One night in Rosemead, Calif., I tried to detain a suspect with a handgun in his waistband at gunpoint. Ignoring my commands, the man sidestepped to a table where he sat directly opposite me and lifted its tablecloth with one hand as he reached for his gun with the other.

It was one of those "ready on the left, ready on the right, all ready on the firing line" moments and I started to squeeze the trigger of my own revolver.

That was when a waitress stepped into the doorway directly behind the man and froze.

As a large plate glass window separated the suspect and myself, the possibility of the round's trajectory being deflected as it passed through the glass and striking the woman suddenly eclipsed all other concerns. Opting to forego taking the shot, I got myself out of the kill-zone instead. Two flanking deputies ended up taking the guy down.

In the aftermath of the incident, I realized that I, too, could have been killed: The suspect's gun was recovered from where he'd dropped it under the tablecloth with its barrel pointing at where I'd been standing.

Protecting the Innocent

There are all manner of other cops who've made split-second decisions against doing something to prevent a person from being hurt, even if it means putting themselves in harm's way.

Knowing this, I am always frustrated when I hear of an incident where an officer who would probably put his life on the line on behalf of someone else could be so damn stupid as to jeopardize that same person's life in the first place.

And yet how often do we hear of a cop doing something shit-stupid that ends up seriously injuring or killing an innocent person? Why is it that people engaged in a profession tasked with protecting people would then be so damned cavalier when it comes to other aspects of their job performance?

Cavalier to the point of stupidity. Cavalier to the point of murderous stupidity.

At the moment, one person in particular is on my mind: Illinois State Trooper Matt Mitchell. If ever there was a cop whose actions were consistent with those of a no-limit idiot, it is Mitchell.

Murderously Negligent

Three years ago this week, Mitchell was rolling to a non-emergent call. Having already been advised that his presence wasn't needed, Mitchell decided to roll anyway - and roll hard.

While talking with his girlfriend on a cell phone.

And playing on his laptop.

At 126 mph.

Mitchell crashed into a vehicle occupied by sisters 18-year-old Jessica and 13-year-old Kelli Uhl. The impact of the collision was so violent that it obligated closed caskets at their funerals.

Mitchell's attorney initially sought to have the reckless homicide and reckless driving charges against Mitchell thrown out, citing that there was nothing in state statutes that said an officer speeding to a call was illegal.

Eventually pleading guilty to reckless homicide, Mitchell vowed that he would "forever regret what happened." But less than a week later, his regret was tempered enough that he sought to have his conviction reversed. More incredibly, Mitchell was only given a 30-month probationary sentence.

This wasn't the first time the trooper had put himself on the radar. Mitchell had been involved in two prior traffic collisions - one of which resulted in Illinois taxpayers shelling out 1.7 million dollars in a civil suit behind his vehicular malfeasance. One would think that Mitchell might have pulled his head out of his ass at some point, and taken to heart the Illinois State Patrol's mission statement articulating its values and what it expects of its troopers:

"Integrity - Trust and dependability to act responsibly
Service - Contribute to the welfare of others
Pride - Respect for self, others and the organization"

It would be damned difficult to see how Mitchell's actions were anywhere consistent with such dogma. Too bad he can't own up to his horrible mistake.

Seeking Compensation

Now, the justified killing of a dirtbag is something I believe could readily live with. But to have the loss of an innocent on my conscience - that would be something else.

As such, it was the only thing I dreaded about working patrol more than making death notifications.

Conversely, it appears that Mitchell's greatest dread is losing his medical coverage. Already, he's filed a worker's comp claim for the same accident in which he killed Jessica and Kelli through his own vehicular negligence.

And given Illinois state law, he might just get it. A hearing officer will rule just how disabled Mitchell is. Partially disabled will translate to his receiving only a portion of his former salary; if he's deemed fully disabled, the state will pay the difference between his former salary and whatever he stands to make in his current job.  As one columnist has noted, Mitchell stands to make more money negligently killing children than if he stayed on the job.

Looking at Matt Mitchell's actions in the aftermath of the accident, it's difficult to divine what's going through his mind these days. Just what can occupy a cop's thoughts, knowing that he'd killed two innocent girls through vehicular malfeasance?

I hope to God you never have cause to find out.

BTW, as bad as Mitchell's case is, there's always one bastard who's even more heartless when it comes to sticking the knife into a grieving family's back and twisting it:

Convicted Child Killer Sues Victim's Parents

Author

Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio
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