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Friday, December 28, 2007

Is It Misconduct?

Two horribly sad incidents that occurred this weekend have been spurring some controversy over whether there was a degree of misconduct... or neglegence, to be more precise, involved that might have made the difference between a terrible tragedy and something that might have been less tragic.

I wasn't going to bring these two cases up here, but since people are speculating as to whether there was any negligence involved in both cases I might as well bring it up here for the point of discussion.

Of course, I'm talking about the now well-known Carnation killings that occurred on Christmas Eve and the somewhat less infamous Larson case that occurred on a busy highway during Christmas Day.

Deaths in Carnation
The deaths of the six family members in Carnation Washington are very sad, especially so since there were very young children involved who were apparently murdered merely to cover up the crime. But it is now even more sad since there is a lot of speculation swirling around the 911 call that was recieved but not fully investigated. It turns out that King County Sheriff's officers responded to a 911 call from the residence where the murders took place on the night of the murders, but turned around when they encountered a locked gate at the driveway.

The King County Sheriff's Office opines that, based on preliminary investigative findings, that the officers arrived too late to have saved anyone anyway, so turning back at the gate didn't change the outcome. Of course, we could speculate that maybe some of the victims were still alive when the officers arrived at that gate, and maybe someone would have survived if they had broken in to determine the origin and nature of that 911 call... and it may well be so that we will never know for certain what the outcome might have been otherwise. In either case, it is a sad occation for that community and the surviving members of that family... so much grief on what should have been a time of togetherness is hard to fathom.

But, was it misconduct to turn back? Well, the law and court precidents state that officers are not liable in cases where no assurances of assistance are given over the phone during a 911 call, and if that held then this case would be no different since the call was hung up without a caller saying anything... But, in either case, I'm certain that the uncertainty of whether or not such young lives might have been saved will plague the minds of the officers involved and the community as well... which makes this case just that much more tragic for everyone involved.

The people who were arrested have confessed to the crime and the evidence available appears to point their way. If they are convicted then it seems that the true villians of this case will have been brought to justice. But questions will likely remain in the minds of those who survive the victims and in the minds of the officers who may feel as though different choices might have altered the outcome, whether true or not.

Aaron Larson
The controversy here is complex and multifaceted because there are several points of contention insofar as to at what points the officer involved could have made different choices that might have altered the outcome of this event.

As of now, it appears that Aaron Larson, 28, lost control due to currently unknown reasons, and went on a rampage in the middle of a busy freeway in Seattle. He reportedly had been suffering from depression due to a death in his family and severe sleep deprivation due to changing shifts at work which more than likely contributed to his psychotic episode on Christmas Day where he left the car holding his girlfriend and two children to start swinging his belt at cars in the freeway and attempting to force open doors of vehicles that were forced to stop.

A eleven year veteran Washington State Patrol officer responded to a 911 call, reportedly from Aaron's girlfriend, allegedly stating that he might possibly be armed. When he arrived he got out of his cruiser and approached Aaron, reportedly in an effort to calm him down. This was the first point of contention, should the officer had stayed in his vehicle until backup arrived so that more officers were available to subdue Aaron should he be unresponsive to verbal persuation?

Unfortunately, if true, the officer had reason to believe that Aaron might have been armed and acting in a manner that the officer might reasonably assume to be an imminent threat to the public, so it appears that he had little choice but to try and control the situation by himself. Once he got out and started to approach Aaron he was, allegedly, immediately attacked, in response the officer attempted to taser Aaron to subdue but it had no effect. Aaron allegedly continued the attack and had reportedly started to strangle the officer with the belt that he had previously used to beat passing cars. In response, the officer felt threatened and fired several shots, ultimately killing Aaron in front of several witnesses on the freeway.

The other points of contention surround the shooting and whether it was a reasonable assumption that the officer should have felt threatened enough to open fire while being strangled with a belt. Personally, I know that in the military soldiers are taught that every piece of equipment given to them can have multiple uses, and that the belt can be a formidible weapon in a number of ways. Not just as a garrot but also by using the weighted buckle as a weapon by leveraging the swinging belt itself as a makeshift mace. Witnesses at the scene, DOT cameras recording the events, and the officer all appear to make the same claims and all appear to concede that the officer seemed threatened enough to be justified in using leathal force.

Other questions surround whether there might have been other, less leathal, options available to the officer that could have stopped Aaron that day. Unfortunately the situation had degraded so rapidly that it appears the officer had no other real options left available to him, especially since his losing this confrontation might have armed Aaron with his service weapon, if he wasn't already armed.

Some accounts from people who had worked with the officer involved state that he was mild mannered, just as Aaron was, and had never had to shoot his service weapon in his eleven years on the force. It seems to me that it's reasonable to assume that shooting a man who had lost control of himself in front of several witnesses that included the man's children was the last thing the officer wanted to do on Christmas Day.

It seems to me that everyone was a victim that day, Aaron who had lost control of himself for reasons that may not have been of his choosing. For Aaron's family and children who had to witness that event. For the bystanders who witnessed tragedy on that Christmas day. And for the officer involved, who will now have to second guess himself and always wonder whether he might have done something different that day to change the outcome.

So, was it misconduct in either case?

Well, I tend to be a believer in the humanity inherent in people and that makes me believe that all these officers now have their own demons which they must contend with, to be unfortunately haunted with self doubts fueled by much public speculation. For now I'm withholding judgement and any opinions I might have, whether they favor the officers or not. Besides, what I think probably matters little to anyone involved right now.

Instead I only want to wish everyone involved in both these tragic events all the peace that might be available to them, including the surviving families of the victims and the officers involved... Such tragedies are sometimes only made more tragic when we search too hard for villians to blame when there might well not be any to find.


Anonymous said...

There is a lot that the family of Aaron Larson is not saying to the press. They have hinted that Aaron had forseen his death.

I know close family friends that have known Aaron for years. In conversation, I learned that Aaron was always troubled. The day before, he told his father that demons told him that he would be shot and killed the next day. This warning was dismissed by the family. Why???

As in most "suicide by cop" incidents, the person will make it happen one way or another.

I saw an interview with the bus driver that had a front seat to this whole incident. Why is it that he is the only one mentioning that Aaron had tried to choke the cop and that a direct hit with the taser didn't even phase Aaron?

I guess we see what we want to see and say only what is necessary to preserve some of the humanity of those we love. As you said a tragedy for all.

Packratt said...

Thank you for the insightful comment, I appreciate it.

The thing is that I'm sure many different people have their own take on what happened and that there are as many different accounts of what occurred on that highway as there were people who were on the highway that day.

Same too, I'm afraid, as there will be people who knew or may claim to have known Aaron who will also impart their own take. Unless we knew him, it's hard for any of us to say for sure which account is more accurate than the next.

All we do know is that it was a tragic event for everyone involved and that I hope the investigators find the truth of the matter and that the truth brings everyone the closure and peace they need.

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