Why Cops Have to Be Suspicious

This is the city, Wichita, Kansas.  Monday,  September 28,  it was warm in Wichita.

Deputy Sheriff Brian S. Etheridge was on patrol.  At 11:42 A.M. he received a call to take a theft report in the 3600 block of South Rock Road.

11:51 A.M. he arrived at the residence.  When no one came to the door, he  notified dispatch he was going to check the rear of the residence.

12:01 P.M. Deputy Etheridge notified dispatch he had been shot.

Richard Lyons, a man with a long criminal history,  was waiting  in ambush with a deer rifle.  Lyons  fired hitting Etheridge in the back with the bullet penetrating the deputy’s body armor.  He then went over to the wounded officer and when his rifle failed to fire took the deputy’s hand gun and shot him in the leg.

Later in the day officers spotted Lyons in a nearby field.  Lyons opened fire on officers and was subsequently killed in the exchange of gunfire.

Officers later learned that Lyons might have told friends he wanted to kill an officer and that he may have been suicidal.   Officers will never know for sure, but  it seems likely that Lyons initiated the violence  to provoke officers into killing him in what has come to be known as “suicide by cop”.

A study published in February indicates 36% of shootings by police may involved suicide by cop.   This is up from a  1997 study which suggested 11% of  officer involved shootings were suicide by cop incidents.

Sometime police can identify situations in which a person may want to be killed.  At other times, officers may not have time to evaluate the situation. They may have to act immediately to avoid being killed or to prevent someone else from being killed.

Last summer Harvard Professor Henry Gates complained after he was arrested  for being  out of control.

He failed to  understand that the officers had no idea who he was or what his state of mind might be.  They didn’t know whether he could become violent or not.  All they knew was that someone had seen him and another man force the door open.

When Gates came to the door yelling about an officer coming after him because he was black he likely created a suspicion in Sgt. James Crowley’s mind  that Gates  might be guilty of something or had a grudge against the police which might lead to violence.   I don’t know if Crowley considered the possibility or not, but  men of Gates’ age sometimes consider suicide if diagnosed with an incurable  debilitating disease like ALS or Alzheimers’.

Prof. Gates may have been tired and irritable because of his long trip from China.  However, Sgt.  Crowley didn’t know that and  could not be sure Gates was  not  being influenced by drugs, alcohol or a mental problem, which could include high blood pressure or a tumor.

Gates complained about Crowley following him into the kitchen, but Crowley had to do so because he could not be sure that Gates would not come out with a weapon.   By staying with Gates, Crowley reduced the possibility of ending up with a standoff with Gates barricaded inside the house.

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