Guiora comments on “Death by Drone in Dallas” for Ami Magazine

Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine.

S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Amos Guiora commented on the drone killing of Micah Johnson during the shooting of police in July. The story, titled “Death by Drone in Dallas,” ran in Ami Magazine.

Death by Drone in Dallas

Amid all the racial tension and havoc caused by the shooting of the police in Dallas, there was a disturbing side story that emerged: the question of how the shooter, Micah X. Johnson, was eventually killed. For the first time in American history, as far as we know, a person was killed by law enforcement using a remote weapon, when the police used a bomb-defusing robot to detonate an explosive that killed Johnson, who was cornered in a garage in downtown Dallas.

Drone policy overseas has long been a political and ethical question. How does this police action affect the discussion?

Amos Guiora, a professor of law at the University of Utah who studies the law and ethics of drones, told Ami that, from what he has been able to tell from videos of the standoff that Johnson had with the police, the killing seems to have been justified.

One important aspect, Guiora said, was whether the police were clear that no one else could be hurt by the explosion. They would have needed to be clear that the person being targeted was the real gunman. “Were they convinced this guy was the guy?”

Also important would have been whether the police chief felt that Johnson posed a continuing and imminent threat to other people. But a fourth important point, he noted, would be how much human decision-making there would be in causing the lethal detonation.

Could an operator see Johnson as the robot was guided in? “If he raised his hands, would the operator not have pressed the go button?” Guiora asked.

The facts in the case are still being released, but the Rubicon may have already been crossed.