Heidi Keilbaugh Responds to My Commentary on the James Barker Shooting – Our Dialogue
By Ken K. Gourdin
Note: James Barker’s girlfriend, Heidi Keilbaugh has responded to my commentary o the shooting of Barker. The commentary can be found here (last accessed October 21, 2015): https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/james-barker-shooting/. Because her response is somewhat difficult to follow (likely it was composed in the heat of the moment), rather than posting it in its entirety, I have opted to excerpt what I believe to be her most relevant points and to respond to them individually, instead.
* * *
Ma’am, if you should read this, as I said in response to coverage of this incident which appeared in, I believe, the Deseret News, I’m sorry for your loss. No one should have to lose a loved one in that manner.
* “Kenn Im just reading this for the first time, I must say this is terrible …”
You’re entitled to your opinion. I might respectfully suggest that, perhaps seeking out the opinions of those who have opined on Mr. Barker’s death with which you know you will disagree, or opining on them once you find them, is not the healthiest, most productive, best use of your time.
* “… so so opinionated …”
That’s what a blog is, Ma’am. It’s a forum for the writer’s opinion. I’ll grant you that not all opinions are created equal. Some are better than others. I understand why you hold the opinion you do and why you think the officer’s actions were wrong. I understand why you think my opinion is ill-informed and mistaken. Conversely, I admit, I come from a very strong pro-police, pro-prosecution orientation, and my evaluation even of tragic events such as this is going to be colored by that perspective.
* “… completely omits the fact that James had very peacefully [and] very softly voiced offered to go home before he was pushed …”
I never saw that offer reported. Perhaps it was recorded by the officer’s body cam, and I simply missed it. That having been said, if all Mr. Barker wanted to do was to go home, he didn’t have to become belligerent, angry, and aggressive, as the officer’s body cam clearly shows he did. Even if, granting for the sake of discussion, this officer is not a Dale Carnegie graduate, and even if I don’t like how an officer approaches me or the questions he asks, I must be wise enough to pick my battles and to realize that I’m not going to win any battles I try to fight with the officer in the heat of the confrontation itself. Rather, I must demur and save any evidence I might have about poor or improper treatment at the hands of law enforcement for a later investigation by the officer’s agency, by the Division of Peace Officer Standards and Training, by the County Attorney, or as a result of a civil action I might file.
From what you’ve said, as well as from some of what has been reported in the media, it certainly seems as though Mr. Barker’s actions on that day were out of character for him. While I realize there is no comparison because I am still alive, I certainly have had moments, days even, that I wish I could take back, that I could relive and do differently. Given the chance, I’m sure Mr. Barker would take those moments, would take that day, back, would relive them, and would do them differently. But sadly, however much I regret those moments, in some cases, they’re all the other people involved have to judge me by. Similarly, however atypical it may have been, the only thing this officer had to judge Mr. Barker by was his behavior in their encounter.
In any event, there is abundant case law which says that if an officer asks me to identify myself, I must do so. I understand you disagree, but you’re swimming against a swift current of court opinions that run in the opposite direction. Like it or not, the law is what it is until it is changed. I can understand why you might advocate for such changes, and you’re perfectly free to do so: let’s see whom you can persuade to agree with you.
* “… he was pushed [and] a gun was pulled on him before he even lifted the shovel …”
We’ll simply have to disagree, but the officer responded the way he did because Mr. Barker failed to obey his commands and instead became belligerent, angry, and aggressive. And he didn’t have to lift the shovel in order for the officer’s use of force potentially to be reasonable: he simply had to refuse to drop it. And Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill is not simply a shill or an apologist for law enforcement: whether one agrees or disagrees with his finding regarding any particular use of deadly force by law enforcement, if he believes a shooting is unjustified, he is going to find it unjustified. That was not the result in this case.
* “… This officer Matthew Taylor was not trained in de escalation techniques …”
That’s an interesting assertion. I would be interested in how you know that. If you are party to a lawsuit and found that information as a result of the discovery process, I might respectfully suggest that it is not in your best interest to lay that card (or any others you might have in your hand) down for public display before the matter is litigated, or before it otherwise is resolved.
* “… [and] cornered a civilian on private property who did nothing wrong …”
The officer was on private property because he was summoned there in response to a complaint, and the officer couldn’t have known whether Mr. Barker had done or was about to do anything wrong without an opportunity to investigate, which is exactly what the officer was there to do.
* Ms. Keilbaugh says that Mr. Barker was looking for work “FOR THE FUTURE …” (Emphasis hers)
OK. I’m certainly willing to grant that Mr. Barker probably confided more in you about his intentions that day than I will ever know, but if he was simply looking for future work, the question I have is, why did he shout at the officer, “I’m doing my business!”? And while I’ll grant you that doing business without a license certainly is a minor infraction, other questions I have are (1) Did he have such a license? And (2) If he did, why didn’t he simply tell the officer, “Sir, snow removal is my business; I have a license, and here is a copy”?
* Mr. Barker “… was asked by ME to to go out and pull up ICE off of the sidewalks …” [capitalization as in original]
I wouldn’t necessarily blame people for being skeptical or suspicious of my intentions if I made such an offer to someone I didn’t know well. More than a few home invasions likely have been preceded by just such an offer from strangers, or from relative strangers. Wouldn’t a better method be for someone wishing to do so to advertise his services, perhaps by posting an ad on one or more Web sites (I’m sure that could be done for free or at a minimal cost), or by posting fliers in the neighborhood advertising such a service and inviting people in need of it to call?
In at least one other place in print, I have said that a robust dialogue regarding police-public interactions, police use of force, police training, and how such incidents are investigated and (if necessary) prosecuted should occur, and that anyone with a reasonable proposal for reform should be welcome at the table.
I’m sure you’ll have a seat at that table; I probably won’t. As you yourself have suggested, I’m simply a (perhaps ill-informed) blogger with a limited-circulation blog whom few people likely bother to read, and my limited influence persists even when my opinions appear in more widely circulated media (such as in print). Your megaphone and bully pulpit certainly are bigger than mine. Perhaps that is as it should be. Again, I’m sorry for your loss. If how officers are trained, evaluated, disciplined, and (if necessary) prosecuted needs to change, I hope you are successful in helping to implement those changes. Although I suspect we will continue to disagree, I certainly bear you no personal ill will. Indeed, I wish you well.