Video Captures Police Encounter With Murder Suspect

Mar 23, 2017
Originally published on March 23, 2017 9:21 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And for the past few weeks, we've been hearing stories about videos of police shootings. And they've come from you, Kelly - right? - on your podcast Embedded.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

That's right. We've been looking at videos. The most typical ones we look at are ones where suspects are shot by police, something we've been seeing a lot in the news. We've also looked at videos where police are shot. And this week we have something surprising. It was April 16, 2015, in a suburb of Cincinnati. A cop is following a man in a car. The man is suspected of killing one person and has told police he has a gun. This cop has been chasing the suspect for a while. Then the suspect drives onto a side street, gets out and starts running at the cop. And the cop gets out of his car with his gun drawn. This is where the video starts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JESSE KIDDER: Keep your hands up. Keep your hands up.

MCEVERS: The suspect says, shoot me. And the cop says he doesn't want to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIDDER: I don't want to shoot you, man. I don't want to shoot you.

MCEVERS: The suspect keeps running at the cop, and now he's got his hand in his pocket. Usually in videos like this, this is the moment when the officer shoots the suspect.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL WILCOX: Shoot me. Shoot me.

KIDDER: Get your - get your hands out of your pocket.

WILCOX: Shoot me.

KIDDER: Get your hands out of your pocket now.

MCEVERS: But the cop in this video is like, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIDDER: No, man. I'm not going to do it.

WILCOX: Shoot me. Shoot me. Shoot me.

MCEVERS: At one point the cop actually stumbles and falls on his back. Then he jumps back up and you hear sirens. More police are coming. The suspect turns around...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIDDER: Get down on the ground.

MCEVERS: ...And lies down on the ground. In the end, nobody shoots anybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIDDER: No, no shots fired.

MCEVERS: The cop's name is Jesse Kidder, and the suspect is Michael Wilcox. The video was taken from Officer Kidder's own body camera. One of his relatives had actually bought him the camera after news reports about police shootings. Kidder's police chief later releases the footage to local media. The story makes national news. And at first, Kidder is called a hero. But then some people start to question why Kidder didn't shoot. Here's comedian Larry Wilmore.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY WILMORE: Well, this is new and different.

(LAUGHTER)

WILMORE: It's ending without a single shot being fired. What is going on in the universe? That is one lucky brother. Can I get a closer look at the suspect?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh.

WILMORE: Oh. Oh, he's white. We'll be right back.

MCEVERS: Michael Wilcox is white and Jesse Kidder is white. Decades of research have shown that we all have implicit bias even if we aren't overtly racist. And a lot of studies have shown that this bias will affect how police interact with people. We wanted to ask Jesse Kidder about all this, but he did not want to talk on the record. His police chief at that time, Randy Harvey, says the fact that he didn't shoot was actually about something else, and that was this - Jesse Kidder served in the Marines and did two tours in Iraq.

RANDY HARVEY: He credits his reactions that day with his military training.

MCEVERS: This is something more police chiefs and trainers are coming to understand. Veterans who become cops actually have more experience in stressful situations than recruits just out the police academy. And here's another crazy thing about this story - this is the second time Michael Wilcox wasn't shot that day. About a half an hour before his run-in with Jesse Kidder, Wilcox was stopped by Vicky and Buddy Coburn. At the time, Vicky was a cop and Buddy was an investigator for the county prosecutor. The Coburns are married. They met on the job 30 years ago.

VICKY COBURN: So I was working the evening shift when he came in.

BUDDY COBURN: And I was just a hoodlum.

V. COBURN: When he walked in the door, there was another lady that was working with me. And I told her, I said, man, it's a shame he's married. Turned out he wasn't (laughter).

MCEVERS: The evening of the Wilcox incident, Vicky and Buddy Coburn were off duty, but then they got a phone call that there'd been a murder. And then they saw a car on the road.

B. COBURN: We see this maroon-colored vehicle coming towards us. And I - or I ask Vicky - I says, what car are we looking for? And she says, that's it.

MCEVERS: It was Michael Wilcox. They force him to the side of the road. Buddy draws his gun and goes up to the driver's side.

B. COBURN: I reach in, I grab the guy by his shirt. And I got my gun up to his head. And I'm saying, you know, show me your hands, show me your hands. And he starts waving his hands around and gets this evil look on his face. He's screaming, kill me, kill me, you blankity (ph) blank, kill me. And he says, I did it. I killed her. I got a gun. Kill me. And he lunged forward.

MCEVERS: Buddy says Wilcox tries to grab his gun and then he does this.

B. COBURN: He lunges forward, reaches to the floorboard. And when he does, we both simultaneously jerk him back up. And he didn't come up with a gun. And as he come back up, he hit the ignition switch, slammed it in gear and away we all three went.

MCEVERS: Wilcox drags Buddy and Vicky for a few seconds and then they let go. Wilcox keeps driving.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Brown County Communications.

MCEVERS: And Vicky calls it in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

V. COBURN: This is Vicky Coburn, Georgetown Police. Michael Wilcox is just leaving on J. Bolender Road.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Vicky, are you injured?

V. COBURN: We're all right.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: You're all right?

V. COBURN: He tried to drag us.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK.

MCEVERS: And here again you have to ask - why didn't they shoot, especially if they thought Wilcox was going for Buddy's gun?

B. COBURN: Oh, I have a theory on why I didn't kill him.

MCEVERS: What is it?

B. COBURN: I think a lot of it has to do with the media and the portrayal of police officers shooting people. That was in the back of my mind.

MCEVERS: In that moment?

B. COBURN: In that moment. That...

MCEVERS: For real?

B. COBURN: I mean, it was in my mind enough that I was thinking, see the gun, see the gun, don't kill him till you see the gun.

MCEVERS: Buddy Coburn is talking about the Ferguson effect, the idea that ever since white Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed a young black man named Michael Brown in 2014 and the massive protests and scrutiny of police that followed, cops are more reluctant to use force. And that, some say, has led to a rise in crime. Let's start with that first part, that cops are more wary on the job. A recent Pew Research Center survey of 8,000 cops did find three quarters of them say they are more reluctant to use force.

There's no telling how that plays out when they're on the street. And then if they are more reluctant, has that led to a rise in crime? People on the right say yes. People on the left say no. Researchers say this is a really hard thing to study. Crime rates are complicated. There is one more person in this story - Michael Wilcox.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: All right, you have the right to remain silent. You understand that?

MCEVERS: He actually killed two people that day. He pled guilty to killing his girlfriend and his best friend, and he's now in prison. This is a recording of an interview that investigators did with Wilcox after that day. And what they tell us is these videos of police shootings we're seeing in the news were in his mind, too. It starts with a detective.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: What was going through your head?

WILCOX: I want to die, 'cause I see on the TV all the time that people get out and act crazy and get shot.

MCEVERS: The detective asks Wilcox what he thinks about Jesse Kidder.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: If you could talk to that officer right now, what would you tell him?

WILCOX: I didn't know there's officers like that. Whatever I hear on TV, that's what I wanted to happen. It didn't happen.

MCEVERS: Whatever I hear on TV, that's what I wanted to happen. It didn't happen. That means all the people involved in this case were affected by the videos we're seeing in the news. Michael Wilcox tried to get shot because he'd seen that happen to other people in the news. Buddy Coburn didn't shoot Michael Wilcox because he didn't want to end up in the news. And Jesse Kidder wouldn't have even been on video if his relative hadn't bought the camera for him. So yes, these videos are changing us. Does it mean we're better off?

One law professor and former cop we talked to said yes. He says there were two major moments in recent history where seeing how police do their jobs changed our relationships with the police - the civil rights period and after the Rodney King beating. And he says we're in a moment like that now. We might not know how it's all going to pan out, but these videos are not going away. What we have to do is figure out how to watch them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.