Killer Compassion

Killer Compassion

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

When New Mexico State Policeman Officer Justin Hare stopped to assist a motorist he was doing what public servants do, helping people when they can. After seeing the vehicle had a flat tire, Hare offered to give the motorist a ride. He was murdered for his efforts.

Another New Mexico officer, Jonah Hernandez of Las Cruces responded to a report of a homeless man trespassing. Typically these encounters on minor offenses are resolved with a warning and referral to a social service program. Hernandez, described by his Chief Jeremy Story as a “compassionate and dedicated officer who was out doing his job” was immediately, viciously attacked and stabbed to death by the suspect identified by Armando Silva, 29 with a history of violent crime and mental illness, who was killed by a brave witness to the attack.

In Pittsfield, MA, two off-duy officers stopped to check on the welfare of a man they say laying in the road. While attempting to provide first aid, he assaulted the officers and even attempted to disarm other officers who arrived to help.

In Jackson, MS, Cpl. Anthony Johnson, who leads the Jackson Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team, was at the hospital at about 8:30 a.m., where he was trying to help someone experiencing a mental episode. The suspect, 32-year-old Nicholas Glover, intentionally struck Johnson with the Glover vehicle, causing the officer severe injuries.

Darren Tyler Means, 21, lay unconscious in his car when Gastonia, NC Police Officer J. Hiott was on patrol and observed the man’s legs hanging out of a car. Stopping to assist and summoning EMS, the officer and the paramedic were assaulted by Means as he awoke, and punched a woman, unidentified in the report, in the stomach. Reports show that means also attempted to disarm the officer and flee from the scene.

In examples of an unfortunately common occurrence, an officer in Robbinsville, NJ was helping a stranded motorist when he was struck by a passing vehicle which fled the scene. A deputy in Webster Parish, LA was struck along with the stalled vehicle he had stopped to direct traffic around the disabled car. Both officers were expected to recover.

In Las Vegas, NV a man attempting to walk into traffic was approached by a Metro police officer pursuit to a call that the man was suicidal. The man ran from the officer until they became involved in a struggle, during which the officer’s gun discharged, injuring the officer.

In calls of suicidal persons or persons committing or threatening deadly violence due to a mental illness, police officers sometimes have no choice but to employ deadly force to ensure the safety of those at risk. In cases where a suicidal person decides to force his own death on responding officers, commonly referred to as suicide by cop, the emotional distress of the officers involved is particularly intense. Those injuries are invisible, but can be just as disabling and career-ending as injury to the body.

It is a reality of policework that what some call paranoia is an essential for law enforcement. It is situational awareness, anticipatory stress that readies a person for action. In some situations, officers may feel such a relief from the obviously dangerous calls and contacts, that being able to extend the kind of compassion which was a vital element of the desire of most police officers to enter the profession in the first place. Sometimes even the most prepared officer can be subject to a surprise attack. Sometimes the officer may let their guard down just enough to be taken advantage of by a person with a violent, selfish, sociopathic mindset. No happy day is without the cloud of suspicion in the life of a police officer, but the charge to serve and protect will never dim the desire to help another citizen. Even if it kills them.