News reports of incidents between the police and, well, everybody else, are the fodder of commentary, meaning that we’re constrained to rely on what we read when blawgers blawg. You know that, of course, as do I when I hope that whatever I’m writing about has been reported with at least a modicum of accuracy.
I will often decide not to write about something because the reporting strikes me as wrong or dubious, and rather than run with it, I prefer to let things flesh out a bit until I know whether there’s really something of interest there. It turns out that stories that smell at the outset often aren’t stories at all, just squiggly black marks use to fill newspaper space until something real comes along.
Every once in a while, however, a reports comes along that is either outrageous or absolutely insignificant, according to the report, and there are two conflicting reports that can’t even begin to be reconciled. The story of Joey Tucker in Salt Lake City is such a story. From the Courthouse News:
Police officers responded to a family’s complaint that their diabetic son may have been in danger from driving without taking his medicine by running him off the road into an interstate highway median and shooting him to death, the family says.
Joey Tucker’s father, Perry Tucker, and his fiancée Brieanne Matson say they were “concerned about his health” when they called Salt Lake City Police. Joey Tucker had not taken his diabetes medication and “had possibly taken a sleeping pill,” according to the federal complaint.
The family claims a Highway Patrol trooper rammed Tucker’s pickup into a concrete barrier as Tucker drove on Interstate 80, then Salt Lake Police Officer Louis “Law” Jones shot him to death while he “was simply sitting,” all of which was recorded on officers’ dashboard cameras.
If true, this is absolutely horrible, an outrage. A family seeking the aid of police to help protect their diabetic loved one, only to have him executed at the hand of “Law” Jones. But the Salt Lake Tribune tells a different story:
Salt Lake City police Officer Louis “Law” Abner Jones shot Tucker on the highway after Tucker led authorities on a low-speed chase, rammed a police vehicle and threatened another swipe at officers with his car, according to police reports and a review by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. The office ruled the shooting justified.
Tucker was suspected in two hit-and-run crashes the day he was shot, the reports state. Jones spotted him near 2600 West and 1500 South in Salt Lake City and pursued him onto State Road 202, before following Tucker onto I-80, where the Utah Highway Patrol took up the chase, the reports state.
UHP unsuccessfully tried to stop the vehicle. Both police agencies then followed Tucker west on I-80. UHP Trooper Lawrence Hopper used a PIT maneuver to bring Tucker’s Chevrolet pickup to a stop, the reports state, though the vehicle swerved across the highway.
Tucker then rammed the truck into the trooper’s car, reversed and turned the wheels toward the officer, the report states. Jones then shot three times into the truck, hitting Tucker in the neck and torso. Tucker died at the scene.
The District Attorney’s Office ruled Jones was justified because his actions were “necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.”
At almost every turn, and with some allegations thrown in such as “two hit-and-run crashes,” the story is very different. While much about the “official” story emits the typical odor of the police spinning their story to simultaneously justify, and absolve themselves of, the killing of Joey Tucker, it remains a bit difficult to understand why a police officer, having already immobilized his vehicle, would then execute a person who was doing nothing. Yes, it could happen. No, it doesn’t happen often.
There is supposedly a police dashcam video which, according to the complaint filed by Joey Tucker’s family, supports their cause.
“The dash cam videos reveal that Joey did not take any action, make any threats, or do anything to cause any immediate or [im]minent threat of harm to any of the officers. Joey was simply sitting in his vehicle.”
If true, this should prove damning to the police version of events. But no video has been released, and it seems quite inexplicable why the police, knowing that there is a video, would allege as they do, and determine that it was a righteous shoot, if their own video proves the opposite. Given that the family hasn’t disclosed the video, preferring instead to say what it shows rather than let the video speak for itself, the natural assumption is that it’s not nearly as helpful as suggested.
This means that the problem going forward is that this becomes a he said/she said case. There will be a bevy of police officers swearing in unison that they were only trying to help, and then prevent themselves from being killed by this guy who was about to run them down. It’s not that they wanted to shoot, but a question of who makes it home for dinner that night.
Like it or not, and many of us don’t, the argument that a cop acted to protect his own life or the life of another police officer from harm is a winner. Even the most cynical among us will cut a cop a break if we believe that he believed harm was imminent. This means that sometimes they get away with murder.
The takeaway here isn’t a new story, but one that bears remembering. All interactions with police have the potential to go bad. It may say “to protect and serve” on the side of their patrol car, but that’s just marketing. To make it home for dinner is the prime directive. It’s awfully easy to call 911 when you need a friendly, helping hand in an unfortunate situation, one where a loved one could potentially do harm to himself unwittingly. And yet, the potential remains.
It’s unclear what happened to Joey Tucker. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever know what really happened on the road, whether he rammed the cops or they rammed him. Whether he was just sitting there in a diabetic stupor or was about to run down a police officer who was there to help him and preferred not to die in the process. The only thing that is clear is that Joey Tucker didn’t make it home for dinner.