Roach: To serve and shoot

A legal shot isn't necessarily a good shot
Roach: To serve and shoot

With powerful words and emotion, Dane County District attorney and native son Ismael Ozanne announced on May 12 his decision not to prosecute Madison police officer Matt Kenny in the March shooting death of young Tony Robinson. Ozanne’s decision was rife with the important, controversial issues of race, justice and the role of police in our community.

There will be continuing national attention on Madison, given the recent death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the ensuing riots and the criminal charges brought against the six police officers involved in Gray’s death.

Robinson’s death is tough to absorb because it comes in the wake of several other Madison deaths at the hands of police in recent years. Amazingly, Robinson was the second city resident killed by Kenny. In 2007, the first was forty-eight-year-old Ronald Brandon, who was brandishing what appeared to be a handgun when Kenny responded to the scene. Kenny was awarded a commendation of valor for shooting and killing Brandon, who investigators later discovered was holding a pellet gun.

An unarmed Paulie Heenan was shot several times and killed outside his near-east-side home on November 9, 2012, by Madison police officer Stephen Heimsness.

Ashley DiPiazza, twenty-six, was shot and killed by Madison police officers in May 2014. She too was holding a handgun; this one proved to be real. In that same month, Madison police shot and killed Londrell Johnson after he stabbed two people to death in an East Washington Avenue apartment.

In May 2013, Madison police also shot and killed a sword-wielding Brent E. Brozek. Police attempted to talk with Brozek for several hours. They then employed beanbag bullets before shooting Brozek to death as he rushed them with the sword.

All told, Madison Police have shot and killed nine Madison residents in the last decade.

It’s tough to be a police officer, so let’s be fair and consider officer safety. Four officers have been shot and killed while in service to our city. They are patrolmen Grant Dosch, Herbert Dreger, Palmer Thompson and Edward Francis Riphon.

Dosch was found shot outside 754 W. Washington Ave., and died around 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Hospital. On December 1, the body of Dreger, the youngest officer on the Madison police force, was discovered on Desmond Court. Thompson was shot and killed on January 4 by restaurant owner Rudolph Jessner. And, finally, Riphon was abducted and killed by two men driving a stolen car.

The years of death for the four Madison police officers shot and killed in the line of duty are as follows: Dosch was killed in 1918. Dreger in 1924. Thompson was killed in 1926. And Riphon, the last Madison police officer to be shot to death in the line of duty, was killed in 1932.

Lest snark be suspected, it should be noted that in 1997 Madison police officer Andy Garcia was shot and wounded in the line of duty by a suspect in a domestic call that turned in a flash into a violent exchange. Officer Garcia was forced to retire due to the injuries he suffered that awful day. Andy and his wife, Jean Besadny Garcia, are friends of the Roach clan. What happened to Andy was both physically and emotionally dreadful.

Yet all things considered, Madison police have done a remarkable job protecting themselves for the last eighty-three years. But given the death of several citizens at the hands of police in the last decade, it is absolutely fair to ask if the lethal force policy for Madison police should be reconsidered.

Surprisingly, police chief Mike Koval labeled such discussions “non-negotiable.”
This is unfortunate. And it’s how we get rulings that sound like this: “A police panel has found in favor of a police officer who followed police procedure in a police shooting, said a police spokesman.”

First, it is not Koval’s job to determine what is non-negotiable. The police serve and protect us. We pay to hire, train and equip our police officers. A chief who rejects outright citizen input has either lost his perspective, is pandering to his officers during a difficult time or is stumbling through a terrible miscommunication.

Since the events of 9/11 and the Homeland Security Act, today’s police are more armed and ready than ever before. They are bristling with weapons and technology. They are labeled heroes at every turn, sometimes for simply doing their job.

But they can’t let their gear and glory cause them to lose touch with the people they serve. Just as we hope our officers come home at the end of watch, we also hope that we and our fellow citizens, though sometimes sad, depressed, insane, stupid, drunk, high or suicidal, come home as well.

When we ask Madison police to serve and protect, they have to know that sometimes we are asking them, desperately, to protect us from ourselves.

And we ask that they consider that a legal shot isn’t necessarily a good shot. For anyone.