Police-Administered Homicide as a Diabetes Cure

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Salt Lake City resident Christopher “Joey” Tucker “was kind of groggy” when his parents last spoke to him in August 2009. He was also agitated as a result of arguments with his girlfriend, with whom he had a 19-month-old daughter. His father Perry Tucker recounts that Joey “wasn’t himself” when they spoke by telephone. Perry was alarmed when his son announced that he had taken some of his mother’s sleeping pills, although he was able to verify quickly that the distraught 30-year-old “hadn’t taken a whole bottle of them or anything like that.” Concerned that Joey might be either suicidal or in the throes of a severe diabetic episode, his parents and girlfriend made the familiar — and routinely tragic — mistake of calling the police. They found that the helpful armed strangers in government-issued costumes were indecently eager to “help” Joey to death.

Joey went to visit his girlfriend, getting involved in a minor fender-bender en route. While he was parked at his girlfriend’s place of employment, a group of paramedics used fire trucks to box in his car. However, the emergency personnel moved the vehicles out of the way when it looked as if Joey might ram one of them. “They are not the police,” observed Salt Lake City Fire Department spokesman Scott Freitag in explaining why the fire personnel took care to avoid a potentially violent confrontation.

Unfortunately, the police eventually showed up to administer the kind of help for which they’ve become notorious.

Vehicles from the SLC Police Department and the Utah Highway Patrol followed Joey down Interstate 80, surrounding his vehicle and ramming it in what is described as a “pit maneuver” intended to force it from the road. The second such maneuver caused Joey to plow his pickup truck into a concrete barricade.Three cops — identified in a subsequent civil complaint as Salt Lake City Officers Louis “Law” Jones and Lisa Pascaldo, and State Trooper Lawrence Hopper — surrounded the car. Joey was sitting placidly with his hands on the steering wheel. Dashcam video obtained from the police vehicles “did not show Joey accelerating or putting his vehicle in drive to move his vehicle in an area toward the officers,” reports the complaint. Yet within a few seconds of being forced to stop, Joey was dead — killed by three shots fired by Officer Jones. Trooper Hopper’s reaction — exclaiming, “Oh, no — oh, sh*t!” — was also captured on video, underscoring the fact that “Joey did not take any action, make any threats, or do anything to cause any immediate or imminent threat of harm to any of the officers,” summarizes the complaint. “At no time did any of the other officers … shoot out Joey’s tires or spike the tires.” The “pacification” method of first resort was the unjustified, reckless use of deadly force.

It hardly needs to be said that neither “Law” Jones nor any of his other colleagues faced criminal charges or administrative sanctions of any kind.

Please permit me to indulge in a brief but relevant personal anecdote.

One of my younger brothers suffered a severe emotional breakdown as a 16-year-old. My family lived in Rexburg, Idaho, at the time a town of about 12,000 people with a small and relatively unobtrusive police force. One afternoon I came home to find my troubled brother driving aimlessly in the large dirt lot next to our home. After tearing off several circuits he would stop, glare at my mother, and resume. This continued for what seemed to be a decent fraction of infinity.  He was clearly a danger to himself and, potentially to others. My mother, who was frantic, frustrated, and infuriated, called the police department, and a single officer was dispatched to deal with the problem.

The policeman spoke with my mother and obtained the spare key to the compact car my brother was driving. He then waited patiently in his cruiser until he was able to pull up behind my brother and blockade his car. He then used the key to open the hatchback of the compact car, allowing him to climb inside, remove the keys from the ignition, and then persuade my brother to get out. He never pulled his gun.

That’s how emergencies of that kind were typically handled by police as recently as the 1980s — an era in which parents could assume that they weren’t issuing a contingent death warrant when calling the police to help them deal with a troubled, potentially self-destructive child. No sensible parent would make that assumption today.



4:58 pm on March 23, 2011