Thoughts on the James Barker Shooting
By Ken K. Gourdin
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office found the shooting of James Barker, who used a shovel to attack the officer who shot him, was justified. See the following address, last accessed February 25, 2015:
The Deseret News also posted a story about a rally in support of Barker. The story can be found here (last accessed February 7, 2015):
In response, first, I expressed condolences to Heidi Keilbaugh, James Barker’s girlfriend, who is quoted in the story, on her loss:
Ms. Keilbaugh, I’m sorry for your loss. I wish no one ever had to lose his life at the hands of law enforcement, and most all of the law enforcement officers I know (including my father, who spent 43 years on the job) feel the same way. I might even be prone to criticize law enforcement if I were in your shoes. As much as I sympathize with you, however, I do have serious questions about your criticism of this officer.
In the article, Ms. Keilbaugh characterized her deceased boyfriend by saying, “He had the hands of a surgeon. He was a guitarist. He touched gently.” In response, I asked, “Until he decided to attack the officer with the shovel he was holding?” I continued:
I’ll grant, for the sake of discussion, that this officer isn’t a Dale Carnegie graduate. [Dale Carnegie wrote a book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, and inaugurated a seminar incorporating the book’s principles.] As much as some might not like how he approached Mr. Barker, he simply stated facts as to why he was there: because someone matching Barker’s description had been peering into vehicles; because someone matching Barker’s description had been approaching residents offering to shovel snow when there wasn’t much snow to shovel. Not suspicious? I’d be surprised if someone, somewhere hadn’t used that tactic as a ruse before a home invasion.
There was absolutely no reason for Mr. Barker to become so belligerent and uncooperative simply because the officer asked him his name and what he was doing there.
As for [Summer Osburn’s] criticism [she was also quoted in the news story] that the officer simply should have stepped back, while this does involve some speculation on my part, based on Mr. Barker’s response to the officer’s innocuous questions, I think there is serious doubt [that Mr. Barker would not have become even more agitated] simply by the officer’s continuing presence.
So most all officers aren’t Dale Carnegie graduates. So what? Answer their questions and cooperate, and you’ll live long enough to tell your friends what jerks they are/were later on.
In response to comments on similar coverage by The Salt Lake Tribune regarding this incident, I wrote:
Full disclosure: my father spent 43 years on the job. It’s true that we ask law enforcement officers and soldiers to protect us, themselves, and each other. While whether a particular set of circumstances necessitated the use of deadly force or not may be endlessly debated, the reality is that accomplishing this task sometimes is going to necessitate that officers threaten deadly force, and other times accomplishing this task is going to necessitate that they actually use deadly force.
You may say that an unacceptable risk of death or serious bodily injury is simply the price my father and my family had to pay for a loved one to opt for that career, but personally, if it ever came down to making a choice whether he would go home at the end of his shift or whether someone who intended him harm would go home, I’m not sorry to say that I hope he would choose the former … every time.
That said, I’m always at least slightly amused to hear people … talk of officers who have shot somebody taking “paid vacations,” as though there are no repercussions (especially no psychological repercussions) other than getting paid time off to the officer or to anyone else with whom he is associated after he has shot somebody. The reality is that, while officers and soldiers may be unusual in some respects as compared to people who do not choose those professions, they are still normal human beings, and normal human beings are neither psychologically nor sociologically “well-engineered” to shoot at their fellow human beings: if they are, we call them psychopaths or sociopaths.
Another poster opined that it was improper for the officer to ask Barker for identifying information. I responded:
There’s abundant case law that says that if an officer asks you for identifying information, you must provide it. If it were otherwise, officers would be deprived of an essential tool that enables them to assess the threat someone might pose to him and whether someone has engaged in criminal conduct which the officer is bound to investigate.
Reiterating some of my themes from the on-line discussion at The Deseret News that the officer’s alleged lack of tact and social grace essentially are irrelevant, I also posted:
Even granting for the sake of this discussion that the officer is not a Dale Carnegie graduate, I believe it’s beyond dispute that if Mr. Barker had identified himself to the officer, had answered the officer’s questions, and had otherwise cooperated, he would be alive today and, thus, would be free to complain as much as he likes to whomever will listen about what he sees as unfair treatment at the hands of police.
As regrettable as Barker’s shooting might be for the officer who shot him and for James Barker’s friends and family, I’ll be greatly surprised if the Salt Lake Police Department finds that this officer violated any of its policies regarding use of force or if the Salt Lake County District Attorney finds this instance of use of force legally unjustified.
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B.L. Smith is the former training coordinator for the Salt Lake Police Department, and currently fills a similar role with the Sandy (Utah) Police Department. The shooting of Michael Brown by former Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson and the death of Eric Garner as police in New York attempted to take him into custody for selling untaxed cigarettes have fostered a debate regarding police use of force. (Similar incidents, as well as a similar debate, have occurred here in Utah, as well.) In an Op-Ed published in The Salt Lake Tribune on December 8, 2014, he wrote:
For more than 20 years I have hosted training not only for the officers on my department but for officers around the state on an annual basis. This training brings in local law enforcement officers who have been in shootings, been stabbed, injured or taken a life. They speak to officers about how it affects them, their family, their marriage, their work. I have brought in their spouses to speak about how it affected them and their children. (One officer’s child was told by a classmate that his dad was a murderer.) Never in all the years of this training have these officers been anything but hopeful that their story may help another officer from going through what they went through. . . .
In all of my years in law enforcement, I have met maybe a half-dozen law enforcement officers that were mentally not fit (prone to violent tendencies) to be officers. These individuals were investigated by their own agency and fired. Nationally, agencies do the same. Los Angeles Police fired Chris Dorner and criminally charged Raphael [sic] Perez. Miami Police investigated and arrested [a group of corrupt cops] known as the “Miami River Cops.”
The full Op-Ed is available at the following address (last accessed December 8, 2014): http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/1904164-155/op-ed-its-society-not-police-who.