Hingham Suicide Tragedy & August 1 2017 Update: Caused by Massive Police Overreaction?

I’m going to comment on something tonight, but what occurred surrounding the events that I’m going to speak to in this post are so lacking in any common sense on any level, so thoroughly disproportionate to rational and reasoned thinking, and so tragic, that I wasn’t immediately sure if I should post it here in my Injury Law blog, or my Criminal Law blog.  The events in this incident strain belief, and the non-answers surrounding it, issued to today’s date by the Police Department involved, further strain credulity.

Full disclosure, before proceeding further:  I am basing my understanding of the events described below, on published reporting from The Boston Globe,  MSN and other media sources. (click on link for Boston Globe story published July 17 2017.) I have not yet had the opportunity to fact-check every description of this incident that follows.  However, based on the media accounts that I have reviewed, these reports are consistent with each other, and thus as of this date I have no reason to doubt their fundamental accuracy.  If, after publishing this post I learn of any errors within it, I will issue an appropriate correction in this blog (in a separate post) promptly.

A young man killed himself Saturday night, July 8, in the wealthy town of Hingham. His name was Austin Reeves.  He was 26 years old, and universally liked by all who knew him – employers, friends, schoolmates, and more.  Said one of his employers of him, “He was charming and funny and outgoing. He could talk to anyone, and everyone always enjoyed him.”   Austin had no history of either mental illness or violence of any kind. After finishing working for his employer at a 75th birthday party reception earlier that day and evening, Austin had a phone conversation with a former girlfriend, with whom his relationship had failed a month earlier.  Something was said  in that conversation that apparently hurt him a great deal.  During the conversation, Austin mentioned that he owned a gun.  Note:  No information to date indicates that Austin made any specific threat in that conversation.  However this former girlfriend became worried about him, and phoned the Hingham Police Department at approximately 9:19 PM, asking them to simply conduct a wellness check on Austin at his home – that is all.  The Hingham Police then called the Reeves household, where they spoke to Austin’s father, Russell Reeves, and asked Russell if Austin had a gun in his possession.

Before Mr. Reeves had the chance to answer that question, Austin came into the house.  When his father told him that the police had called asking about him, Austin became visibly upset.  As his father pleaded with him to talk about what was upsetting him, Austin went to his bedroom and asked to be left alone, reportedly saying “Don’t back me into a corner, because I’ll make it go away in four seconds.”  Reportedly, at that point, Russell Reeves called the Hingham Police back, at about 10:00 PM, reporting Austin’s comment to him.  Talking through her son’s bedroom door, Austin’s mother Kate Harrison asked if they could talk; Austin said only that he just needed to be left alone with his dog, Faith.

According to The Boston Globe, the next thing Austin’s parents knew, two Hingham police officers were outside the family’s house, whereupon the officers removed them – reportedly against their will – from their home to a neighbor’s yard. The police then reportedly re-contacted Austin’s ex-girlfriend around 11 p.m., and she reportedly told police that she had since talked with Austin by phone again, and in that second conversation with Austin he allegedly said that he wanted to be left alone, and something rather vague to the effect that anyone who came to get him would “hurt.”  Note:  Not “Be hurt, but “hurt.” From someone mourning the loss of a relationship, that could mean a variety of things – including that whoever came would realize how much Austin was truly hurting himself, or possibly that he would say things to hurt them.  Again, this was a young person whose heart was broken over a relationship – people of all ages, never mind younger people, say a lot of things when they’re so distressed and hurting.  Context is everything.   Objective readers of this blog should each ask themselves:  Have you never, in anger or frustration, said to someone else, “I’ll kill you”?   Have you never, frustrated with your own self, perhaps said in a moment of despair, “I could kill myself”?  Again, context is everything.

None of this mattered to Hingham police, and that’s when everything went off the cliff.  Officers told Austin’s parents they were calling in a SWAT team.  Yes, you read that correctly:  A SWAT team – for a lovesick young man with no history of violence or mental illness, who made no specific threats against anyone (even himself) and only wanted to be left alone in his bedroom with is dog.  Russell Reeves protested to the officers, “You can’t do that – “where is the imminent threat?”

Suddenly, more officers started pouring in, like the neighborhood had sprung a law enforcement leak, and police told Austin’s parents that they not only had to leave their own house, but they had to leave the street. His mother protested again   — Austin was here, she pleaded, and he needed his mother.  It didn’t matter, police said; this was “protocol.”  They reportedly marched the parents — Austin’s mother still in her bathrobe — away from their home, via surrounding yards. At one point, Austin’s father said he started to run back toward their house, but an officer physically restrained him.

At another point in this forced removal from their own property, Austin’s mother Kate Harrison turned to look back at their home, and gazed upon the full enormity of what was happening: The street was mobbed with police cruisers, overflowing with armed police in military SWAT gear.  She fell to her knees and cried out in horror, “Oh my God, oh my God.  What are you doing? Is this really necessary?”

I hope that readers are sitting down for this next set of reported facts, because if not you might find yourself on the floor in shock:  What Austin’s mother saw in full was a police response befitting an organized military defense from an armed invasion force: A regional SWAT team, comprised of rifle-wielding “special forces,” operated by the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, or Metro LEC, which is a consortium of 48 police departments and law enforcement agencies surrounding Boston that provide mutual assistance in tactical SWAT and terror operations.  Notably, the Metro LEC has previously been criticized for using unnecessary force – even military-style combat force – as have been several municipal police departments. That is not hard to see.  Once the full force of this regional response was ordered, dozens of officers descended on the Reeves home. Witnesses reported seeing police vehicles from Braintree, Bridgewater, Attleboro, and Randolph, as well as other police departments.

For background, just what does this “Regional SWAT Team” consist of?

  • Military-style motorized equipment including a bulletproof BearCat armored truck.
  • Battlefield gear, including assault weapons, grenade launchers, high-powered rifles
  • Body Armour, bullet-proof helmets and bullet-proof vests
  • Sharpshooters, “Flash-Bang” disorientation explosives, and tear-gas
  • Remote-controlled robots and bomb-defusing equipment
  • Turret guns atop armored personnel carrier-type vehicles

What does this SWAT team not have?  A mental health professional.  Supposedly, one serves as a “consultant” to this organization, on the side, but apparently does not respond on calls with the crisis team.  Brilliant, isn’t that?

Importantly, not a single shot had been fired and no credible specific threat had been made against anyone – not at this point in the incident.  And yet even more officers came, some wearing jungle camouflage and carrying automatic rifles. They aimed powerful bright lights to flood Austin’s bedroom window on the side of the house.  They drove a military-style assault vehicle into the backyard.  They broke seven upstairs windows and remotely inserted robotic cameras to peer inside the house.

A terrified Russell Reeves begged police, “Please – why can’t you just let him go to sleep?”  His pleas went unheeded.  He and Austin’s mother assured police, repeatedly, that this assault on the house was going to terrify Austin, and that that could have disastrous consequences on him.  Repeatedly, police would not listen.  Escalating these histrionics even more, at approximately 6:30 a.m., almost nine hours after the episode began, Hingham police sent a reverse 911 robo-call to homes in the neighborhood warning of a situation involving “a distressed person” and asking them to stay indoors – as though terrorists were running through the streets of Hingham.  At about the same time, the door to a van that Austin’s parents had been taken to and where they had been waiting out this siege since about midnight, opened.  It was the Hingham Police Department’s chief.  He told them their son Austin had shot and killed himself.  Austin’s mother screamed, and the chief reportedly offered to call some friends or a clergy member.  Instead, the couple asked merely to have their son’s dog, his loyal friend Faith, brought out to them.

Once again, “No” came the answer, according to the parents — it’s “against protocol. “ No dogs in here.

Can any sane person actually believe all this insanity?  This couple’s son is dead – after 10 hours of a literal military siege against their grieving son who was alone in his bedroom with his dog, threatening no one, and all this is what resulted?  As I write this post, I’m shocked beyond words – and in my days as a Massachusetts plaintiffs’ attorney I’ve seen a lot of police negligence and liability cases.

At 7:19 a.m., police released a final reverse 911 robo-call to neighbors, following the one they had sent out earlier. “Thank you for your cooperation,” a woman’s voice neutrally said. “The incident on Edgar Walker Court has been resolved.”  “Has been “resolved””?  Can anyone believe these people?  A young man is dead – quite arguably terrified to death by a military-style siege against him and his parents – and the Town of Hingham characterizes this completely needless death as “resolved”?  Words beggar the imagination for adequate description of this organizational insanity and callous insensitivity.

And with that call, the massive number of police vehicles that had descended on the Reeves property overnight departed all at once, to quote the Boston Globe story linked in this post, “like a flock of birds startled into flight.”

Standing there, sinking into grief that has to be indescribable, were Austin’s parents – numb with disbelief at what had transpired over the previous ten hours:  A literal military siege of their house, the lawn marked by tank tracks from a battlefield military assault vehicle, police cruisers from almost half a dozen communities, dozens of officers with high-powered weapons, broken glass from where police had smashed into seven windows of their home, and the body of their dead son.

It strains credulity to comprehend the supposed “need” for this this massive, histrionic, unbelievable overkill of a police response.  In response to someone who had suffered a lost relationship, who just wanted to be left alone in his bedroom with his dog, and had never exhibited the slightest violence or mental illness and who made no specific credible threats against anyone?  Based on a vague, third-hand report that if someone came in his room they’d hurt just as much as he was?  It’s beyond rational understanding.

What this young man needed was a friend or psychological professional to talk to – obviously.  Had police any common sense at all, they would have called up to his bedroom window, assured him that they weren’t there to arrest him at all, that they just wanted to offer to talk with him about his breakup and his ex-girlfriend’s concern for him – that’s all.  For purposes of “identifying” with Austin, the police here could have had a young, plainclothes male or female officer standing outside Austin’s window and calling up to him – appearing unarmed and very empathetic in his or her approach. (And common sense dictates that in all likelihood, once Austin heard that his ex-girlfriend was concerned about him, that news very likely would have at least brought him to talk from his window.)  But an approach like that doesn’t provide much of an excuse to act like soldiers in battle, does it?

What any person equipped with common sense and empathy would have known, is that what this grieving young man – a person with no history of violence toward himself or others, nor any history of mental illness – really needed was an outreaching hand and empathy – not a terrifying military assault.  Did these action-happy police stop for even a moment to consider how a member of their family might react if dozens of combat-equipped cops assaulted his house, flooded his room with bright klieg lights, and broke into seven windows in the house?  What did these people think that such an all-out military assault on his very home was going to do to him, psychologically?  Quite clearly, it terrified him to the point of despair. No, I’m not a psychologist.  But does any honest observer of this catastrophe really believe that such a professional pedigree is necessary here?  This person had cried and grieved before over the loss of this relationship. Mourning the loss of an important relationship is a process, not an event. And in all likelihood, he would have cried that night and come out of his room the next morning, his parents awaiting him eagerly.

Now, he is dead.  Very possibly terrified at the sight of dozens of battlefield-dressed cops outside his home carrying high-powered rifles, over a dozen cruisers, a veritable tank in his backyard, police breaking into seven windows in the house, and desperate thoughts of what was going to happen to him after this siege.  And while neither the Hingham Police Chief nor any other police officials involved with this tragic, horrific incident has issued any official comment about this matter, Austin’s father feels he knows why Austin is dead.

Russell Reeves has stated to the Boston Globe that believes his son’s death was the result of the incredibly overwhelming and irresponsible actions of the Hingham Police Department and other police departments involved.  He has stated that he believes the intimidating, over-powering, frightening show of military-style force, triggered a terrified Austin to panic and become self-destructive.  In considerable pain already, he very likely saw his future as being arrested, and sentenced to jail.  I highly doubt that he surmised that several dozen battlefield-equipped police officials were just going to walk away if he came downstairs.

“It was totally preventable,” Russell Reeves said, crying as he stood outside his house and looked up at Austin’s window last week. “He wasn’t a criminal. He didn’t have a hostage. This was a kid distressed about a girlfriend, and they turned it into a life-and-death situation.”

Again, while I was not there, that sounds very much like what may have taken place here.

I want to speak now to what will be certain criticism of my observations that will follow this post by members of law enforcement and/or their friends and families:  No, I was not there.  I did not witness these events; as I stated at the top of this post, I am basing my discussion of these events, on published reporting from The Boston Globe and other media sources.  I was not part of any decision-making process.  No, I have never been a police officer.  Thus, a person who wanted to defend the actions of police in this matter could tell me that I’m not in a position to criticize or second-guess the Hingham police department’s actions here.

I disagree.  Why?  Because this situation demonstrated such a patent and obvious overreaction, such stunning overkill and hyper-dramatization, that I wouldn’t need to be a police professional to reach this conclusion.  I don’t believe anyone would need to be, to reach such a conclusion.  As an example, if I learned that police officers chased a suspected thief while driving at speeds as high as 80 MPH through densely-settled neighborhood streets, I wouldn’t need to be a law enforcement expert to know that this kind of action would be blatant overreaction and disproportionate response; an example of shockingly poor judgment, and very indicative of police negligence. Nor would I need to have been at the scene to form such an opinion.

The police response to this matter is just as analogous to the above example.   If – and I emphasize “if” – the events that actually transpired in this tragedy are the same as those reported in the Boston Globe and other media as of today’s date, I believe that the actions that police authorities took here could accurately be described as not merely “an error,” but a disproportionately excessive use of police force, and stunning overkill to this incident.

If the events of this story are true (and again, I emphasize “if”,) this catastrophic tragedy strikes me as one of the most egregious examples of disproportionate police response, excessive use of force and lack of discretion that I have ever seen as a Boston negligence attorney. Again, if true, the actions of police as publicly reported in this incident may very well constitute negligence.

I know a lot of police officers.  The vast majority of them are fine, decent people.  But there is a culture within police departments and law enforcement communities everywhere, and it’s a culture of denial:  Denial that they did anything wrong in a given situation, silence and offical-speak that follow such incidents, and a collective group-think that (effectively) translates to “Criticize us and you’ll be sorry.”  It’s known as the Blue Wall of Silence, and it has to stop.  If the published reports of the police actions surrounding this incident are true, then both the Hingham Police Department, the Metro LEC, and any other police departments or agencies that were involved in these actions should step up and account for them – promptly.  Acknowledging that terrible mistakes were made here and preventing such mistakes in the future isn’t achieved through denial and hunkered-down institutional defensiveness.

I don’t believe that any honest, objective person can truthfully say that the actions of police personnel involved in this tragedy were necessary, proportional or appropriate.   This was a massive overkill of a response to a report of a young person:

  • Who was distressed over a recent breakup and merely wanted to be left alone in his room with his dog
  • With no history of violence of any kind or mental illness of any kind
  • Who had, according to a third-person report, supposedly made some vague threat of some kind, about no one in particular.
  • No hostage situation at all was involved
  • Not a single shot had been fired – nor even any weapon brandished
  • No member of the public or family members were threatened

And in response to merely the above facts, the Hingham Police Department called in a massive deployment of battlefield weapons, military response tactics, armored assault vehicles, dozens of armed police with assault rifles, explosives, camouflaged special forces, and a literal 10-hour siege, including literally dragging the young man’s parents out of their home, off their property, while refusing to hear multiple pleas to simply let their son alone, to sleep off some of his grief and distress.  This young man’s’ parents pleaded repeatedly with police to stop this insanity – again and again assuring them that their actions would terrify Austin and send him into despair.  And just as repeatedly, police refused to listen – effectively asserting that they knew their son’s likely reaction, better than his own parents:  The one word his mother and father were repeatedly told by police?  “Protocol.”  Have you heard of the expression, “The internet of everything”?  This one word excuse that these parents were repeatedly given by police (“protocol”) strikes me as “The expression of nothing”, because that’s what it is:  A rote, robotic, unthinking, unreasoned response – devoid of discretion or deference to the two people who knew this young man better than anyone:  His own parents.

This needless catastrophe has all the markings of something very much the opposite of what was plainly called for:  A sympathetic ear.  A calming, reassuring presence.  A shoulder to cry on.  If what has been publicly reported is true, this was an unconscionable abuse of discretion and stunningly excessive use of police force.

I deeply feel for, and will pray for, this grieving family – forever scarred and forever damaged by what took place at their home the evening of July 8 & 9 2017. I’ve read that Austin Reeves’ parents want to use this tragedy to change the way Massachusetts police departments, and police departments outside of this state, respond to similar incidents.  I applaud them wholeheartedly for this.

This entire story – the massive, terrorist-level response by dozens of rifle-wielding police, the deployment of battlefield weapons, armored vehicles and literally dozens of officers and “special forces,” the complete deafness of police to the pleas of this boy’s parents, the callousness with which it was all handled – even down to refusing to bring the boy’s dog to the parents after they were informed Austin was dead (“protocol,”) all begs for a rational answer.  There may – and I emphasize “may”  – be one.  It seems that the Hingham Police Department and the Reeves family have quite a tense history. According to a 2011 Patriot Ledger story, Hingham Police accused Russell Reeves in 2006 with setting up a fictitious Yahoo account under the name of a person who was at that time a Hingham selectman, for the alleged purpose of sending out emails criticizing the Community Preservation Act.  Police issued a subpoena at the time to determine who created that Yahoo account, and reportedly traced it back to the Reeves home.  Russell was charged with identity fraud and knowingly making false statements, but those charges were later dismissed.

Four years later, in 2010, Reeves filed federal suit against the police department, claiming that he, his wife, and his son were the targets of continual harassment by police since that 2006 conflict.  In 2011, the federal suit was dismissed, and a state suit in Plymouth Superior Court was also later dropped.

What connection, if any, that this history bears to the events involving the Hingham Police Department’s response to the events at the Reeves’ home on July 8 & 9 2017, is unclear to me.  To the contrary,  and to be very clear, I’m not suggesting that there is any connection, at all.  It is possible that there is none. But many people may raise an eyebrow over this history.

The tragedy that resulted in this situation, is beyond words.  Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety & Security should undertake an immediate and deep-probing inquest into this mindless, and apparently needless, catastrophe.

 

UPDATE:  AUGUST 1 2017

In my previous post regarding this event (above,) I wrote that the information in that post was based principally on published reports from The Boston Globe concerning this event, that were available as of the date of that July 18 2017 post.

Two days ago (Wednesday July 26 2017,) the Hingham Police Department formally released several documents and recorded phone calls surrounding this matter, which provide additional information concerning the events surrounding this incident during the evening of July 8 and 9 2017. Those documents were made available in a story published yesterday (July 27) by the Quincy Patriot Ledger. (Note: The Patriot Ledger’s July 27 2017 story was originally posted at 12:58 AM, and later updated at 9:43 AM that same day.) In my previous post regarding this incident, I stated that if I were to be made aware of any additional information that better answered several questions that the Boston Globe story of July 17 2017 raised, I would publish a follow-up post on the subject. Such newly-released information has shed additional light on the actions of the Hingham Police Department, and which may well answer several questions of that Department that have been posed by many observers of this incident.  That is the purpose of today’s post.

  • It has been discovered that the first phone call to police that was made in this matter, by Austin Reeves’ former girlfriend at 9:19 PM on July 8, was not made to the Hingham Police Department, as previously thought (and as I previously reported,) but rather to the Weymouth Police Department. In that call, Reeves’ former girlfriend told the Weymouth Police dispatcher, “I’ve been getting some threatening phone calls from an ex-boyfriend. He’s claiming that he’s going to come over here and kill himself and also kill my boyfriend.” Specifically, she told police that Reeves had threatened to “blow [her new] boyfriend’s brains out,” as well as hurt himself. She also said Reeves may have a handgun, and provided Reeves’ Hingham address. That information was relayed by the Weymouth Police dispatcher to the Hingham Police Department. Hingham officer Anthony Marcella, that Police Department’s firearms licensing officer, discovered via a firearms license records search that that Austin’s father Russell had a license to carry.
  • 9:39 PM: The police report filed in this matter states that officer Marcella called Russell Reeves to determine if any of his (Russell’s) guns were missing and was told by Russell that none were missing. When asked if his son Austin may have a gun, Russell replied, “I’m not sure.”
  • 9:58 PM: A little more than 20 minutes after the above conversation, Russell called officer Marcella back and told him that Austin owned a 9-millimeter Glock handgun that he had apparently bought in Virginia but had not yet registered in Massachusetts. As this phone conversation was taking place, Austin apparently walked in the house and Russell hung the phone up.
  • 10:03 PM: Russell called officer Marcella back, this time apparently from a bathroom closet in the house, telling Marcella that Austin was “extremely agitated” and “very upset.” Russell asked for a “couple of officers” to be sent in an unmarked car as he didn’t want to “inflame this.” Marcella advised Russell that he didn’t have an unmarked cruiser available to send. Instead, Marcella told Russell that the marked cruiser would park down the street and “be discreet.”
  • Just after 10:00 PM: Marcella and two other officers arrived at the Reeves home and met Russell, according to police reports. The officers were told that Austin had locked himself in his room and he would not come out despite his mother repeatedly asking him to. Marcella’s report states that he and the other two officers watched the house from a distance as repeated attempts were made to reach Austin on his cell phone.
  • Suddenly, a few minutes later, Austin apparently exited the house and began to walk toward his car, but when he noticed one of the officers, he turned and ran back into the house. The officers then moved Russell and Austin’s mother, Kate Harrison, farther away from the house, and called Austin’s girlfriend to ask her to call Austin and ask him to come outside to speak with the officers. The girlfriend called the officers back and reported that she reached Austin and that he had said that if anyone came into the house or his room he would hurt himself and possibly others.
  • Approximately 10:15: Approximately 10 minutes after Austin had tried to leave the house to go to his car, all three officers on the scene reported hearing a “noise” coming from inside the Reeves house. Hingham Police Chief Glenn Olsson would not say this past Wednesday whether he believed that this noise was a gunshot. Thus, it may be possible that Austin may have shot himself several hours before his body was discovered at approximately 6:30 AM the next day – and well before SWAT teams and dozens of heavily-armed police arrived on the scene. This is important as some observers have opined that it was the prolonged, 10-hour police siege that eventually caused Austin to kill himself. It may be that young Reeves killed himself well before a SWAT team, dozens of heavily-armed officers, and armored battlefield vehicles arrived on the scene. This information is important as young Reeves’ father – Russell Reeves – has publicly stated that he believes that it was the very aggressive, military-type response by called the Hingham Police, which caused young Reeves to panic and become desperate.
  • Approximately 11:00 PM – After hearing of Austin’s threat to hurt himself or others if anyone came into the house, Sgt. Philip Emmott decided to call in a SWAT team through the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, a consortium of more than 40 Boston-area police departments and law enforcement agencies that organizes these types of SWAT responses.
  • Approximately 11:50 PM – A Braintree Police lieutenant who is the tactical commander of the SWAT unit, officer Tim Cohoon, arrived at the house along with two crisis negotiators who ultimately repeatedly tried over several of following hours to reach Austin on his cell phone, according to Cohoon’s filed report. As dozens of other SWAT officers continued to arrive from a variety of surrounding police departments, two armored vehicles called BearCats were stationed near the Reeves house, and a third armored vehicle called a Rook was placed on the opposite side of the house. Multiple Officers were positioned around the house with lethal and “less-lethal munitions.”
  • At approximately 2:00 AM, police tried using loudspeakers to reach Austin, with no response. At approximately 2:40 AM, they broke a window to the house to send in a throw able wheeled robot (a “throwbot”), but lost radio contact with it. They asked the State Police to bring a second “throwbot.”
  • 4:15 AM – Officer Cohoon wrote in his report that the SWAT team eventually decided to break several more windows to insert an extendable platform on one of the armored vehicles to look into the second floor of the home. Officers could not see Austin in either his bedroom or the home’s master bedroom.
  • 5:00 AM – Police attempt to re-contact Austin’s girlfriend, without success. They fear that Austin might have somehow left the house, so at this point they begin searching the area in back of the house with dogs. At 5:45 AM, the canine teams decide that Austin has not left the house, nor has he exited through the woods in the rear of the house.
  • 6:00 AM – Austin’s pet pit bull appears in a bathroom window and jumps to a small roof platform just beneath it. Police bring the dog down from the roof with a snare pole, and give it to animal control.
  • At approximately 6:50 AM, almost10 hours after this incident first began, officers peered into the bedroom widow of Austin’s sister’s and observed a pair of feet along with a handgun. Officers then entered the house and broke down the door to that bedroom.
  • Austin was found dead in the room, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The police reports that I have reviewed do not indicate what part of Austin’s body had been shot – i.e., head, chest, or other area.

The above timeline of events is based upon police reports filed in this matter and audio files. Police Chief Glenn Olsson stands squarely by the actions and decisions of his officers. Simultaneous with the release of police reports and audio tapes of phone calls in this event, he stated to the Quincy Patriot Ledger, “With everything we knew at the time, I’m confident that our response was appropriate and the right thing to do.”

Perhaps it was.  Part of this tragedy is that no one will ever know for certain.

Russell Reeves declined to comment further to the media until he had an opportunity to review the police department documents and audio files that were released this past Wednesday. But per my previous post on this matter, he has previously told the Boston Globe and other media that he believes the police department’s military-like response, which included a SWAT team comprised of dozens of heavily-armed officers and three armored assault vehicles, caused his Austin’s suicide, calling “totally preventable.” Olsson did add that, “I’m sorry that he (Russell Reeves) is grieving. I can’t image the pain that that family is feeling right now.”

MY OBSERVATIONS:

  • First, I don’t believe that police here had any intentions but to help here, and bring this incident to – hopefully – a positive conclusion (at least without serious injury or death.)
  • Further, Austin had apparently threatened his former girlfriend’s new boyfriend in more than one conversation with his former girlfriend, and he also reportedly texted this person a picture of a handgun. Thus, while my previous post indicated – based upon all available information as of the date & time of that post – that Austin had threatened no one but himself, he apparently had indeed threatened his former girlfriend’s new boyfriend.  This is important background information, and adds context to the police response.
  • Also, according to the police reports released, Austin had in fact attempted to leave the house, shortly after 10:00 PM, but ran back in the house when he saw police officer. Where was he trying to go to? Was it to talk things over with his former girlfriend? Was it to find her new boyfriend and harm him? Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to that question. But it is a very important fact.
  • These newly released police reports make clear that young Austin Reeves was more psychologically troubled than I, and other observers such as news media, previously knew. In fact, the reports newly released may indicate that the police response had little to do with his suicide: Young Reeves had, in fact, threatened to do it.
  • Notwithstanding, some confusing questions still remain unanswered: The police reports released don’t say what kind of gunshot Austin had suffered – i.e., was it a wound to the head? A chest wound? A stomach wound? These are relevant because a gunshot to the head is likely to cause death instantly or rapidly, while a wound to the stomach or chest might not cause death due to blood loss for some time, perhaps hours. Approximately how long had he been dead? If it were several hours – as it seems it might have been given the “sound” three Hingham officers heard at approximately 10:15 PM on July 8 – rigor mortis would have set in by the time his body was discovered eight hours later. Blood at the scene would have dried. Why no information on this? Observers will have to wait for the medical examiner’s report. I’ll state again: I am quite confident that police responders here did not wish this outcome, and I don’t have an “axe to grind” with police. As I’ve stated previously, I anyone who knows me knows that I have many friends within law enforcement community, whom I respect and admire. To me and many other observers, the question to be asked here, and hopefully the lesson to be learned, is whether or not an over-sized, excessive police response took place here. And I don’t believe that any objective observer can conclude that the police response here was not very disproportionate to the precipitating events. Consider:
  • The term “barricaded” has been used on several occasions to describe Austin Reeves’ actions in his home the night of July 8. This description, in itself, is quite histrionic: “Barricaded” denotes images of someone locked inside an office building, locked inside a public theatre, restaurant or public restroom. This was someone who wanted to be left alone in his own bedroom, with his dog. A context that can hardly be termed “barricaded.”
  • He had not used his gun or brandished it to anyone else. He had not shot at anyone else. He had not shot down from his bedroom window, etc.
  • There was little to zero chance that Austin could have successfully left the house, to potentially hurt anyone else: The house had been surrounded by officers.
  • With all these facts being so, how anyone, whether a responder or not, could honestly, objectively say the following, escapes me:
  • Yes, we needed dozens of heavily armed, flack-jacketed officers to respond. Dozens. We needed these officers outfitted and equipped as essentially military soldiers sent into battle.”
  • Yes, we needed backup from approximately eight surrounding police departments, comprising over a dozen cruisers.”
  • Yes, we needed battlefield-level equipment, including high-powered automatic rifles and helmeted officers equipped with explosives.
  • Yes, we needed several armored transport vehicles, including tank-like assault vehicles.” 

The bottom line from this tragedy, is that it needs to be used as a learning experience: Unless an active shooter is involved, or a hostage situation is present, or a terrorist-level incident has occurred, a police response resembling a battlefield-level assault, essentially calling in the proverbial “Fifth Infantry,” should be held in reserve. The police did what they could here. But histrionic, hyper-muscular, overly-dramatized reactions to a situation involving a person who is despondent, but who is alone in his own home and has no opportunity to harm anyone else, calls for a modest police response with emphasis on providing trained mental health expertise in suicide situations.  I don’t believe it calls for the type of response described above, and I would have a difficult time understanding someone who said this particular situation did.  Once more and in closing, it does not seem at this time that police caused Austin Reeves’ death. But hopefully, everyone can learn from this tragic outcome, in responding to similar situations in the future.

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