Police Videos: Cincinnati : Embedded On April 16, 2015, police officer Jesse Kidder encountered a murder suspect named Michael Wilcox in a suburb outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. What happened next was caught on video and surprised a lot of people, including police. And the incident tells us a lot about how these videos have changed us. Follow us on Twitter @nprembedded, follow Kelly McEvers @kellymcevers, and producer Tom Dreisbach @TomDreisbach. Email us at embedded@npr.org
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Police Videos: Cincinnati

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Police Videos: Cincinnati

Police Videos: Cincinnati

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Hey, I'm Kelly McEvers, and this is EMBEDDED, an NPR podcast where we take a story from the news and go deep. And in these latest episodes, we've been talking about police videos - videos where police shoot people or where people shoot police. And today we're going to talk about a different kind of video.


MCEVERS: It's April 16, 2015, in a suburb outside Cincinnati, Ohio. A cop is following a man in a car. And here's what the cop knows at this point. The man he's following is suspected of killing one person, and he's told police he has a gun. This cop's been chasing him for a while. Then the suspect drives onto a side street, gets out of his car and starts running at the cop. The cop gets out of his car with his gun drawn. This is where the video starts.


JESSE KIDDER: (Shouting) Get your hands up. Get your hands up.

MICHAEL WILCOX: (Shouting, unintelligible).

KIDDER: (Shouting) Get your hands up right now.

MCEVERS: The suspect says, shoot me.


WILCOX: (Shouting) Shoot me. Shoot me.

KIDDER: (Shouting) Stop right now.

MCEVERS: And the cop says he doesn't want to.


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

WILCOX: (Shouting, unintelligible).

KIDDER: I don't want to shoot you.

MCEVERS: The suspect keeps running at the cop.


KIDDER: (Shouting, unintelligible).

MCEVERS: And now he's got his hand in his pocket. And usually in videos like this, this is the moment when the officer shoots the suspect. And that's almost always ruled justified - why? - suspect was coming at me, suspect could have been reaching for a gun, suspect was asking to be shot and was a danger to me and others.


KIDDER: (Shouting) Get back.

WILCOX: (Shouting) Shoot me.

KIDDER: (Shouting) Get back. Get your hand out of your pocket.

WILCOX: (Shouting) Shoot me.

KIDDER: (Shouting) Get your hand out of your pocket now.

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


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

WILCOX: Shoot me. Shoot me. Shoot me.

MCEVERS: Well, once the guy gets closer to him, maybe.


KIDDER: Dude, I'll fucking shoot you. Back up.

MCEVERS: The cop keeps backing up. At one point, he actually stumbles and falls on his back. The suspect looks like he's going to kick him or something. But then the cop jumps back up, and you hear sirens.


KIDDER: Back the fuck up.


MCEVERS: More police are coming.


KIDDER: (Shouting) Get down on the ground.

MCEVERS: The suspect turns around and lies down on the ground.


KIDDER: Keep your hands out. Keep your hands out, or you're going to get shot - you understand that?

WILCOX: Yes, sir.

MCEVERS: In the end, nobody shoots anybody.


MCEVERS: This is not the kind of police video we usually hear about in the news. So today, we're going to take apart this video. We're going to try to find out why this officer didn't shoot and what else happened that day. Turns out, it's a pretty crazy story, a story that leads us to another question. Are these videos changing the way police and the rest of us react in extreme situations?


MCEVERS: So let's pick up where we left off.


KIDDER: Keep your hands out. Keep your hands out, or you're going to get shot - you understand that?

WILCOX: Yes, sir.

MCEVERS: The cop in this video is Jesse Kidder. The suspect is Michael Wilcox. Wilcox is on the ground. Backup officers have made it to the scene. A couple other cops handcuff Wilcox.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: ...Not any shots fired.

MCEVERS: One walks up to Officer Kidder and tells him he did a great job.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: Great, excellent job.

WILCOX: I could have shot him, but I could tell he didn't have nothing in his pocket.

MCEVERS: I could have shot him, he says, but I could tell he didn't have anything in his pocket.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: Excellent. You couldn't have handled it any better.

MCEVERS: 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. Kidder is called a hero.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Officer Jesse Kidder held his fire as a suspect charged at him.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The officer's being commended for his restraint.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Praise for an Ohio officer who exercised restraint when confronted by a suspected killer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Tonight, we're learning more about that 27-year-old rookie police officer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: WLWT News 5's Jackie Congedo spoke with him tonight. Jackie.

MCEVERS: A local TV station interviews Kidder about what happened that night. He says police officers deal with split-second decisions that mean life or death.


KIDDER: I wanted to be absolutely sure before I used deadly force.

MCEVERS: Kidder says his main focus that night was Wilcox's hands.


KIDDER: So he's got his arms at his side while he's running at me. And that's the first thing I notice. He put his hand in his pocket there. So my hand - my eyes are watching that hand right now and nothing else.

MCEVERS: Kidder says he wanted to try to talk to Wilcox.


KIDDER: I was trying to open a dialogue with him. You know, I don't want to shoot you. Just get on the ground. But he wasn't having it. He just kept repeating, shoot me. At one point, you know, he said, shoot me, or I'll shoot you.

MCEVERS: And that's when things got even more tense, Kidder fell down.


KIDDER: And he got towards my face right as I lost balance. I'm thinking at this point that if he goes in to attack me, that I will have to use deadly force to defend myself.

MCEVERS: But backup officers arrive. Wilcox gets on the ground, and we know the rest. A few weeks later, Jesse Kidder is invited to a conference in D.C. put on by a police think tank. And the Cincinnati TV station, WLWT, records it. Here's what he says.


KIDDER: I knew he had crossed the line to where I could have used deadly force. But I just felt that, you know, just because you can take a life doesn't mean you should.

MCEVERS: The moderator says to Kidder's boss, Chief, you've got a brave officer here. Thank you, Officer Kidder. And there's a big round of applause.


MCEVERS: So Jesse Kidder is a hero. What we still wanted to know is, was there more to it than the fact that Kidder just didn't think Wilcox had a gun? Comedian Larry Wilmore thinks he has an answer.


LARRY WILMORE: Well, this is new and different.


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?


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

MCEVERS: Michael Wilcox is white. Jesse Kidder is white. The place where they live is almost completely white. People write opinion pieces in newspapers saying if Wilcox had been black, Kidder would have shot him. Decades of research have shown that we all have implicit bias, even if we're not overtly racist. And a lot of studies have shown that this bias will affect how police interact with people.

The thing is, when you ask individual police officers if race was a factor in an incident like this, they almost always say no. And it would be hard to prove, anyway. I wanted to ask Jesse Kidder about all this. But he did not want to talk on the record. So we go to New Richmond, Ohio.

RANDY HARVEY: I mean, we see everything in this town.

MCEVERS: Really?

HARVEY: Oh, gosh, we see everything.

MCEVERS: And we ask his police chief at the time, Randy Harvey. There was also, of course, the talk that, well, he didn't shoot him because he was white.

HARVEY: That's the farthest thing from the truth - it isn't - you know. That's the farthest thing from the truth.

MCEVERS: Randy Harvey says the fact that Jesse Kidder didn't shoot Michael Wilcox was about something else. So before we move on, let me just say, we're not dismissing the race question. It's just a tough thing to measure because it's impossible to know exactly what percentage of Jesse Kidder's decision could have been about race and what percentage was about something else. That's the thing about implicit bias. It's unconscious. So now here's the something else. Jesse Kidder served in the Marines and did two tours in Iraq.

HARVEY: He credits his reactions that day, you know, with his military training.

MCEVERS: That's really interesting, too, because I think people, civilians, would think, oh, you were in the military. Like, you're trigger happy. You - you know, you would do the opposite thing. Did he explain that a lot? Like, did he give you some examples of, like, what - when he'd been in a situation like that?

HARVEY: He did. But that's a confidential conversation that he would feel uncomfortable explaining. And...

MCEVERS: But it was a situation, like, similar - where he didn't use force?

HARVEY: I think he did use force. And there was a difference. It was just different, you know.

MCEVERS: But knows what it feels like to use force.

HARVEY: But knows what it feels like, yeah.

MCEVERS: Jesse Kidder told people at that D.C. conference he'd been in, quote, "deadly force situations" when he was a Marine. And the Marine Corps says Kidder was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon in Iraq, which means he was under enemy fire and engaged the enemy. There's this stereotype - right? - of the soldier who comes home from a war, becomes a cop and then is more likely to shoot. But actually, in a lot of cases, they have more experience in stressful situations than young recruits out of the police academy.

This is something more and more police chiefs and trainers are coming to understand. For Harvey, this whole thing actually came down to what he called Kidder's sixth sense, this instinct he got from experience. Like, you can train a cop as much as you want. But there's no substitute for experience.

HARVEY: A particular incident...

MCEVERS: Harvey says he had a similar thing happen to him years ago. His experience on the job made it clear what he had to do. He was on a porch with a guy who had a gun.

HARVEY: And he would point it at himself, and then he would point it at me. And then he would point it at himself. And then he'd point it at me. And at that time, it was a revolver. And I can distinctly remember looking into the cylinder end of that gun. I could tell - I could tell by looking in the cylinder that there was no rounds. The only question was, was there a round where the hammer was? And at one point in time, he - he pulled the trigger on himself. And it didn't go off.

MCEVERS: So then you knew there were no rounds in the gun.

HARVEY: I knew. And I calmly walked up to the guy, and I said, this is over. And I took the gun out of his hand, put my arm around him, said, it's going to be all right. And I got - I got - I got strongly criticized for that.

MCEVERS: He got criticized because while he was on the porch, there were SWAT teams all around in the yard. And they saw this guy waving a gun at Harvey and Harvey just talking to the guy.

HARVEY: I just - I got that sixth sense. I felt very comfortable that the guy was not going to hurt me, you know? So I knew what Officer Kidder was talking about when he told me that. I knew what - I knew what he was saying. I got it. He felt OK. He felt like he wasn't going to be harmed.

MCEVERS: And you told him that? You told him that story?


MCEVERS: Like I said, Harvey was criticized by his own people for not shooting. And the same thing eventually happens to Jesse Kidder over that night with Michael Wilcox.


MCEVERS: To some cops, like the ones at that conference in D.C., Kidder deserves praise for showing restraint. To other cops, not so much. Here's some posts we found online. "Officer Jesse Kidder Is A Fine Human Being Who Needs To Be Fired Immediately," "Why Jesse Kidder Should Have Shot Michael Wilcox," and "How Not To Do Police Work: Officer Refuses To Shoot Charging Suspect." Some of the criticism was even coming from local police officers in other departments. One cop told us the video of Kidder and Wilcox was being used to talk about what not to do. At one point, Harvey says the criticism gets so bad, Jesse Kidder starts questioning everything.

HARVEY: He was really second guessing his career as a law enforcement officer right out of the get-go, you know? And - and he - he was thinking about quitting and getting out of this business.

MCEVERS: The whole thing exposes how when cops are looking at these cases, there can be a double standard. When a cop shoots someone, they say, you don't know what it was like. You weren't there.

But then, in this case, cops were quick to judge other cops even though they weren't there. There's a lot of talk about this now among cops. It all points to how much more scrutiny police are under these days, even from each other.


MCEVERS: In the end, Chief Harvey talks Jesse Kidder out of quitting. And Jesse Kidder eventually moves to a different department, from the tiny New Richmond Police Department, which is in a town of 2,500, people to Clermont County, which is 200,000 people. And since going to work there, Jesse Kidder has gone quiet. We did talk to him. But he politely said he does not want to be interviewed about this case anymore. He says he just wants to keep his head down and do his job.


MCEVERS: This might sound like the end of the story, but it's not. Turns out, Jesse Kidder's encounter with Michael Wilcox is the second time that day Michael Wilcox was not shot by a cop. With this one, it's not about Iraq or being a hero. It's related to a theory known as the Ferguson effect, which is all about these videos and how people think they're changing the way we do things.


MCEVERS: OK so remember what happened with Officer Jesse Kidder and suspect Michael Wilcox on the video, right? It's a side street. Wilcox gets out of the car, starts running at Jesse Kidder, saying, shoot me. And then Kidder doesn't shoot. About a half an hour before that happened, Michael Wilcox actually had his first run-in with two cops, Vicky and Buddy Coburn.

Thanks for having us.

BUDDY COBURN: That's my wife, Vicky.

MCEVERS: They're married. They actually met on the job 30 years ago.

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

B. 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: At the time of the Michael Wilcox incident, Vicky was a cop, and Buddy was an investigator for the county prosecutor. That day, Vicky and Buddy had already finished their shifts. They were off duty, and they got in their own car to go out to dinner at a place called the Feed Mill.

B. COBURN: And we had gotten done, and we were on our way home when I got the call from the chief deputy.

MCEVERS: The deputy says, a woman has been shot and killed in a house. Buddy and Vicky are nearby, so they volunteer to go to the house. Then they get back in their car to go pick up a search warrant, and on their way, they get a description of the car Wilcox is driving.

B. COBURN: As we go through the first curve, we see this maroon-colored vehicle coming towards us. And - or, I asked Vicky. I says, what car are we looking for? And she says, that's it. He was coming towards me. And I just forced him over to the edge of the road.

V. COBURN: And you - we never hit him.

B. COBURN: No, we didn't hit him.

V. COBURN: Never hit him.

B. COBURN: And as he was coming towards us, she was praying that - you know, keep us all safe, him included.

MCEVERS: What do you mean, including him?

V. COBURN: You know, we prayed for everybody - even the bad guys (laughter). You don't want anything to happen to them.

B. COBURN: We always pray for everybody concerned.

V. COBURN: Yeah.

MCEVERS: They forced Wilcox to the side of the road. They get out of their car. Buddy draws his gun and goes up to the driver's side.

B. COBURN: I reach in, and 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, you know. And he - he starts waving his hands around. And he gets this evil, evil look on his face. He's screaming, screaming, kill me, kill me, you blankety blank (ph), kill me. And he says, I did it. I did it. I killed her. I got a gun. Kill me. And he lunged forward.

MCEVERS: At this point, both Buddy and Vicky are holding onto Willcox. Buddy still has the gun to his head. Buddy says Wilcox tries to grab his gun. And then, Wilcox 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. Michael Wilcox keeps driving.


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: (Unintelligible) Communications.

MCEVERS: Vicky calls it in.


V. COBURN: This is Vicky Coburn, (unintelligible) police. Michael Wilcox is just leaving. (Unintelligible) Road.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: (Unintelligible) He's leaving? Vicky, are you injured?

V. COBURN: We're all right.


V. COBURN: He tried to drag us.


V. COBURN: He's a maniac. He's screaming at us. He tried to grab Buddy's gun.


V. COBURN: We don't know where he went. But we're on 505.


V. COBURN: And we don't know which way.

MCEVERS: Here again you have to ask, why didn't they shoot him, especially if they thought Wilcox was going for Buddy's gun? Was it because Wilcox is white? Just like Chief Randy Harvey, Buddy and Vicky say no. Vicky says it's all really subjective. And that's what us civilians just don't get.

V. COBURN: Every single solitary situation you go into, there is no, what you call, textbook. There is none. You know, we didn't kill him. But what's to say tonight, when we leave here, something doesn't happen, and we get in a situation? And maybe we'd have to kill somebody.

MCEVERS: Buddy says it's about something else.

B. COBURN: 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.

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 until you see the gun.

MCEVERS: And were you, like, thinking, like, I don't want to end up on the news. I don't want to be one of those?

B. COBURN: I was just - the main thing in my head was see the gun. Make sure you see the gun before you kill him.

MCEVERS: And what Buddy's talking about is this theory, this pretty divisive theory about policing called, the Ferguson effect.


MCEVERS: And that's the idea that ever since a white police officer named 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 say they're more reluctant to use force. And that, some say, has led to a rise in crime. So let's talk about that for a minute. We'll start with the first part, that cops are more wary on the job. The Pew Research Center did a survey of 8,000 cops, asking them how all the recent media scrutiny has affected their jobs. And three-quarters of them said they are more reluctant to use force.

Of course, there's no telling how that feeling plays out when they're on the street interacting with people. And then the other question is, 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.


MCEVERS: There's one more person in this story who you haven't heard from yet, Michael Wilcox. Turns out, he didn't just kill one person that day. Police later found out he had killed two people - his girlfriend, Courtney Fowler - she was the one found at the house that Vicky and Buddy went to - and his best friend, Zachary Gilkison. Michael Wilcox pleaded guilty to both murders and is now in prison. My colleague Tom Dreisbach talked to him on the phone. And Wilcox told Tom he was a heroin user at the time. That day, he said he was on a combination of prescription drugs. He says it was like a dream. And he doesn't really remember what happened. But then, Tom gets ahold of the recordings of the interviews that police did with Wilcox just after his run-ins with the cops.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #3: Right. You have the right to remain silent. Do you understand that?



WILCOX: Yes, sir.


MCEVERS: And they tell us something we didn't know. And that is the fact that these videos of police shootings were in Wilcox's mind that day, too. We should say, the interview's a little jarring in places because Wilcox is kind of laughing about some intense stuff. He starts this part by describing for detectives how he was driving just before Officer Jesse Kidder pulls him over.


WILCOX: I slowed down; he slowed down. I sped up; he sped up - didn't even turn on his lights - never turned on his lights.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: What was going through your head?

WILCOX: I want to die.

MCEVERS: Remember, this is not long after he has killed his girlfriend and his best friend.


WILCOX: So I got out acting crazy 'cause I see on the TV all the time that people who get out and act crazy and get shot - not me (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: So you purposely did that?

WILCOX: Yeah. (Unintelligible) Yeah. Like, when - if it's on video, like, when he'd slow down, I stopped. I didn't want to hurt the man. I just wanted to hurt myself. I didn't want to hurt anyone, honestly. I mean, I fucked up my whole life.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: We and everybody here are very proud of that officer.

WILCOX: Yeah, he's a good man.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: Yeah. I mean, you put him in a bad spot.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: You know. What do you think now? Are you glad he didn't shoot you?



WILCOX: 'Cause I want to learn from my mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: If you could talk to that officer right now, what would you tell him?

WILCOX: (Laughter) I mean, all of that - all of what I do is intentional. And I just want to tell him thank you and that he is a - he is - I didn't know there's officers like that. Honestly, I didn't know - I didn't know officers were trained with that much self-control any more. Honestly, I didn't because I hear about, all the time, fucking just cops getting - shooting up, which maybe that could just all be fake. I don't know. But, yeah, if - 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.


MCEVERS: Think about this for a minute. All the people involved in this case were affected by these videos we're seeing in the news. Michael Wilcox tried to get shot because he'd seen that happen to other people on the news. Buddy Coburn didn't shoot Michael Wilcox because he didn't want to end up in the news. Jesse Kidder wouldn't have even been on video if his relative hadn't bought the camera for him after seeing so much news about police shootings. And he might not have been criticized by other cops for being too reluctant to shoot that day.

So yeah, these videos are changing us. For some cops, the videos make them more defensive and perhaps more wary on the job. Other cops are doing a lot of soul searching, talking and retraining. For other people, the videos are making them more scared. If you're an African-American, you might be worried you could be the next one to be shot. So are we better off now that we're capturing these moments on video?

One law professor and former cop we talked to said for all their difficulties, yes. He says there were two major moments in recent history where seeing how police do their jobs radically changed our relationships with the police - the civil rights period and then after the Rodney King beating in 1991. The aftermath of these periods wasn't pretty, he says, but things did change. He says we're in a moment like that now. We might not know how it's all going to turn out, but these videos are here. They're not going away. What we have to do is figure out how to watch them.


MCEVERS: This story was reported by Tom Dreisbach and me and produced by Tom, Chris Benderev and Jonathan Hirsch. It was edited by Sean Cole and Neal Carruth with help from Maggie Penman, Yowei Shaw, Neva Grant, Martin Kaste, Denice Rios, Steve Drummond and Jay Hanselman and Maryanne Zeleznik of NPR member station WVXU. That law professor and former cop I mentioned is Seth Stoughton of the University of South Carolina, big thanks to him. Digital production for this episode was by Alexander McCall, fact-checking by Greta Pittenger. Our technical director is Andy Huether. Our theme song is by Colin Wambsgans. Other original music is by Jonathan Hirsch. EMBEDDED is executive produced by me, Chris Turpin and Anya Grundmann. Our lawyer is Ashley Messenger. Our events manager and spirit guide is Joanna Pawloski (ph). EMBEDDED will be live here in LA on March 30. Get tickets at nprpresents.org. You can hear more NPR on your local public radio station, on another show I host called All Things Considered. That is it for this round of EMBEDDED about police videos. But we will be back soon with more good stuff. So subscribe to this podcast and please leave us a review. We're also on Twitter @NPREmbedded. I'm Kelly McEvers. Thank you for listening.

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