Des Moines Public Safety Officer 911

Riots

By Dave Brown, DMPD Retired

Riots

Des Moines Riots 2020

 

The events that have taken place the past few nights in cities all across our nation only emphasize the mentality and rationale of “today’s generation.”  They are screaming “WE WANT JUSTICE AND WE WANT IT NOW!”  Just like they want a new I-phone or a brand new car, they want everything, right now.  They have no concept of how life really works.  

Can someone enlighten me? I’ll be the first one to admit I can be a little dense. How does burning down a Target store, bank and worse yet businesses that have just reopened after being closed due to the Pandemic and whose employees have suffered unparalled economic hardship. How does destroying those businesses and putting people out of work again justify what they want RIGHT NOW!?

I can’t come up with an appropriate word even by my standards to describe how horrible what happened in Minneapolis was.  But the police department and the county or district attorney for the jurisdiction of that city took swift action,  charged (and I want to emphasize, charged appropriately) and arrested the officer responsible for what happened to George Floyd. 

What these protesters apparently failed to learn in school is that there is something in our judicial system called, “DUE PROCESS.”  There is an entitlement process for a person accused of a crime.  They are entitled to post bail if a bail is amount set by the court.  They are entitled to competent legal representation in court.  And, they are entitled to having a fair and impartial trial.  And, there are a few other things which must be followed to insure due process is adhered to.

But no, the protesters/rioters want this officer involved in this matter arrested and thrown right into prison without a trial.  Sorry snowflakes, but it does not work that way.

Some people think that officer should be charged with First Degree Murder.  If he was charged with that I would be willing to bet that he would walk out of the court room a free man.  There are elements to every crime from illegal parking to the most heinous of crimes First Degree Murder.  Some of the elements required are; premeditation, malice of forethought, lying in wait and other things that go on to prove that this act was not a careless accident. 

What this officer did was reckless, careless and totally over the top.  But no one will ever be able to prove that he woke the day of this incident and decided that this was the day he was going to kill George Floyd.  Some things happened during the course of that day that put him and George Floyd at the same place at the same time where the outcome was by anyone’s standard horrendous.

Fortunately for all of us, criminal charges and criminal trials are not based on emotions.   They are based on and supported by facts and evidence.  Were that not the case a lot of us who shouldn’t be locked up would be.  And worse, a lot of those who should be would not be.

We hear this all the time; a person was killed today when the car they were driving was struck by another car that ran a red-light.  Quite often the family members of victims scream out in pain and want the other driver charged with first degree murder.  Let’s just back this example up a bit further and make this hypothetical situation relative.  Suppose the driver of the car that caused the accident was your mother.  She was driving to work, doing the speed limit or even below.  Always being the cautious driver, when her mind goes back home for a split second as she tries to remember if she turned off the coffee pot.  A split second away from her responsibility to operate her car in a safe manner was all it took and before she ran a red light, struck another car and killing the driver of it.  Now if the police and prosecuting attorneys would submit to the victim’s family’s demands to charge her with first degree murder, you’d be sitting down with mom at her dinner table having Thanksgiving dinner with her later this year.  Because she would walk (go free) on the charge of first degree murder because a case for that by law could not be proven. 

So we have lesser crime titles to choose from; manslaughter, lesser degrees of murder –by the way.  Homicide is simply the killing of one human being by another human being, and the manner in which that death occurs determines the appropriate charge.  There is vehicular homicide.  That is usually used when someone is driving in a totally inappropriate manner, speeding excessively reckless driving or even driving while impaired.

 I am just saying that there are elements of a crime that must be supported and proven in order to find someone culpable of a crime.

Here is a non-hypothetical situation that a lot of my friends and I had to come to grips with, and it goes all the way back to 1977.  Sometime during early part of that year a young police officer by the name of Brian Melton was dispatched to a neighborhood on the eastside of the city in reference to a call of a suspicious person acting very strangely.  He arrived at the scene and encountered a man –whose name I will not use to either vilify or give publicity to, who had been either sniffing paint or glue.  This person was well under the influence of whatever he had subjected to his system, and Officer Melton arrested and handcuffed him.  Then he called for transportation to take him to jail.  Everything was copasetic at that point in time.  The transport crew arrived and the transfer of the arrestee from Melton’s squad car to the transport vehicle began.  Part of that process involved removing officer Melton’s handcuffs from the prisoner so they could be returned to him and placing another set of cuffs on the arrestee.  During that transfer something went wrong.  The suspect went ballistic and a struggle began.  I believe one of his hands was free during this and somehow or another he managed to grab and remove an officers handgun from its holster.  The gun discharged and the bullet struck officer Melton in the chest killing him.

The subject was charged with FIRST DEGREE MURDER.  We gave officer Melton a great funeral; all the honors, 21 gun salute and all.  The suspect was in jail, and we along with officer Melton’s family were looking forward to seeing justice served by having his killer locked away for the rest of his natural life.  Time passed, the proverbial dust settled and one day as the trial neared some of the higher ups from the County Attorney’s office came over to the police station and had a little pow-wow with the higher ups of the Police Department.  The crux of that discussion was that thinking with a clearer head; it was felt that the charge of first degree murder probably would not stand.  They felt that if they amended the charge to second degree murder they could probably get officer Melton’s killer 25 years in prison.  In the opinion of many that was a slap on the wrist for him, and a slap in the face to us and officer Melton’s family.

Now, this is just conjecture on my part.  But I imagine this idea was presented also to officer Melton’s family.  And I can’t imagine how hurt and insulted they were by the mere idea.  And either the combined thoughts of the Melton family coupled with the feelings of our administration were sent back to the county attorney with the basic idea of thanks but no thanks.  First Degree Murder was what was felt to be the appropriate charge.

A change of venue was requested by the defense in this case and was granted.  The case was moved to the far eastern part of the state, and the First Degree Murder case went forward.  There was no second or third choice that the defendant might be found guilty of.  And, guess what, the jury came back and found the suspect not guilty.  The elements that make up first degree murder were not there.  And the man who killed a young police officer, who had a young family, who was looking forward to great career in law enforcement, was admired by so many of his peers, walked out of the court room a free man.

That was a tough day and a tough pill to swallow.  But you know what? We went on with our lives.  We did not run out in the streets and start hurting people and burning down buildings.  We accepted –maybe begrudgingly but nonetheless accepted, the decision of the jury.  And as much as we did not like it, accepted and understood that that is how the law works.

Our legal system may not be perfect.  And it might work a little slow.  But the vast majority of the time it gets it right.  So if you think you know some place that has a better system, then perhaps you should set out to go there and DO IT, WITH MY BLESSING. 

David F. Brown  

Retired Sergeant (D.M.P.D.)

    

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