Title says it all. Is there any example of someone being found not guilty of killing an on-duty police officer? Obviously this must happen all the time when the facts cannot be proven. I'm wondering about the case where the defense acknowledges that the defendant did indeed commit the act.

I've seen a question or two on here about hypothetical lines of defense in such a situation. But does anyone know of any actual examples?

  • 1
    There are a few examples in law.stackexchange.com/questions/16141/…, but they are mainly cases where the defendant did not know that the victims were police. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 0:31
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    The case of breonna taylor is currently raging in the media. It is in the vein of your question. The differences being the charge was attempted murder of a police officer and not murder, and the charges were dropped by the prosecution based on self-defense instead of it being an acquittal at trial.
    – David Reed
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 5:12
  • Interestingly the cases quoted are all cases where the defendant believed reasonably but incorrectly that he had to defend himself. Any cases where the defendant believed correctly that the police officer on duty was going to kill him illegally? Would George Floyd have had the right to self defence (he obviously want capable of it)?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


There was a case like that in 2010 in

tl;dr synopsis of the German article:

  • The police raided the private home of an alleged member of a criminal gang. This was performed as a no-knock raid. The police officers did not announce themselves as such when they started to break open the door.
  • The suspect had reason to believe that a rival gang was planning an attempt on his life. So the suspect believed that the people trying to break into his home were actually members of said gang trying to murder him.
  • The suspect used a firearm to shoot at the intruders through the door, lethally injuring a police officer.
  • When the police officers then identified themselves as such, the suspect surrendered immediately.
  • A court later ruled that killing the police officer was self-defense, because they were reasonably convinced that the defendant was unaware that he was dealing with police officers, believed to be in a situation where his life was in danger and where lethal violence was the only way to save his life.

Here is the verdict. [In German, of course]

  • the fact that police would enter a house without identifying themselves is borderline negligent
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 10:08

Has there ever been a successful defense based on "self-defense" in a case of a person charged with killing an on-duty police officer?


Detective Constable John Fordham was on duty when he was killed by Kenneth Noye, a career criminal, who was found not guilty of his murder by successfully claiming self-defence.

John was carrying out covert surveillance on Noye who was suspected of (and later pleaded guilty to) laundering gold bullion stolen during the Brink's Matt Robbery near Heathrow Airport in 1983.

Noye stabbed John, who was wearing a balaclava and camouflage clothing, when he found him in the in the garden of his home in West Kingsdown, Kent.

Noye's criminal associate, Brian Reader, was present when John was killed and was also found not guilty of murder but his defence is not not available. Apparently "A police source told The Mirror (newspaper) they believe Reader had nothing to do with the killing."

This report (about Reader's involvement in the Hatton Garden Burglary) includes this account of John's death:

In the Kent countryside 31 years ago, two criminals stood over a man slumped on the ground as he took his last breaths.

Over the incessant barking of dogs, shouts could be heard across the chilly January night. One, carrying a shotgun, shouted: “Right, we’ll blow your f***ing head off!” He was Kenneth Noye.

The other, Brian Reader, aimed a kick at the man: John Fordham, a specialist police surveillance officer, who had been stabbed five times in the front and five times in the back, with such force that a knife was plunged into his body up to its hilt.

Experts would later tell a trial that Fordham had been held down for some of those stab wounds, inflicted by Noye – then a king in the criminal underworld –that night in 1985. His trusted partner was Reader.

Fordham was part of the Scotland Yard team keeping watch on Noye as part of the investigation into the Brink’s-Mat heist of 1983, when £26m in gold and bullion had been stolen from a warehouse near London’s Heathrow airport.

Both men stood trial for murder but were cleared, with Noye claiming he had acted in self-defence, fearing an attack from Fordham ... both Reader and Noye were convicted over the gold, and Reader was jailed for nine years in 1986.

This case is quite old but it is still used today as an example of how quickly things can go horribly wrong, and the need to ensure that proper planning and risk management / mitigation is in place

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