On Aug. 6, Duante Miller, 20, was shot to death by two police officers as he ran from them through a housing project in Columbus Ohio. How has the mainstream media covered it?

Victim Gave Police Reason To Shoot Him,” the Columbus Dispatch boldly proclaimed in a page one Metro section headline Friday, August 29. Reporter Bruce adwallader’s lead reads as follows: “Duante Miller is to blame for his death, a private investigator working with Miller’s family said yesterday.” Cadwallader played up investigator Cornell McCleary’s conclusions in the third paragraph, a single sentence: “Miller was a ‘menace to society and clearly destined for jail or the graveyard,’ McCleary said in his report.”

Cadwallader’s 4th paragraph is key to understanding the Dispatch’s coverage of the Miller affair. It reads in its entirety: “‘The facts suggest that Miller chose to outrun the police but ended up running out of time. His decision to run cost him his life,’ wrote McCleary, who runs PRO-Private Police Agency, a private investigative firm that is not associated with the police division. He is also a local radio talk show host.”

What Cadwallader and the Dispatch failed to tell its readers is easily obtainable in the public record. Much of it in fact was reported in the Dispatch.

First, the decision by Miller to run did not give the police the authority to shoot him. The United States Supreme Court established in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) that it is unconstitutional to shoot a fleeing felon unless the police have “probable cause to believe” that the felon poses physical danger to the police or community. Many police departments limit their officers’ use of deadly force to self defense or the defense of others.

But did Miller pose a physical danger and did the police shoot in self defense?

The Dispatch account notes that, “The felony warrant that existed on the day of the shooting stemmed from a drug-possession conviction; Miller was wanted because he failed to report to his probation officer.” Thus, Miller was not wanted as a violent felon when the police gunned him down.

Early news accounts established that there was a question as to whether or not Miller had a gun. NBC’s Channel 4 news reported that: “As officers approached him at about 1 p.m. on West State Street, he started running onto nearby railroad tracks, police said. Miller then led the officers on a foot chase to Lucas Street where police say officers observed that he had a gun, so the officers shot at him.” The next night, Channel 4 reported that “Some witnesses said they didn’t see Miller carrying a gun.”

“I can only tell you what I see and what I know, and what I know is that the boy didn’t have a gun,” said a witness who did not want to be identified, the station reported. Other witnesses, according to Channel 4, said “that they did see a gun.”

The station announced that “A gun believed to belong to Miller was found near where he fell, police say.” The Ohio News Network also reported that “A gun believed to belong to Miller was found near where he fell.” Both TV stations attributed this to Columbus Police spokesperson Sergeant Brent Mull.

NBC news led their report on August 7 with the following: “Columbus Police continued their internal investigation after two officers exchanged gunfire Wednesday afternoon with a 20-year-old man,” implying that Miller shot at the police officers during the chase. Oddly, Channel 4 reported this as fact, even though the coroner had not released the official report establishing whether Miller had fired a weapon. As the Free Press goes to press, the coroner’s report has not been released. The Dispatch also reported on August 7 in its lead that “Two Columbus police officers exchanged gunfire. . .” but what the Dispatch giveth, the next day, they taketh away.

Cadwallader wrote “Ballistic and skin tests will determine whether a man who was shot and killed by Columbus police this week had fired a gun . . . .” The story also reported that “a gun was found near the body.”

Black activist leaders and the family’s attorney Byron Potts on August 11 called for a “citizen’s commission” to review use of force cases by Columbus Police officers. Potts told the Dispatch, “We will not get a fair investigation by the Columbus police department. This community is outraged.”

The Free Press interviewed witnesses at the August 14 Duante Miller memorial service at the West Rich Street housing complex where the shooting happened. One eyewitness insisted Miller did not have a gun. Allegations were made of police using pressure and intimidation tactics to get a version of the story from witnesses where Miller did have a gun.

Cadwallader reported as fact in the August 29 article, without citing any source, that “DNA and fingerprints linked Miller to a gun found next to his body.” Note that the gun had moved from “near” to “next to” Miller’s body. Channel 4, following journalistic protocol, sourced its material. The TV station noted on August 17 that “According to police, the semi-automatic handgun that was recovered at the scene was connected to Miller by both his fingerprints and DNA.”

Also, on August 17, the Columbus Police told Channel 4 news that they welcomed an “independent investigation.” In Cadwallader’s August 29 story, it is not reported whether it was McCleary, portrayed as an independent investigator, or the police who linked the gun to Miller. Nor does Cadwallader explain McCleary’s long-standing relationship with law enforcement which is information easily found in the Dispatch’s news files or on McCleary’s websites.

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