was shot by SWAT Officer Robert Vass, when Vass says Collier tried to rob him during a sting operation similar to the one where Tate was killed. Police say they recovered a gun that belonged to Collier.
That shooting was the fifth time that Vass has been involved in an incident where he or another officer with him fired a gun.