Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tragic Loss

In El Paso, we've been following closely the evolution of events near Tacoma, Washington these past couple of days. First, the unthinkable - four police officers slain in a coffee shop while filling out paperwork. Simple paperwork. Then, the inevitable - figuring out who did it, and learning of his criminal history. And wondering why such thugs are out on the street.

I'm usually the one who says, hey wait, most crimes put people back out on the street after a conviction and jail term at some point. So this guy got out a year sooner - or three years sooner - he still was headed back out on to the street. We have to figure out how to matriculate people back in society...

But in this case, there is a reality to Monday morning quarterbacking. This guy (now dead himself, as I read in the headlines) was serving a life sentence in Arkansas. He had gotten the sentence at an early age - 17, I think - and so the state governor 10 years later (that left-winger Mike Huckabee) decided to commute his sentence with the idea that he had rehabilitated. That belief was wrong - the guy was back in jail a year later for violating parole...

And so now, years later, we've lost four police officers. And the guy himself is dead. It all seems such a waste. And it results - it has to result - in our police officers wondering if they are in the right profession.

I've said before how much I admire the job that law enforcement officers do. They deal with the most potentially violent of situations, and keep their cool in the midst of the storm. We are so, so lucky that people choose to protect us like that. And where are we, if we fail to protect them?

I'm a lawyer in this justice system. I represent criminal defendants. I believe in rehabilitation. I believe in second chances. But in this case in particular - if he really needed his sentence commuted - why wasn't there a safety net? A rescinding of the sentence, but only on the condition that he stay out of trouble? He didn't go from model inmate to cop killer overnight. It took a few years to slide to that low. We haven't done this man himself any favors, by letting him out under these circumstances. He's dead too, now. Weren't there options?

It hits close to home for me, not just because Tacoma is in Washington but because one of the officers - the one female killed - has a sister living in Spokane who is beside herself with grief. There were nine children between the four officers killed. Nine children have lost parents. Such a waste. Such a loss - for them, for all of us.

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