Short Take: The Back Seat Death

There are things that should never happen, one of which is that a person ends up dead in the back seat of a police cruiser. Yet, 17-year-old Xavier McMullen is very much dead.

AKRON, Ohio — A 17-year-old boy in police custody died of a gunshot wound to the head while sitting in the back of an Akron police cruiser, a police spokesman and the Summit County Medical Examiner said.

The incident happened about 11 p.m. on 7th Street between Kenmore Boulevard and Maryland Avenue, Akron police Capt. Daniel Zampelli said. Xavier McMullen was later pronounced dead at the scene. An officer found a gun next to McMullen, Zampelli said.

McMullen was taken into custody along with two others for an armed robbery. Somehow, the police found their way to three young men.

An investigation led investigators to a 7th Street home. The homeowner allowed police inside where they found the three males and took them into custody, Zampelli said. Officers placed the suspects in separate cruisers.

While “investigating,” whatever that means, with McMullen in the back seat, a gunshot was heard* and there he was, a bullet in his head.

A preliminary investigation indicates that McMullen shot himself, but Zampelli said it’s unclear whether the shooting was intentional or an accident.

Putting aside the logistics of an accidental bullet to the head, or the likelihood of a 17-year-old committing suicide because of an armed-robbery bust, what was he doing in the backseat of a cruiser with a gun? Outside of such stunning incompetence as to have placed McMullen in the car with a weapon, which is nearly unfathomable as it would have put the officers in obvious threat of death should they have driven off with an armed perp in the back seat, is it possible?

Well, anything is possible, and never underestimate the ability of an officer to be so reckless in the performance of a search for weapons that a gun would slip through. While there’s no mention of the type of gun it was, most are pretty noticeable and easily found in a basic frisk.

But the obvious alternative is that no cop is that incompetent, that self-destructive, that he would let this happen. They may do shoddy work when it comes to solving crimes, but they’re quite meticulous when it comes to protecting themselves. The First Rule of Policing demands no less. Thus, the only remaining possibility is that a cop decided to put an end to McMullen’s life with a shot to the head, then make it look like he did it to himself.

Is this possible? Anything is possible.

But either way, this compels a choice be made between murder and outrageous recklessness. Some cop will be the one who placed McMullen in the back seat of that cruiser, and will have to explain how it’s possible that he failed to find and remove a gun before doing so. He will end up as the worst, most incompetent cop on the Akron police force.

Then again, it’s better than being the cop who murdered Xavier McMullen in the back seat of the cruiser. Because it’s not possible for a kid to end up dead from a bullet to the head otherwise. It just can’t happen. Yet, it happened.

*The reporting fails to provide much of the information one would expect, such as whether McMullen was handcuffed, whether the window to the cruiser was shattered such that the bullet came from outside the cruiser and why no officer remained outside to keep an eye on the the three in custody.

10 thoughts on “Short Take: The Back Seat Death

    1. B. McLeod

      Familiar indeed. I had to look at the date stamp on the Akron story to see if it was actually a new incident or the same one I had read about previously. I thought about Googling “suspect dies in back of squad car” to see how many different cases would come up (but I was too lazy).

  1. Jake

    “But either way, this compels a choice be made between murder and outrageous recklessness.”

    Either way, it’s likely to be little more than a paid vacation followed by temporary desk duty for the responsible party in this scenario. May as well just skip right to the gallows humor: There’s a Pulp Fiction joke in here somewhere.


  2. KP

    I thought suicide in Police custody usually involved two shots to the head.

    Maybe they’re economising ..

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