Today, the Chesapeake Police are burying one of their own, by all accounts a brave and dedicated detective who lost his life doing his job as he saw it. But when the mourning is done, it will be time to look at this tragedy and ask some hard questions about the procedures, especially no knock searches, that may have led to this brave man’s death.
Some 36 years ago, I came within seconds of killing a New Orleans Police officer.
I was a dental student working my way through school. My wife and I were so poor the folks on welfare looked down on us. We lived in a trailer park in a declining part of the Chef Menteur area and our trailer and car had both been repeatedly burglarized. Shortly after midnight, one weekday evening, I awoke to a loud crash, followed by a repeated rattling and thumping. Fearing a home invasion robbery, a grabbed my shotgun from under the bed and went toward our living room. There I saw my door knob and lockset on the floor and a gloved hand protruding through the hole where they belonged, repeatedly jerking the door back against the door chain I had secured before going to bed. Through the frosted glass in the top of the door I could see the silhouette of a large man with a gun in his other hand. The chain would not hold long against the pounding it was getting, so I raised my shotgun to fire on the silhouette while I still had the element of surprise on my side, but in my last second shoot/no-shoot appraisal, I saw, in the corner of my eye, a blue light flashing through a gap in our curtains. Instead of firing, I shouted, “Stop, the police are here” and got the answer, “I am the police!” the first words he had spoken.
In another trailer, one row behind me, a neighbor had called to report a woman being beaten. It had happened many times before, but the woman never pressed charges after her husband sobered up. The police officer had tired of those calls and had decided to catch the man in the act so he could be prosecuted without the wife’s cooperation. So he set about to surprise him by crashing in unannounced, but he turned one lane short of the right trailer.
Another police car arrived and went on to the right trailer to deal with the domestic disturbance and the errant policeman and I sat for a long time on my steps to reflect on how close we had come to a disaster. Crashing into a person’s home unannounced is a dangerous thing to do. It is especially so if the person is NOT a criminal, as the possibility of it being the police will not occur to them.
Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the City of New Orleans refused to pay to repair my door.
The Chesapeake Police have released very little information about the warrant their detective was serving, nor have they said what results the search produced. The young man who has been charged with first degree murder claims he thought he was being robbed and had no idea he was firing on a policeman.
What if he is telling the truth?