Is It Legal for Police to Use Bomb Robots to Execute Dangerous Suspects?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Normally, when you think of good guys using tech to take out bad guys, you think of drone strikes on terrorists overseas. And, intentionally and sometimes accidentally, those drone strikes have started to hit a little closer to home -- targeting and killing American citizens, but not on American soil, yet.

But in the aftermath of the Dallas sniper attack on police, local law enforcement deployed an explosive-carrying bomb robot and detonated it near the suspect, killing him. Many believe it marks the first time officers have used a robot to kill a suspect, and some are worried about whether the police will expand the use of this kind of lethal tech in the future.

On Your MARCbot ...

The robot assassin used by Dallas police was likely a Multi-function Agile Remote-Controlled Robot, or MARCbot, manufactured by Northrop Grumman. Records indicate the Dallas Police Department purchased at least three such robots through a program that allows civilian police departments to buy surplus military equipment.

The robots were designed to locate, handle, and destroy bombs and other hazardous materials in a combat zone -- imagine a robot disposing of an IED in Afghanistan, for instance. They've also been used for bomb disposal in America, as well as for non-lethal deliveries in hostage or standoff scenarios. Last year, a similar robot delivered pizza and a cell phone to a man threatening to jump from a Silicon Valley freeway overpass. According to most observers, this is the first time a robot has delivered a lethal payload.

Get Set ...

According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown, law enforcement cornered Micah Johnson, suspected of killing five officers and injuring nine others, in a parking garage. After hours of negotiation and exchanged gunfire proved fruitless, police sent in the robot, armed with an explosive device.

"We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the subject was," Chief Brown said. "Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger." Officials have not confirmed what kind of explosive was attached to the robot, or how close it was to Johnson when it detonated.


It's not the first time police have employed deadly explosives to end a standoff, nor is it the first time police have deployed robots with deadly effects. But the use of the bomb robot in Dallas may be the first time police have combined a bomb robot and a bomb in a targeted killing. As such, the use of this deadly tech is sure to be scrutinized, possibly by the same standards as other cases of lethal force. And whether police feel emboldened to use robots to take lives in the future will likely depend on the outcome of those investigations.

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