The Death of Andrea Rebello: Excuses 2.0

When news first broke of the killing of Hofstra student Andrea Rebello, the first reports had two distinct features: the reports were fundamentally wrong and they began with a lie, that she was shot by the masked gunman, Dalton Smith. A  bad smell permeated the news.

When the truth came out, that Rebello was shot in the head by a Nassau County police officer, the explanation was that the first two officers on the scene decided to enter the home, where the gunman, with Rebello in a headlock, pointed his gun at an officer. The unnamed officer fired eight shots, one of which struck Rebello in the head.

The next line of questions related to why a patrol officer would enter a house with a gunman and hostages.  The proper course of action would have been to secure the scene and await supervisors and hostage negotiators. The one thing you don’t do is play cowboy, enter the home and create an untenable situation. There was little chance it would end well.

Enter Excuses 2.0, via the New York Times :

Officers who arrived first on the scene believed that they were confronting an armed robber but knew nothing about the hostages, the police said. That gap in knowledge was critical, experts said, possibly leading to missteps that inflamed an already dangerous situation and ultimately led to tragedy.

Most critical, experts said, was the decision by the officer who ultimately opened fire to enter the home in the first place.

This raises three possible faults. Did the young woman who called in the 911 neglect to mention there were people in the house? Did the 911 dispatcher neglect to mention there were people in the house? Did the officers who entered the house either fail to pay attention to the radio run or decide on their own to enter the house anyway.
Only minutes elapsed from the time the police were summoned to the home on California Avenue about 2:30 a.m. Friday until the shots were fired. Hostage negotiators were summoned, but they did not reach the scene in time, said Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lack, of the Nassau County Police.

“The first time they knew there were hostages was when the officers were already in the house,” Inspector Lack said, citing details from a preliminary investigation.

Once inside the house, the officers had few options.

The officers did not have “few” options. They had none. Someone was going to be shot and the only question was who. But when crafting explanations for why it wasn’t the cops’ fault, or at least creating sufficient doubt that people will have moved on to the next tragedy before the answers become apparent, relying on something like the radio run, reflecting the pivot point of communications between 911 caller and police on the scene is a risky proposition.

Whether the Nassau County Police released the dispatcher’s call to the media or it was picked up on a police scanner isn’t clear, but in this early report, before anyone knew that Rebello died from an officer’s bullet, enough of the radio run is included to provide an answer.  (Note that I would include the video in the post for your convenience, except WPIX begins with an offensive autorun 30 second commercial. The portion of the report containing the radio run starts at 1:44.)

There are also news reports where the police note that there were hostages and calling for supervisors moments before the “shots fired” call came over the police radio.

They knew. They entered the house anyway. By doing so, they created the “worst case scenario.”

A former firearms trainer for the New York Police Department, who asked for anonymity because he maintained close ties with active-duty officers, said a situation like this one — an armed gunman pointing a weapon in proximity to a victim — was “the worst-case nightmare for cops.”

He said such situations required a balance between protecting the victim and the officers themselves.

“I would hate to be in that situation myself,” the former trainer said, “but the bottom line is if a police officer believes that his death or the death of a civilian is imminent, he is absolutely justified in utilizing deadly force.”

Where exactly the balance between protecting the victim and the officers protecting themselves came into play here remains unclear. The answer seems to be in not creating the nightmare scenario rather than having to pick who dies today.

Make no mistake, the gunman, Dalton Smith, bears primary responsibility for the course he set in motion when he decided to rob the home at gunpoint. But it’s the job of the police to come into a criminal situation and make things better, not worse.  And having taken a bad situation and turned it into the “worst-case nightmare,” the lies and excuses to deflect the mistake, the failure to take actions that would have given Andrea Rebello a chance at survival, can’t be ignored.

The officer who fired the shot that killed Andrea Rebello hasn’t been named. Indeed, it’s likely that he will be  scarred by what he did to this young woman for the rest of his life. His career with the police may be over, not because he will be fired for having acted improvidently, but because he can’t shake off the guilt of being directly responsible for the death.  The police will likely speak to the heartbreak of the police officer, the psychological trauma he will suffer for the rest of his life, to remind us that he too is a sympathetic player in this tragedy.

While this may be true, the suffering of the officer who killed Andrea Rebello won’t be nearly as deserving of sympathy as the suffering of her twin sister or her parents. The difference is that the officer had a choice of whether to enter the house. He gave Andrea Rebello no choice.  And the excuses to deflect blame from the police just make the suffering of the Rebello family worse.  It’s bad enough a cop killed Andrea Rebello. Don’t make it worse by making up excuses.

11 comments on “The Death of Andrea Rebello: Excuses 2.0

  1. C. N. Nevets

    This is the sort of scenario I envision every time I see our local, untested small town police force responding to a scene with the assault rifles they got from Homeland Security grants.

  2. Ed

    Police homicide squad officer is reported to have said that when the two officers arrived on the scene they found Andrea’s twin sister Jessica running out of the front door.

    (The USA Today report linked in the update to your previous post has details.)

    “Smith, apparently unsatisfied with the valuables upstairs, asked if any of the four had a bank account and could withdraw money, Azzata said. The intruder then allowed the unidentified woman to leave and collect money from a cash machine, telling her she had only eight minutes to come back with cash before he killed one of her friends, Azzata said.

    The woman left for the bank and called police, according to Azzata.

    Minutes later, two police officers arrived at the home and found Rebello’s twin sister Jessica running out of the front door and the male guest hiding behind a couch on the first floor, Azzata said.”

    Did the “veteran” police officer who shot Andrea not ask the fleeing Jessica if anyone was still in the house BEFORE he entered? Does anyone think Jessica didn’t tell those officers that her twin sister was in the house with the gunman?

  3. SHG

    I wonder when the last time your small town police officers tested at the range. Or oiled their guns. So give them assault rifles (and that’s just the start of the really cool equipment available) to play with and see what happens. If only the police were as concerned about the reality of their ability to address such situations as we are.

  4. SHG

    They never should have gone anywhere near the house, the door. They knew (or should have known) before they got there what not to do.

  5. Paul L.

    As someone who criticized the Police for setting up a parameter and just waiting for the killers to finish in the Petit family killings, I give the Police some credit for a least charging in.

  6. SHG

    Police set up perimeters, not parameters. You make the fundamental mistake of Monday morning quarterbacks: the use of best practices and sound tactics doesn’t guarantee success, but increases the likelihood of success. It’s foolish and unhelpful to criticize based on outcome, as no tactic is foolproof.  Consistency merely compounds the error.

  7. Frank

    Incidents like these do nothing but reinforce the “there is no incident that can’t be made worse by involving law enforcement” meme. Also the “don’t bring the man into your life” meme.

  8. Frank

    The adrenaline rush tends to result in tunnel vision. An explanation, not an excuse.

    It happens in EMS as well, resulting in the third rule of EMS: At the scene of a cardiac arrest, the first pulse you take is your own.

  9. SHG

    Yes. That’s why people are specially trained to address these situations, and why we allow them to carry guns.

  10. Jennifer C

    That’s not really a meme any more, it’s a sad fact of life, especially if your family owns a dog. Too many people have not yet gotten word that law enforcement has changed their motto from “protect and serve” to “go home alive.”

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