Regular readers of this column will already know that I have a real respect and support for LEOs. The Thin Blue Line catches a lot grief, and people not on it sometimes have a great deal of difficulty understanding how hard it is. Having a couple officers in my own family, and having known more than a few outside that, I've heard some horror stories, and being any kind of cop is often a thankless job. I wouldn't want to do it.
That said -- you ought to know me well enough by now that such a set-up isn't going to abolish the hot seat -- we have had a little problem locally about which I feel the need to speak ...
Here's the basic background.( If you want to read a more detailed account, go here.)
Recently a party let out one evening in Portland, and of a moment, the streets were full of kids, some of whom were known troublemakers. Local law was sent to make sure it didn't turn into a riot. So far, so good.
The kids -- some of whom were way too young to be out on their own at eleven o'clock at night -- started going their ways, and several of them took to the local light rail train, aka MAX.
Because some of these little darlings had raised ruckus on the buses and trains before, they had basically been kicked off and banned for their activities.
Portland PD spotted a couple of these supposed-to-be-excluded troublemakers on the train, knew who they were, and told them to exit.
Off the train, one of the girls got feisty. Words were exchanged, the officer on hand and his partner decided they were going to take her into custody, and she swung on them, hitting one in the face.
Apparently he missed the class on block and parry.
Now, let's be straight about this part -- this girl was not a petite powder puff, but a sizeable five-seven and about one-fifty. That makes a difference.
The officer took her down, she flailed and continued to resist, and so the officer's partner leaned in and helpfully popped her in the leg with a bean bag round from the special shotgun designed to shoot such things, which he just happened to be carrying.
Understand that these bean bags aren't the little patty-cake things you and your children toss around, but essentially a shotgun load wrapped in a sack so it thumps the hell out of whatever it hits. Shots to the torso are not to be taken any closer than fifteen feet, minimum, because less-than-lethal doesn't mean non-lethal and people have died from these things. But apparently, there aren't any department guidelines on thigh shots.
That shot calmed her right down. She eventually was trucked off to juvie hall and everybody went back to their business.
Here's the catch:
The girl was twelve years old.
The bean bag round was delivered at contact range. And the shooter was a guy already part of a major excessive force lawsuit in which a schizophrenic man (James Chasse) died after a pile-on, with twenty-six breaks in sixteen ribs, and other assorted thumpings, for the crime of suspicion of public urination. They hollered at him, he took off, they ran him down and he didn't want to go quietly.
Because he was paranoid.
Cops and doctors and nurses know about Excited Delirium, which can sky your body temp into the red zone and turn you into a screaming maniac. People die from this, they blow out arteries, burn up, but Chasse died from injuries received at the scene, medical examiner guessed knee drops, kicks, and what, no two ways about it, has to be considered a really bad beat-down, given that it fucking killed him.
The deputies at the jail turned him away when they brought him in -- Jeez, take him to the fuckin' hospital, dude, you ain't bringing him in here to die!
Which was, by then, too late. He died in the ambulance enroute.
It took the Chief three years to get around to finding there was no fault in the incident. Three years. No fault.
The Police Commissioner overruled the Chief and wanted to give the responsible officer a couple weeks off. Political? Yeah. Justified? When somebody dies as a result of police action, you have to ask why, and if it takes three years to answer the question? Something's wrong with the system. It doesn't smell good.
The Union went ballistic. They wrote articles in the local paper, talking about how everything was by the book and there was no fault involved.
I have to say, that if a full-grown man is turned into mushy kindling for suspicion that he pissed on the bushes and dies from the pounding? Something is wrong with that picture, crazy or not.
Pissing in public -- if he actually did -- is not generally a capital crime in this country.
A big part of the problem with serving and protecting the public is how you are viewed in that service. And part of that is the basic wonder with this latest episode: Yeah, she was a strapping child and all, but if two experienced police officers can't go hand-to-hand with one twelve-year-old girl without resorting to a bean bag shotgun, what does that say about them to the general public?
I'll tell you what it says: Maybe they ought to be in a different line of work. 'Cause they sure don't seem to be doing so well in this one. Maybe ... Parking Meter Patrol? Crossing guard? Flower arranging?
If you can't deal with an angry twelve-year-old girl, how are you gonna deal with a full grown crazed man? Oh, yeah, right. We covered that.
The Chief was going to sit the shooter on a desk and poke at it; the Police Commissioner overruled her again. Send him home. You can pay him, but get him off the job.
The Police Union is bellowing hither and yon about no confidence in the Chief and the Commish, and marching and making speeches. Do they really want to be drawing the line over this one? The girl wasn't armed, and no matter how you slice it, it doesn't make the local force look good if this is the place they choose to make a stand.
Stoned loon with a gun shooting at folks? Sure. Whatever you need. That happened in Hillsboro a couple days ago -- guy went nuts, drove down the road, filling the air with bullets. Killed a passenger in a car, and got killed himself when he stopped and started to shoot it out with the law. His bad, and that's why we want cops working the streets, to protect us from him.
Twelve-year-old bad girls who violate a bus exclusion? Bean bag shotgun at contact distance? Somebody needs to stop and think about this one. It just doesn't sound right.
Yeah, yeah, I wasn't there, I didn't see how fierce the pre-teen girl was, it's easy for me to be a Monday-morning quarterback, but c'mon. In some cases, what it looks like is going to be far more important than what it might actually be, and in this case, these two guys are going to be seen as stepping stupid, and I find it hard not to nod and agree when I hear that.