Shooting The Messenger

There was, at minimum, fairly good reason to be concerned that Tom Kendall posed a threat to Vancouver, Washington police.  After all, Kendall had just fired his rifle at another car during a dispute, hitting a woman in the face. Bad stuff.

The confusing series of events first began at about 8:30 a.m., when 58-year-old Kendall, behind the wheel of a silver Buick, pulled his car up to the intersection of Northeast 63rd Street and Andresen Road in Vancouver alongside his neighbors, Erich and Abigail Mounce. Kendall and the Mounces were due in court at 9 a.m. in an ongoing dispute. From his car, Kendall pulled out a high-powered rifle, fired it at the couple’s vehicle and fled the scene.

Abigail Mounce was shot in the face, and her husband, who was driving, sped away to the hospital. Abigail Mounce survived the shooting.

Clearly, Kendall was a guy to approach with extreme caution.  Which offers no explanation for the shooting of 55-year-old Brent Graham, who was kind enough to call in a report of an abandoned car.

Vancouver police Officer Jay Frances, Cpl. Chris Le Blanc and Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Spainhower all believed they were shooting at John Kendall, a man who had prompted a countywide manhunt when he shot his neighbor at a Walnut Grove intersection earlier in the day on Oct. 31, according to the case review.

However, instead of Kendall, one of the officers’ bullets struck the leg of Brent Graham, a 55-year-old Vancouver man who had called 911 on his way to work to report an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road.

Graham remained with the car, as he wasn’t told to do otherwise, for police to arrive.  The officers dispatched weren’t told that some good Samaritan had called in the report. What ensued was hardly hilarity.

Spainhower, Le Blanc and Frances, all part of the regional SWAT team, were sent to Blandford Drive and positioned themselves on the Evergreen Boulevard overpass, about 334 feet from the turnout.

Shortly after arriving, the three officers saw a man exit the only vehicle they could see from their vantage point with what was likely a pistol in his hand, according to the prosecuting attorney’s case review.

Each officer said they felt exposed on the bridge and were fearful that if the subject made it to the woods, he would hurt or kill them or fellow officers, according to the document.

Brave officers that they were, a mere 334 feet away, on an overpass, their presence unannounced, they were scared to death.

“The involved officers in this case were required to make split second decisions based on the information they had and their perceptions of evidence they observed when they fired,” [Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony] Golik wrote.

Why they were required to make any decision, no less a split second one, remains a mystery, but apparently it sounded really cop-ish to Golik.

The officers, who fired eight shots total, “believed that if they did not fire, the suspect would be an imminent danger to others,” according to the case review.

The person at whom they fired, Brent Graham, was nothing more than a fine, law-abiding citizen, doing what nice, law-abiding citizens do by assisting his local police by saying something after he saw something.  Aside from breathing, it’s impossible to conceive of what this good guy might have done to give rise to these SWAT cops’ “reasonable” belief that he was an imminent danger to others?  Perhaps calling 911, without more, suffices?

Despite the misidentification, Golik wrote, the officers “acted on a good faith belief, on reasonable grounds and their actions were without malice.”

Golik continued: “I find the involved officers reasonably believed they were shooting at John Kendall when they fired their weapons in this incident.”

Or, in a world where the most minimum reason prevails, they had no basis whatsoever to believe that Brent Graham was Tom Kendall, that there was any rush to shoot anyone, that there was any threat to anyone, themselves included, and that there was any justification for firing eight shots, one of which actually struck its target, Brent Graham.

But “without malice”?  Note how Golik slipped that in to his otherwise inane and groundless findings, as if the police are lawfully entitled to shoot people (and if entitled to shoot, they are similarly entitled to kill) as long as it’s “without malice.”  Malice plays no role in a determination of the outrageous impropriety of this shooting.  What possible difference does it make, “sorry we killed your father by mistake, but at least you should know we didn’t hate him when we did it.”

The scope and breadth of incompetence in this shooting is breathtaking. They had no clue who they were aiming at, primarily because of poor internal communications, but didn’t care. The First Rule kicked in, despite the cops being in a safe, non-threatened position, and they saw no reason not to fire first and figure out who they were firing at later.  The notion that innocent bystander, Brent Graham, did anything threatening to explain the need to shoot is ludicrous.

The confluence of cowardice, ignorance and incompetence that resulted in Graham getting a bullet in his leg is quite extraordinary.  Golik must have earned his pay coming up with excuses to find this conduct “reasonable,” as the lack of malice is about the only good thing to be said about this shooting.  Well, one other good thing can be said: at least the cops were lousy shots and Graham is still alive.

20 thoughts on “Shooting The Messenger

  1. Alice Harris

    I’ve long since advised people not to call the police unless they want to risk being arrested. Now I’ll have to modify that to “arrested or shot.”

  2. Dave

    It is funny how the prosecutor in this situation acts exactly like he was the cops’ personal defense attorney. Wouldn’t it be interesting if he had to officially act as such while the family got to hire their own private criminal prosecutor to handle the case (just for where the perp is a police officer or other law enforcement type… To avoid the conflict of interest). Of course, that is just a fancy thought experiment. For my next one, I will imagine what I will do if I win 40 million in the lottery.

  3. Henry Berry

    Sounds like the cops became possessed of “American Sniper” syndrome. As I’ve often remarked, there’s been no evidence that violent video games, movies, and other media have any measurable effect on teenagers and young adults; but there is abundant evidence that they have a undeniable, socially-dangerous effect on so-called law-enforcement officials.

  4. ExCop-LawStudent

    You know, I realize that Washington state is actually further west than Texas, but I would argue that Texas has a more “Western” heritage.

    We gave up on the “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters quite a while ago.

    I think you miss one of the points here Scott. Even if “they had no basis whatsoever to believe that Brent Graham was Tom Kendall”, it wouldn’t have mattered if they did have reason to believe it was Kendall–you still don’t get to shoot him down like a dog in the street.

  5. Neil

    ‘Malice’ is the word that I see in the Washington State law ( RCW 9A.16.040 (3) )

    (3) A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.

    It appears to me that Anthony F. Golik is just quoting the legislature when he repeats the above sentence in his report. [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    Did Brent Graham save his life when he fired a warning shot in reply? It seems that Officer Frances was the first of the officers to realize things were not as they appeared when he put the warning shot together with the dispatch call about Graham’s wounded leg.

    1. SHG Post author

      It appears you’re right about Golik’s repeating the language of Section 3, though it’s qualified by Section 4:

      (4) This section shall not be construed as:

      (a) Affecting the permissible use of force by a person acting under the authority of RCW 9A.16.020 or 9A.16.050;

      This seems to conform the language to normal levels, rather than the requirement of malice before a cop can be held culpable for shooting people at relative random.

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        Without malice? So if they aren’t being mean they can shoot whoever they want?

        What. The actual. Fuck.

  6. REvers

    The guy was within the 335-foot rule. They could get an ouchie in less than a minute! What else would you have them do?

  7. Stryker

    The “without malice” insertion immediately caught my eye as well since it is legally irrelevant. It’s inclusion makes me think this DA was writing a press release rather than a legal analysis.

    1. SHG Post author

      Now that I see where it comes from, it’s not as shocking that he said it as it is that the legislation includes the language.

  8. Pingback: Say Something, Get Shot | RHDefense: The Law Office of Rick Horowitz

  9. lawrence kaplan

    Note the disgraceful attempted smear of the victim as per usual, releasing the fact the investigative report reveals that Graham had a 0. 79% blood alcohol level. First, it is still within the allowable limit. But, more important , what gives the police the right to test his his alcohol level and what gives them the right to release it? This is a gross violation of his bodily integrity and of his right to privacy.

    1. SHG Post author

      But you’ve got to love how the innocent good sam gets smeared anyway. These guys have the playbook down pat.

  10. Bill Poser

    So, if I understand correctly, so long as the police have a “good faith belief” that they are acting correctly, there is no such thing fo rthem as reckless endangerment or manslaughter? Amazing.

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