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Columns : Editorial

A Really Bad Month

Law enforcement has been taking it on the chin all year, but April was plain awful.

May 30, 2015  |  by - Also by this author

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" begins with the words "April is the cruelest month…" I can't think of a more appropriate summation of what April 2015 was like for American law enforcement; it was an exceptionally "cruel" month.

April 4: A North Charleston, S.C., officer shot and killed Walter Scott, 50, during a traffic stop. Four days later a bystander who captured video footage of the incident on his cellphone contacted a newspaper. The video shows the officer shooting and killing Scott as Scott runs away. The officer was charged with murder.

Many officers who have viewed the video of the Scott shooting, say they agree with the charges. One wrote on PoliceMag.com: "No matter how hard I try, I can't find a way to justify this shooting. I hope there is more than what we are seeing, but if not, I believe the charges may be justified."

Many questions remain about the Scott shooting. An in-car video was released two days after the officer was charged. It shows the traffic stop before the shooting. On the dash cam video, the officer's demeanor is professional and cordial. Scott's demeanor is somewhat evasive but he doesn't appear threatening. But likely because of a deadbeat dad warrant, Scott gets jumpy and bolts out of the car. The officer runs after him out of frame of the car video. What happened between that short foot pursuit and the shooting captured on the bystander video is sure to be the basis of the officer's defense, if he mounts one.

April 9: Deputies of the San Bernardino (Calif.) Sheriff's Office served a search warrant on a home. One of the residents fled down the road in a vehicle, leading the deputies on a 40-mile run that attracted the attention of a Los Angeles news helicopter.

The vehicle chase ended when the suspect abandoned his vehicle, hopped on a horse, and took off across the desert. The NBC LA chopper was still overhead as deputies on foot and on all-terrain vehicles and the SBSO helicopter caught up with the suspect. He fell off the horse and was TASERed. He then lay face down and put his arms behind his back, submitting to the officers. The officers then kicked and punched the suspect for two minutes with the cameras on the news chopper capturing all the action.

Two days after the incident, 10 deputies were suspended with pay. Less than two weeks after the incident, the county paid the man $650,000.

One PoliceMag.com commenter wrote: "These guys just defined what cops are about to the public for a long time to come. Breaks my heart after 35 years as a copper."

April 13: News breaks that a 73-year-old Oklahoma reserve deputy shot and killed a suspect on April 2 during a drug and gun investigation. The shooting occurred as the suspect was being taken into custody by full-time deputies.

On the video of the incident the reserve can be heard apologizing for shooting the suspect. He has been charged with manslaughter and says he accidentally shot the suspect by confusing his revolver for his TASER.

Such mistakes have happened. But the question a lot of people have, including some readers of POLICE, is why a 73-year-old reserve deputy was working such a detail in the first place. The Oklahoma press believes the man bought his way into active police work. He disputes that, says he has trained for such duty since 2008, and his attorneys have made records of the training public. The reserve deputy served as a full-time officer in the mid-1960s for a year. He is an affluent retired businessman and a good friend of the sheriff who took the sheriff on expensive trips, bought equipment for the department, and contributed to the sheriff's campaign coffers.

April 19: An African-American man named Freddie Gray dies of a broken neck in custody of the Baltimore police. Gray, 25, was apprehended April 12 after he spotted bicycle police and fled. A knife was found clipped to his pants; he was arrested and put into a police van for transport. Somehow between the arrest and the transport, his spine was partially severed at the neck. He died a week after the arrest.

And ever since, Baltimore has been a powder keg. As I write this on Sunday April 26, rioting has broken out, there are reports of police being injured, city vehicles have been trashed, and businesses have been damaged.

It was indeed a very cruel April for American police. Let's hope May is much more peaceful. You could all use a break.


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