July 20, 2012 early in the morning a masked man entered a movie theater and proceeded to kill 12 people and injure dozens more. He exits the theater and within seven minutes has surrendered to police. The police take the suspect into custody without incident. The police have said that he was armed with at least four weapons. Almost everyone knows this story now. A link to one of many articles for that story is here, following is a story fewer people have heard.
July 20, 2012 early in the morning a disturbance call turns into an intoxicated man leading police on a chase that spans multiple counties and exceeds 90 mph at times. Allegedly, the suspect veered at police cruisers until a police spike disabled his vehicle. This is where the article becomes hazy. The police statement was that they treated it like a felony stop and then it skips to the suspect being dead and a statement that the officer, State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous, didn’t know how many officers fired or what agencies were involved. The link to that article here.
I need to say something upfront. I do not under any circumstance think that every police officer is evil. I just don’t believe that police officers are perfect. Some are good, some are great and some aren’t. Like the rest of us, they can make mistakes. The difference I keep seeing is they aren’t held to the same standards the rest of us are when we make mistakes. My concern with this situation comes from a few aspects of the police response.
My largest concern comes from this statement made by Baylous, “As a result of his conscious decision not to obey any commands, he was shot and pronounced dead later at the hospital.” This statement scares me. There are certain things that I need to see when it comes to police shooting a citizen. I need to see an armed suspect, sometimes I will even take that there was reason to think they were armed. I need to see that the officers feared for their lives. What disturbs me about these two stories is that the first one more than made me believe that the police should fear for their lives while the second one did everything except reassure me.
In the first story, we have a man who is certainly armed and dangerous. The 911 calls that came in already told the police that they were dealing with a very dangerous situation. The situation ended without the police killing the suspect. Most articles claim the suspect gave up without incident. What is important is that they had every right to believe that the person they were coming to deal with had no intentions of following any commands and was definitely armed.
In the second story, we have a man who the police will not confirm had a weapon. The article does say that the suspect swerved at police cruisers but it doesn’t say that he rammed or made contact with the officers. The original call was for a disturbance at a local casino and it ended with a man’s death. The story is missing very important details and the response from the police is disturbing. I have far more questions about the second story than I do the first. Although, I am sure that I will get far more answers for the first.
Again, I would like to say that police officers are human and that all humans are capable of mistakes. When mistakes involve people’s lives then we deserve a better account of how that life was taken. Baylous’ statement implies that the man died for noncompliance, an act that I think every person will agree needs looking into. West Virginia doesn’t have the death penalty, especially for disobeying a police officer. I understand that he committed acts that endangered others and violated the law. Does that justify his death? If the suspect had a weapon and threatened the police that is justifiable, but if he died for noncompliance that is unacceptable. Mostly, I just want the entire story and the article I read isn’t close to cutting it.
There is one more thing that I don’t like about the article, but it is unverifiable so I don’t know how much credit that statement has. In the comments section of the Gazette article, one commenter claims to be a friend of the suspect and claims that the police have twisted the statement they made to make it look like the suspect set out to be killed by the police. Again, I can’t verify that statement. If there is any truth to it then a better statement needs released after the investigation closes. According to the article, the police couldn’t release more information because the investigation was ongoing.
I would like to believe that police officers have the safety and interests of the people they serve as a top priority. Statements like this, “As a result of his conscious decision not to obey any commands, he was shot” make me doubt that. I will even say that maybe Sgt. Baylous misspoke, but if he didn’t then that is a very scary statement. When the Occupy Movement and Tea Partiers are protesting and run the distinct chance of not obeying commands the statement Baylous made becomes scary. A police force that believes noncompliance is grounds for death needs examination.
The facts aren’t all in on this case and I will be posting an update for it when I find out anything new.
This is a link to a local news channel that has released a bit of new information. The police now say that several cruisers were damaged during the chase, but they do not say that the cruisers were damaged by the suspect. The police are still using the phrase “tried to ram police cruisers.” Reinforcing the original statement, the police claim the suspect wanted to die by police. Unfortunately, the police still have not released whether or not the suspect had a weapon, but they did go door to door in the neighborhood where the shooting took place asking what everyone had seen. That strikes me as extremely odd and I would like to know what questions the police asked of the residents of that neighborhood.
No new information on the person who claims to have been misquoted by the police. The new police statement is, “The suspect exited the vehicle and refusing to obey commands then shots were fired and the suspect died as a result of the wounds he received” which doesn’t lessen the scary aspect of the original statement. Again, I will update when the police release more information.
[Update July 24, 2012]
The Charleston Gazette reports that Craig M. Keith pretended to have a weapon and was shot. Sgt. Baylous says, “All nonlethal means to take him down were ineffective,” but that leaves more questions. I find it difficult to believe that tazers and mace didn’t work against the suspect.
The friend that commented on the Charleston Gazette’s website has been identified as Bill Wyandt and he still claims that his statements have been twisted to make it seem that this was suicide by police. Even Baylous now says that the situation was most likely a suicide by police. Jackson County prosecutors have taken over the case to decide if that shooting is justified.
I still find that there is something missing to this story. The police statement is still disconcerting. More updates to come.