Community Columns

Rod Brouhard: Being there doesn't make a witness reliable

Eyewitnesses are notoriously inaccurate, which is why I take eyewitness accounts of the recent police-involved shooting in Ceres with a grain of salt.

One family suggested that officers only shouted at the armed man after shots were fired. I'm sure they did order him to stop moving after he was shot, lest they shoot him again. I'm not so sure, however, that they only told him to stop once.

My wife has a saying: "You perform the way you practice." Officers practice this particular part of their jobs often and vigorously. They practice ordering suspects to surrender, and they practice using deadly force against deadly force. For the record, a knife is certainly considered deadly force.

I'm comfortable that officers ordered this man to drop the knife before they opened fire. That's how they practice.

That neighbors didn't hear the officers doesn't mean they didn't say it. It may just mean that neighbors weren't paying attention before they heard gunshots.

The story in Saturday's Bee ("Ceres police kill armed man," Page A-1) mentioned an impromptu — and very unscientific — test conducted by the witnesses. They turned the TV volume to the level they had it that evening and shouted from outside where the shooting occurred. Lo and behold, those inside could hear the shouting outside. I hesitate to put much stock in that test. That they could hear wasn't in question — they heard the officers once shots were fired, after all.

The difference? The night of the shooting, they weren't listening for sounds from outside. At least not until hearing gunshots, which would definitely get my attention.

Dirty Harry might shoot first and ask questions later, but real cops don't like to do that. Every day, officers pull guns somewhere in Stanislaus County and order a suspect to take whatever action necessary to bring a confrontation to an end. Every day, suspects comply. Someone getting shot is the exception of those daily occurrences, not the rule.

Of course, none of this proves the man was told to do anything before he was shot. Officers say he was, and witnesses think he wasn't. These neighbors have a right — maybe even a duty — to raise concerns. The story doesn't say if the witnesses told the Police Department or not before talking to The Bee.

Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk was quoted as saying, "It is irresponsible for the media to insert itself into an ongoing investigation."

Come again?

That's what the media does. Just as the police have a responsibility to gather evidence and present it for prosecution, the media has a responsibility to gather evidence and present it to the public. De Werk may have felt blindsided by the concerns of these witnesses, but, unfortunately for him, that's tough.

This shooting will be investigated thoroughly, as it should be. Let's not forget who's ultimately responsible — the suspect allegedly had a knife and threatened officers with it. The officers say they told him to drop the weapon, but he lunged at them.

No knife, no shooting. It's that simple.

Brouhard is a paramedic in Modesto. Write him at columns@modbee.com.

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