As a circuit judge, President-to-be Andrew Jackson once confronted and arrested a man for shooting and killing another. Later, the killer was asked why he hadn't challenged Jackson as he had his earlier victim. He replied that he was afraid Old Hickory was a man who had "shoot in his eyes."

The armed man that he'd killed earlier had not been so blessed.

Al Capone acknowledged what one can achieve with a kind word and a gun and I've also touched on the virtues of what might be accomplished with an assertive word and a gun ("Profanity As Verbal Judo").

But lip service is one thing, and for better or worse, much can be communicated through one's facial expressions and countenance. Some studies even suggest that up to 90 percent of what we communicate is through body language (apparently, this medium doesn't enter the equation...but I digress). Such non-verbal cues can make or break actors, gamblers, gold diggers, and detained subjects.

And cops, too.

When confronting the prospect of violence, it's natural to feel fear. I'd have some serious doubts as to the sanity, credibility, or amygdala of any officer who claims to never have been scared. How we handle that fear can make or break our ability to safely resolve the matter at hand.

Fear can help us survive, first by alerting us to threats, then by channeling those chemicals to those areas of the body where they are most desperately needed-that whole "fight or flight" thing.

It can also betray us.

I believe fear betrayed Dep. Kyle Dinkheller of the Laurens County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office when he was murdered during a traffic stop in 1998. And I don't just mean in the sense that the deputy was in fear for his life. If such were the case, I like to think that Dinkheller would have simply gotten into his patrol car and driven the hell away from the scene the moment Andrew Brannan first grabbed his rifle.

Instead, he remained there, watching as Brannan loaded the weapon in front of him.

Now, some will contend I have no business projecting here; they may well be right. But only a severe case of denial can characterize the high-pitched and tremulous invocations in Dinkheller's voice as reflecting anything other than terror-terror of not just the prospect of being killed but having to kill, as well.

Putting myself in Dinhkheller's shoes, I would have been terrified, as well, so much so that I like to think that, like most cops, I would have shot Brannan as soon as I saw the SOB reach for the rifle. I also like to think that I wouldn't have allowed him to return to the car in the first place.

Instead what we find is that the immobilizing fear and indecision that Dinkheller projected throughout the incident resulted in a "one-step-forward-two-steps-back" approach in dealing with Brannan.

Had the deputy been decisive in both his words and his actions, he might well have mitigated the need for any shooting.

Don't think so? Let's suppose for a moment that this was a suicide by cop, gone wrong as some have contended. If such was the case, Brannan probably would have immediately exited the vehicle and confronted Dinkheller with the rifle, loaded or not, upon his initially being stopped.

What we see instead on Dinkheller's dashcam video is a growing synergy between the two men, a literal dance of death that first finds Brannan prancing around with taunts for the deputy to shoot him. When Dinkheller's obvious disinclination to do so becomes apparent, an emboldened Brannan doubles back to load his rifle in plain view of the deputy before ultimately shooting and killing him.

I can't say that a more assertive tone and determined countenance would have averted the shooting, but it sure as hell couldn't have hurt.

I grieve for Dep. Dinkheller, and fear that yet another cop may fall prey to indecision when the only option is obvious. It's happened before.

As such, I cannot understate the importance of a decisive countenance in such situations, and nor can the strength of a malevolent glance be underestimated.

Like most men, I like to think I was a handsome devil in my youth. But with age and weight gain, I found myself leaning towards the inescapable conclusion that I favored Joe Don Baker a lot more than I did Sean Cassidy.

Being of the "in for a penny, in for a pound" school of thought, I worked on developing an intimidating scowl (bitterness over one's waning youth has a way of facilitating such agendas). My success was such that quite a few people have asked me what the hell I was angry about when I was in a perfectly good mood.

But the dividends were unquestionable in the field. Many people who probably could have kicked my ass backed down simply because they thought I was meaner and tougher than I was simply because I acted like it.

And yet when it comes to giving a truly great and evil stink-eye, there's one guy who immediately comes to mind: Clint Eastwood.

While never recognized as a great thespian, Eastwood can't be beat for conveying murderous disgust and rage in his eyes.

VIDEO: Field Officer, "Dirty Harry."

Whether it's dealing with some bureaucratic asshole, psychopath or sycophant, the actor leaves no doubt about what he'd feeling at that particular moment.

That's why when it comes to dealing with some asshole who stands to pose a threat to you, to others, or himself, sometimes you need to leave no doubt as to your ability and willingness to make his Darwin Award aspirations come true.

You don't want to be going to your Happy Place. In your heart, you want to be revisiting every girl that broke it (or guy, if that's your bent), every backstabbing supervisor that did you wrong, and every SOB who voted for Obama.

And what's beautiful about this is when the malice is all manifest in your face what the hell can anyone complain about: "He looked mean"?

Of course, if you do it right, they wouldn't have the balls to complain anyway.

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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