Friday, July 25, 2008

Car Repaired/Death in the Streets

So, my car, which I picked up last evening, is fixed. Looks brand-new, I can't see where it was damaged, and I am happy to be able to drive once again without the license plate wired to the front bumper ...
In other news, a grand jury found the Silverton cop who killed an Irish kid a few weeks ago was justified in his use of force. The kid was unarmed and not very big, but he was also mentally disturbed. There was quite a to-do when it happened, and his family was understandably upset.

Here's the gist, as I understand it: The young man, Andrew Hanlon, an Irish citizen, living with his brother, apparently slipped over the edge one evening and started hollering and pounding on a stranger's door. Hard enough to leave skin and blood on the wood, while, according to the woman inside who made a panicked 911 call, (during which you can hear the kid yelling and hammering,) screaming that he was the angel of death, along with howling at the moon.

I dunno about your neighborhood, but I would be disposed to consider that unusual and a tad unsettling in mine, somebody pounding on my front door, baying like a wolf, and calling himself the angel of death, especially after eleven p.m. on a Monday night.

Friday night? Yeah, but ... Monday?

The cop, Tony Gonzalez, arrived, apparently tried to calm the kid down, with his hands empty. Didn't work. After a dance, the kid charged; Gonzalez, backed away, yelling Stop! and started shooting. Hit the kid five times, but even so he kept going, according to witnesses.

The whole story in The Oregonian is here.

This is an unfortunate incident, and your heart goes out to the dead man and his family. (And the cop has problems of his own -- in an unrelated event, he was busted for messing with an underage girl. All the paper says about that is that she was under age eighteen, and that it was apparently consensual and went on for a while. I'm guessing his career as an LEO is probably over -- certainly if he's found guilty it is.)

But given the circumstances, I wonder what I would have done had it been me on patrol when the call came in? The kid ran, the cop pursued, heard what he thought was breaking glass, maybe giving the kid a weapon, then he got charged. He backed all the way across the street from the kid, yelling Stop! and shooting.

The dead man needed medical help, he shouldn't have been running around on his own, and the health care system failed him. But that's not the policeman's fault. Nor his job.

This is where families and horrified citizens start asking why not the nightstick, or the Taser, why the gun? And the answer, hard as it is, is that if you roll on a cop with a gun in his hand and scare him enough so he thinks he might be in deadly danger? He can shoot you, legally, and in my book, morally. Somebody that crazy, maybe the stick or the pepper spray or Taser will do the trick, but -- would you risk your neck and the future welfare of your family on "maybe" in that situation?

A man has a gun pointed at you and yells, "Stop or I'll shoot!" You have to know that not-stopping could be bad, especially if you are running at him and not away from him.

Sad that a disturbed young man had to die. Sad that he couldn't get the help he needed.
If the kid had gotten a broken bottle, or had a knife and the cop hadn't shot, then the story could have had a different and no less tragic ending.

No joy in this one.


Doctor Jay said...

I take it the cop was pretty young, thus the underage girl. I think maybe a veteran cop might have been better able to handle the situation, but don't count me among those yelling for his head.

Yeah, when you're being charged under those circumstances, you shoot. More than once. My questions would be what choices did he make leading up to that point that might have been made differently.

Oh, and I'll stop for a guy with a gun who says "stop" if he has a badge and/or a uniform. If he doesn't, I'll consider other options.

Steve Perry said...

Cop was, I believe, thirty-five. Of course, I consider that young.

If a guy with the gun knows what he is about -- and I might not know that until too late -- then charging him barehanded and unarmed when he has the drop on me would have to be in in the last-resort category, for my money.

Maybe he's so rattled he couldn't hit a barn standing inside it. Or maybe he uses his piece to drive tacks, can control his heart like a biathlon shooter, and has been waiting his whole life for a chance to cook somebody. Hard to tell by looking.

Otherwise, one of the options I'll need to consider is whether I'll take a 50-long or regular in my coffin size. Not high on my list of things to do ...

Dan Gambiera said...

The problem with these accounts is that the cop always did the right thing. There was always, always a charge, a "furtive movement", a suspicious glint or a violent action. That's the story, and they're going to stick to it even when there are eye witnesses and video of the incident.

Most cops are about as decent and honest as the rest of us. And they want to keep their jobs and stay out of jail. They have been trained in what to say. They have the prosecutors on their side. The Code of Silence is absolutely alive and well.

And here's the kicker. If you or I shot someone we'd be in a holding cell being interrogated. A police officer will be interviewed, but much more gently. In a couple recent Portland cases it didn't happen until days after the incident. In the meanwhile the officers involved had gotten careful prep from superiors about what to say and how to present themselves.

I'm not saying that the guy here did the right thing or the wrong thing. But I am really suspicious that in at least the last thirty years there hasn't been a single bad shoot by a police officer in the Metro area. Not one. Zip. Goose egg. The odds against that are ridiculous.

Steve Perry said...

I think the default position is that the cops are the good guys, and that does buy them some slack. And certainly there have been questionable shootings. My favorite was the guy on the bus with a gun who took off running one night and had two of Portland's finest put more than twenty rounds of 9mm into the evening with only one hit, on the butt. This after the gun fell out of the guy's jeans early in the flight.

This case, according to a bunch of civilian witnesses, looked like a good shoot. Yeah, the I-heard-glass-breaking-so-I-
might-have-a-weapon story is insurance, but even if he was unarmed, a crazy guy claiming to be the angel of death charging a guy who is shooting him gets my vote for righteous shooting.

Dan Moran said...

I've got daughters 16 & 18 ... any 35 year old man sniffing around one of them would be lucky to walk away with a broken nose. In the case of the 16 year old, damn straight I'd pursue him to the fullest.

I'm not rigid: 20, 22 ... 16 year old girl/boyfriend ... maybe. Maybe. Depending on the maturity of both parties. 25? No. 35? Jailtime.

When my now 16 year old was 13 she had a 17 year old boy hitting on her. I told that boy if he showed up at my house he'd bounce all the way to the sidewalk. (He was an asshole for reasons unrelated to his age, too ... but the age was a big strike.)

Kami said...

My question is how many shootings are there? Are they pretty rare? And with the stakes being so high, wouldn't officers shoot only as the last resort? That might boost the percents in odd directions.

Also, the culture has changed hugely in 30 years. There may have been lots of bad shootings 30 years ago up to ten years ago protected by the Code of Silence and in the last ten years there may have been far fewer shootings overall due to fear of lawsuit.

Not saying anything's the truth or not, just stuff to look into and think about.

Steve Perry said...

Then there is the phenomena of suicide-by-cop, which can skdew the data.

These days, too, it is harder to keep people with serious mental illnesses off the street. To avoid past problems with folks being put away when they didn't deserve it, state laws allowing such are much harder. Plus the funding for mental health care isn't there, and there isn't room.

The laws are pretty clear on when deadly force is allowed by anybody, and since the people most likely to use that kind of force are cops, they know what they have to say in the aftermath. You can protect your own life, or the lives of others if you believe you or they are at risk. That's what the city or state pays police officers to do. If they don't shoot and civilians die, that raises holy hell, too.

I would guess, without having the numbers at hand, there are fewer police shootings now than there were thirty or forty years ago, and probably more of them are righteous now.

Doesn't mean some bad ones aren't going to get past.

In the Silverton case, awful as it was, the reasonable-person standard surely seems to apply. There was a history with this kid -- it wasn't the first time he had run amok, and it was family calling it in the previous time.

In the sixties, there was a memorable scene on TV, during the Democratic convention in Chicago. A row of blue-helmeted police with shotguns facing a a bunch of demonstrators. One of the long-hairs was right in a cop's face, giving him the finger, spitting and snarling. I recall thinking at the time, What a moron! Guy has a gun and you are standing there calling him a pig and spitting on him?

Yeah, he's not supposed to shoot you, but that's not a survival characteristic.

Neither is charging a cop with a drawn gun after he has told you to stop. If you can't see the risks there, either you are crazy enough to be dangerous or not from this planet.

Dan Gambiera said...

Thing is, they're not high-stakes for the cops. A cop will never ride the pipe for shooting someone in this area, and close to never anywhere else. It just won't happen. Given that, and given the fact that people are basically lazy and will get away with what they can cops will cut corners if they know that there won't be consequences.

It shows up all the time in "less than lethal" encounters. And if it is routine when the stakes aren't as high how much more when there could be serious jail time?

Two cases just this week...

19 year old with broken back tasered 19 times.

And 66 year old minister has the bright green piss beaten out of him by five cops for telling a joke they didn't like.

Or consider the case in Portland a little while back at the Greek Cuisina. A couple off-duty cops got drunk, started a fight, beat up a couple other diners and stole their dinner. When people started to object they pulled their badges. Reports were taken but were all destroyed. The victims were threatened with arrest. It would have been buried except that one honest police officer broke the Blue Wall and notified IA. He left the PPB amid death threats.

Cops lie all the time to protect cops. They'll lie in the face of evidence. And anyone who calls them on it is "anti-cop" or gets the standard bullshit. "Who are you going to call when there's a burglar in your house, the ACLU?"

I'm expecting Steve to chime in with "Well, these things happen, and we all know they do, but it's always been this way, and there's nothing we can do about it." Perhaps. But we can do a better job. And we can acknowledge reality, not help with the coverup.

Steve Perry said...

Nah, wrong is wrong, and if something can be done to fix it, it should be.

But the discussion started out as a wonder -- Was this particular event a legit shooting? It wasn't a referendum on every encounter every cop has ever had.

You tend to do that, Dan -- you take a specific and generalize it into places it sometimes doesn't go. It's what is called the "Yes, but ..." argument, and while it can reveal things that ought to be brought to light, it also comes across as a rationalization at times, not speaking to the argument.

jks9199 said...

It's nice to see such a reasonable and level response to a police shooting. Too often, public responses are either "The cops are doing a extremely dangerous job and are never in the wrong!" on one side, and "The cops are all dirty and can't ever be trusted because they'll always lie for each other and they just want to kill the public!" on the other.

The under-age sex thing? I don't know anything about it. While it doesn't help the cop -- in fact it makes him look like one hell of an ass -- it's not really very relevant to a shooting with numerous witnesses able to provide independent accounts of the event.

(Yeah, I'm a cop.)