On January 15, 2018, The Suburban Times shared an article published by the Tacoma News Tribune titled, TNT: Judge upholds verdict against Lakewood in shooting of unarmed man.
The court ruling has to do with a May 23, 2013, officer-involved shooting (OIS) incident in Fife, Washington and the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team led by Mike Zaro. Mike Zaro now serves as Lakewood’s police chief.
The lower court, the jury, and the appeals court judge paint a bleak picture of what took place during this incident, and I realize the three entities may be entirely correct. It is also highly possible one or all entities are incorrect.
Right? Wrong? If wrong, then we have a $15,000,000 travesty of justice.
Before I share my comments, let me first tell you what I am not. I am not an insider. I was not on scene during the incident. I was not at the trial where the family of a man killed by a SWAT sharpshooter brought suit against the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team. I was not in the jury room when the jury made their decisions.
Because of all things I am not, I wish to be careful in disclosing that I am not the last word on this matter.
Alternatively, I am in a position to share my reactions, thoughts, opinions, and experience so that thoughtful citizens may arm themselves with crucial issues to consider.
In fairness to the truth, if any part of what I have to say is not correct, that fact will not, of itself, negate the balance of my written opinion.
I am going to break my comments into topics or incident components.
JUDGES – Most judges found in our courtrooms across our great nation are intelligent, honest, and learned men and women. They serve our system in a completely unbiased manner in full support of our system of fair justice including honoring our US Constitution.
Conversely, judges are people. People have the potential for error, bias, stupidity, and evil along with hidden agendas. Examples are everywhere.
I base my opinion on my personal experiences and observations.
Example 1: I observed a hanging judge in Seattle who instead of listening to the cases brought before him, spent great energy prosecuting the defendants. He prosecuted witnesses too. Although prosecuting was the prosecutor’s job, the judge would not allow the prosecutor to speak. The prosecutor, run over by the judge, was left stuttering and stammering. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 2: Police arrested a judge for DUI. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 3: A judge was forced to resign because of inappropriate sexual behavior. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 4: A judge was arrested for hit and run. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 5: In the South, judges imprisoned and hung innocent African Americans because the white judge dared not go against white society even when all evidence pointed to the defendant’s innocence. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Judges are people too, and they are not always correct, and that is why we have an appellate court system.
JURORS: Most jurors found in our courtrooms across our great nation are intelligent, honest men and women. They serve our system in a completely unbiased manner in full support of our system of fair justice including honoring our US Constitution.
Conversely, juries are made up of people. People, like judges, have the potential for error, bias, stupidity, and evil along with hidden agendas. Examples are everywhere.
Example 1: A jury, although completely convinced of a defendant’s guilt based on overwhelming evidence, chose to find him innocent. Why? The jury decided because he was such a nice looking young man they hated to see him go to prison. The jury turned the trial into a beauty contest. A prolific burglar was set free to victimize society. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
Example 2: In another case, a juror, still stinging from having felt forced into a decision in a previous trial, defiantly refused to cast his vote based on facts. His decision was all about him, not the defendant, evidence, or jury process. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
Example 3: There is a long history in the South where all-white juries found innocent men and women guilty, not because of evidence, but because of the defendant’s skin color. While I mention history, the sad thing is skin color bias is still with us on a daily basis, but it works both ways; white — black and black — white. Skin color and anti-cop bias may well have worked in this trial. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
Example 4: There are numerous cases where jurors have imprisoned citizens for decades only to belatedly learn through DNA evidence that the defendant was innocent. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
COMPLIANCE: If you start back at the birth of the suspect, one can benefit from learning the history of the individual. Was the infant brought up by two loving married parents, a single parent, or was the child brought up in foster care? Did the parent(s) teach the child to respect and comply with authority?
There is a terrible problem in our country. Children are not taught to respect the authority of their parents, teachers, school principals, and police. Later on in life this missed lesson can become a “comply or die” problem with devastating consequences.
The Fife incident is another case of failure to comply. Had the shooting victim complied with police commands, there would have been no shooting. All the subject had to do was allow a uniform police officer to remove his son from the front porch. The officer could then honor the subject’s request by giving the young boy to his grandmother. The subject demanded that his mother meet him on the porch to take his son. Had law enforcement allowed the subject’s mother to retrieve her grandson from the porch, the subject could have taken a second hostage. The subject had already committed crimes against his mother that very evening.
If we begin teaching young people to respect and comply with the lawful commands of authority figures, we will begin to save lives in America.
NO WAY OUT: On that tragic night in Fife there was no way out. SWAT was forced to make split-second life and death decisions. Pierce County Metro SWAT made the life-saving shot. Now several law enforcement agencies and Chief Zaro are being heaped with criticism and a record-breaking big dollar lawsuit.
The critics say, “Police should not have shot an unarmed man.”
Had SWAT allowed the subject to move his son back inside the house, the critics would have sued the police, had this incident turned into a case of prolicide (The act of killing one’s child.) Critics would have said, “SWAT should have shot the man to save the life of the four-year-old hostage.”
This incident locked SWAT into a “No win” situation.
PARENTS DO KILL KIDS: Three decades of FBI statistics tell us around 450 children are killed by their parents each year. Three out of four child victims are under age five. When kids become homicide victims, parents are the killers 78% of the time.
A cop’s worst nightmare is a dead child call. Cops are wired to protect innocent kids.
COPS SHOOT UNARMED MAN: There is always a significant focus on cops shooting unarmed suspects. Civilians do not get it. Cops know there are cases where unarmed and even naked suspects kill citizens and cops. Armed or unarmed, depending on circumstances which are driven by the suspect, a subject may well draw lethal force.
In this case the hostage taker, while not armed, did have arms. Arms are all an adult needs to kill a four-year-old hostage. Parents kill their children with fists, feet, drowning, suffocating, poison, kitchen knives, hammers, head banging, stomping, and punching. Parents throw their kids down stairs cases and out windows. The list is endless.
It would have been an enormous mistake to allow an intoxicated, violent, confused, erratic behaving adult to draw an innocent four-year-old back into the house.
Once it was determined the subject was not going to comply with their child life-saving command, the police had no choice but to shoot.
SUSPECT WAS NOT DANGEROUS AND NEVER THREATENED ANYONE: If the subject was not dangerous and if he would never have hurt his son, then why did anyone call 911? Making an emergency call on false premises is a misuse of the 911 system.
The big money winners should not have it both ways. He was either a danger and out of control, or he was not.
POLICE SHOOT DOG: The jury awarded the family $10,000 because the officers shot the dog. I have not determined what kind of dog greeted the officers as they entered the house through the back door, but I bet they did not shoot a toy poodle cowering under the bed. The dog may well have been a pit bull or some other breed of dog that was fully intent on harming or killing the officers. How many dogs are worth $10,000?
Had the subject complied early on, police would not have even met his dog. Compliance with lawful orders is the key.
$15,000,000: The jury awarded $15M to the family. Had the subject lived a normal law-abiding life, how close would he or his family get to $1,000,000, let alone $15,000,000? I could support that kind of award if a rogue cop were caught executing an innocent citizen, but this citizen was not innocent, and he refused to comply leaving the safety of a four-year-old boy swaying in the balance.
$15M is way out of line. Every time a police officer performs one of the most challenging jobs in the world, the lawyers and greedy relatives come out of the woodwork heading for the deep pocket. It is all about the money.
SWAT CALL: Critics condemned the police for initiating a SWAT call-out for what the plaintiffs now describe as an insignificant domestic violence incident. First, there is no such thing as an insignificant domestic violence incident.
When ordinary street cops arrive in response to a 911 call and find an intoxicated man barricaded inside a house with a four-year-old hostage, and the subject refuses to obey police orders, it is standard police practice to create a security perimeter around the house. Once the line officers have secured the perimeter, it is standard practice to call for SWAT, which includes at least one SWAT negotiator.
SWAT is typically more highly trained and possesses better equipment for responding to this kind of incident when compared to the line officer.
I have been to hundreds of domestic violence calls. Never once did we call for SWAT when the involved parties complied with our initial directions to facilitate communication during our investigation. Most domestic violence suspects do not barricade themselves inside with a hostage and refuse to come outside.
If the suspect refuses to comply and he has a hostage, calling SWAT is imperative. It is the only intelligent option. To suggest otherwise is only a smoke screen in an effort to grab the $15,000,000.
FLASH-BANG: Critics condemned the police for deploying a flash-bang at the back door. I cannot comment on that except to say; the suspect had several choices. The suspect could have complied when first contacted by law enforcement, and there would have been no SWAT or flash-bang. Once the flash-bang was triggered, the suspect could have chosen to comply with police commands. He could have chosen to remain motionless. As is often the case, uncooperative intoxicated subjects choose to ignore police commands. The suspect’s physical moves were interpreted as a threat to the hostage.
Most law enforcement actions are reactions to what suspects are doing. I have witnessed hundreds of citizens refuse to comply with police commands. If ordinary citizens could witness what cops see, they would not believe the level of stupidity.
A trained police eye can quickly interpret a suspect movement, even an infinitesimal move, which might only take a split second, as telegraphing danger. Most civilians would miss such danger cues.
While serving as a police officer in Lakewood, I joined other officers looking for a man at the Lakewood Mall reportedly wearing a red shirt and brandishing a firearm. I spotted a man in a green shirt who was just walking. He was not brandishing a handgun. I observed him make a split second move with his inside wrist against his belt line. His arm and wrist did not move any more than one inch.
I said to my Lakewood Mall Security partner, “That’s him.” My partner said, “No Joe, the suspect is wearing a red shirt.” I said, “I know red shirt, but that guy with the green shirt is our suspect”.
We bum rushed him and took him into custody. The question you can ask yourself is; Was I right or was I wrong?
My trained police eye allowed me to correctly interpret his body language movement. I was right. The subject had a gun stuffed into his belt. His almost micro body language told me he was checking to be certain his gun was still in his belt since he did not have a holster. He had ditched his red shirt.
I was not with the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team the night of the Fife call-out, but you can’t tell me it was not possible for a trained veteran SWAT officer to ascertain that he needed to use his firearm to save a four-year-old hostage. Civilians will miss it every time. SWAT officers are trained to not miss anything.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE SAFETY OF THE FOUR-YEAR-OLD CHILD? While there is a lot more I could say to give everyone the opportunity to look at this incident from alternative viewpoints, let me close with this.
One night while working the swing-shift as a police officer in the Northern part of Lakewood, I roared across town four-bell (lights and siren). Coming to a quick stop, I stepped from my police vehicle on the edge of a four-lane road and ran at full speed into an apartment complex courtyard towards a known dangerous domestic violence threat.
As I ran over the top of a grassy knoll in the dark towards the danger, a tree branch struck my right eye causing immediate pain and an involuntary closing of my eye followed by flowing tears. By this time I had been a cop long enough to know that cops do not stop when someone needs help. Besides I reasoned, I still had one healthy eye.
I was heading into a domestic violence incident involving a man, a woman, and an innocent young child. The man had taken the young girl hostage.
I was a line officer. That night, my partner officers and I desperately needed heroes like the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team and Mike Zaro.
In the end, my story has a different ending than the Fife call. There was not enough time to call for SWAT and Mike Zaro. The man, holding the girl hostage forced her into an apartment and before we could negotiate or request a SWAT call-out, he killed the girl.
My eye has long since healed, but my tears are once again flowing tonight as I share this true story with you. There was no reason for that girl to die. If only we had arrived earlier. We desperately needed Mike Zaro and his SWAT team that night. Had Mike Zaro been on the scene, then maybe, just maybe, things could have turned out differently.
I will never forget that night. I wish we could have made that $15,000,000 shot.