Law enforcement has once again killed an innocent victim. John Wrana Jr. was a ninety-five year old resident of a nursing home who refused to comply with the wishes of the police (and nursing home staff) that he allow himself to be transported to a hospital. He paid for his insolence with his life.
If this were an isolated incident, it would still be a tragedy. If there were dozens of similar incidents when law enforcement responding to disturbances where no laws were broken, or to minor infractions, either killed or seriously injured people involved or bystanders, it would go beyond tragedy and become a critical call for reform. So, what should our response be to the hundreds of such incidents that have occurred over the last several years? Dozens of people have been killed. These incidents have become such an epidemic in this country within law enforcement, that it seems obvious to me that the problem is institutional. It is a travesty that we have let it get to this point.
This diary could go on forever discussing multiple incidents. Instead, I'll review only one incident (the case of Roy Middleton) below the squiggle because I think this particular incident perfectly illustrates the point I want to make. It's not the incident itself that makes this point, but the response by law enforcement after the incident was over.
First, a quick reminder of what happened. In the wee hours of the night, Roy Middleton was rummaging through his mother's car in the carport of his home, looking for a cigarette, when he heard someone command, "Get your hands where I can see them!" Middleton initially thought it was a neighbor playing a joke on him, but when he looked up he saw two Escambia County, Florida sheriff's deputies standing in his driveway with weapons drawn. This is where the stories diverge. Middleton says he put his hands in the air and turned toward the deputies. That is when the gunfire erupted. Fifteen shots were fired. Two of them hit Middleton in the leg. He survived and was hospitalized, where a metal pin was used to repair his leg.
The deputies claim that Middleton turned and lunged at them with a shiny object in his hand (he was using a small flashlight on a key ring to search the car), causing them to attempt deadly force to protect themselves. Pardon me if I'm a bit dubious, but it just seems unlikely to me that a sixty year old man who was doing nothing wrong would lunge at two armed deputies that were far enough away from him that they only shot him twice in fifteen tries. I realize that nicotine withdrawal can cause one to become extremely testy, but this seems like a stretch.
But, according to CNN, their boss made it crystal clear what the real issue was here:
"The tragedy of this is the noncompliance to the directions of law enforcement officers," said Sheriff David Morgan of Escambia County, Florida. "Had that occurred we wouldn't be having this discussion. It's a tragedy all the way around. He is both a suspect and a victim."He went on to add:
"The message to the public is this was a tragedy," Morgan said. "And it was a tragedy because we had an individual, a citizen, who for whatever reason, either impairment due to alcohol or drugs, or just taking it upon himself not to be compliant to following basic direct orders."He was also widely quoted in the press as stating:
"Right now we are comfortable from a training perspective that our officers did follow standard protocols,” Morgan said. “I believe the standard we use and train to is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case which is a reasonable test."The deputies involved were never charged or disciplined except to be placed on paid administrative leave while the incident was being investigated, and given administrative duties when they returned to work after their paid "vacation" was over.
Failure to comply in a timely manner with police instructions should not be (and never was in the past) sufficient justification for the use of deadly force. If the police are allowed (or even encouraged) to respond to noncompliance with the use of deadly force, it pretty much gives them carte blanche to also respond to a lesser degree, such as with bean bag cartridges, Tasers, choke holds, and beatings (any of which can also result in death or serious injury). And, this filters down to lesser "offenses" such as belligerence, unruliness, or failure to show the proper level of respect.
I realize that confronting a suspect in the middle of the night is already a scary proposition for law enforcement, and it's probably true that frequently when law enforcement officers themselves become the victims, it begins with a failure to comply. But, is the mere act of failing to comply such a significant threat to the officers that it justifies the use of deadly force? I personally think not. It's inconceivable to me that the ninety-five year old Wrana could be considered any kind of a threat whatsoever.
Unfortunately, it seems to me like this policy (and the accompanying training) is spreading throughout law enforcement in this country. It needs to be addressed on a national level. I call on Congress and the President to give this issue the attention it deserves. People are dying.
7:51 AM PT: It wasn't clear to me from the diary linked to in the first paragraph that the incident with Wrana happened a year ago. I believe my point still stands.