A reminder of the sacrifices of our lawmen

It happened Saturday morning, a little after Midnight.

A police officer, in this case a Terrebonne Parish deputy, used his service weapon to protect himself from imminent harm. The shooting was not fatal, and the suspect faces booking on multiple criminal charges once he is released from Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center.

The Sheriff’s Office released an account of the incident quickly, once relevant facts could be gathered. The name of the deputy has not yet been released but will be soon, as law enforcement’s protocols dictate. The officer was not injured.

The weapon the suspect allegedly used was a Dodge Neon automobile, weighing close to 3,000 pounds. According to accounts given officials by the deputy and witnesses, the suspect aimed the car at the deputy and accelerated rapidly. This, the department’s officials said, was why the deputy fired his weapon.

How accurate was the deputy’s perception that he was in imminent danger? Such things are difficult to measure. In addition to the internal investigation being done at present, such issues will doubtless be examined publicly in a court of law once the suspect is tried for the attempted murder of a police officer.

Like any person charged with a crime, the alleged assailant is entitled to due process and — should he avail himself of it — a trial by a jury of his peers.

This case differs from many high-profile officer involved shootings, in key ways. The incident is not cross-racial; both the officer and the suspect are Caucasian. Although the suspect did not — so far as we know — possess a firearm, the use of a car as a weapon, the running down of an officer as a means of escape, are well-documented. In this case as in others there will be occasion for those who might question the necessity of the shots to raise their objections. But one thing is certain. Neither pepper spray nor a Taser are effective against thousands of pounds of steel.

With no indications or allegations of a bad call by the officer emerging at this point, we are prompted to look at the bigger picture of police work.

We are not apologists for bad policing. But we are sensitive to the life-and-death challenge officers face every day, merely by donning a uniform.

Here in the Bayou Region we are blessed, so far. Michael, the angelic patron of police officers, has graciously spread his protective wings in these parts. Service-related loss of officers is extremely rare. But such losses occasionally occur.

We are reminded by this case of Lafourche Parish Deputy Martha Woods-Shareef. On Aug. 20, 2008, she was struck by a stolen pickup driven by a suspect she attempted to arrest. She suffered a broken neck, lacerated liver, collapsed left lung, heart damage and broken ribs, and the injuries proved fatal. Her killer pleaded out to a sentence of life in prison in order to circumvent the potential of a death penalty. This case is mentioned because we have local proof that cars can and do kill police officers. We have to wonder what might have happened had the Lafourche deputy had an opportunity to use deadly force.

Likewise, we must consider the potential of what may have happened had the Terrebonne deputy not used deadly force. Would he now be laying in a hospital room, with any number of potential injuries? Would he have ended up the subject of a memorial service and the pageantry of a police funeral? We shall never know the answer. But we do know that the outcome was a wounded suspect and a deputy who was able to go home.

Scrutiny of deadly force use is an important component in our free society. We have no doubt that scrutiny in this case will be exercised. With a suspect living to tell his tale, additional issues not taken into account at first may surface. That will occur in due time. Meanwhile, we are grateful that a threatened law enforcement officer was able to defend himself, and that the outcome as per the suspect was not fatal.

The encounter is a reminder to us of the danger officers continually face, and why they deserve our positive thoughts, good will and prayers.