It’s well established that an officer with the Columbus police shot and killed 16-year-old Julius Tate, Jr. earlier this month in a sting operation, but that officer will not be charged. Instead, Tate’s teenage girlfriend, who does not even seem to have been on the scene of the tragedy, has been charged with murder in connection with the killing.
Let’s start at the beginning. Black America Web reports that on December 7, Columbus police unleashed an undercover operation in response to a series of robberies that occurred in the area. Officers found Tate through social media and made arrangements with the teen to purchase an item that he had advertised for sale online.
What happened next is uncertain. According to the police, when they met up with Tate to make the buy, the boy allegedly pulled out a gun on the agent and robbed the agent. It was at this point that Eric Richard, a backup SWAT team member, fatally shot Tate who was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
However, Tate’s family and their legal representation are crying foul on the police’s account of the events of that fateful day. Family attorney Byron Potts says that witnesses are telling a different tale saying that Tate was “shot in cold blood.” The attorney says that Tate did not pull a gun when he was killed and that the police found the pistol they have after searching the teen’s home. “They shot him on the street, then came back to the house and got a gun from the house,” Potts told WOSU. “He did not have a gun on him at the time this happened.”
When the family started making noise and making claims of misconduct, police charged Tate’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Masonique
Saunders, with murder and aggravated robbery, claiming that the girl is responsible for her deceased boyfriend’s death. The cops are saying that Saunders “played a role” in the robberies they were investigating and her actions led to Tate’s killing. Police spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis explained, “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.”
Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman weighed in on the matter saying, “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.”
All but four states have some form of felony murder laws on the books and this is not the first time that a felony murder charge has hindered the life a young, Black teen. In April of this year, 18-year-old Lakeith Smith was sentenced to 30 years on similar charges. In 2015, Smith was part of a group of five teens who were allegedly committing a burglary when responding officers fired on the crew and killed 16-year-old A’Donte Washington. Even though Smith was not even in possession of a weapon that day, he was charged with Washington’s murder under Alabama’s felony murder/accomplice laws. Smith got those 30 added on to 35 years that he already received in connection with the burglary. According to prosecutor CJ Robinson, Smith will not be eligible for parole for “at least 20 to 25 years.” Robinson told The Guardian that the authorities were “very pleased” with the sentence. Smith was the only one of the teens charged to not take a plea deal. If he had, it wouldn’t be much different, because he would’ve received 25 years for the murder. According to the last reports, the other three defendants are awaiting sentencing.
When it comes to Tate’s killing, his family is considering filing an unlawful death lawsuit against the Columbus police. We will keep you posted on Masonique Saunders’ situation.