A Cop's Worst Nightmare

How different all our lives might have been had I or my colleagues made a different decision and opened fire on the man.  And how different they might have been if the gun had turned out to be real, and if instead of horsing around with a friend, the man really was intent on robbing or killing him.  We held our fire, and it turned out to be the right decision.

But it isn’t always.  On January 12, 1998, Kyle Dinkheller was working as a deputy sheriff in Laurens County, Ga.  Working alone on a rural road, he pulled over a driver for speeding.  What followed was captured on the dash-cam in Dinkheller’s patrol car, and the video is as chilling as any I have seen, not only because it captures the murder of a police officer, but because of the number of warnings Dinkheller gave to the man who would kill him.  Why on earth didn’t he shoot the man until it was too late is a mystery Deputy Dinkheller took to his grave.  He was just 22 when he was murdered.  He and his wife had a 22-month-old daughter at the time; a son would be born months later.

I’ve always instructed police officers under my supervision that it’s foolish to assume everyone you meet on the street is out to hurt you, but it’s equally foolish to forget that some small number of them will try if you give them the chance.  The deputy in Sonoma County was suddenly presented with what he perceived – erroneously but quite reasonably in my opinion – as a deadly threat, and he responded to it as he had been trained to do.  Look at the pictures of the rifle in the news reports and ask yourself if you can tell it’s a pellet gun.

Prosecutors have an expression for incidents like this one: “awful but lawful.”  The shooting will be investigated by local authorities, and the FBI will conduct an independent investigation, but unless some new evidence is produced, there is no reason to believe the deputy was anything but justified in opening fire.  Sometimes life is just awful, and sometimes it’s awful but lawful.