State sees four police shootings in single week
Eroding morality and the influence of violent media are to blame for a recent spate of incidents where officers were forced to shoot suspects, sometimes fatally, a State Police spokesman said.
Four police-involved shootings occurred in the state last week, and news archives are increasingly peppered with accounts of such incidents over the past few years.
The most recent incidents occurred Saturday in Kanawha, Mercer, Logan and Greenbrier counties. Officers in each situation were met with an armed person. In two incidents, the suspect fired on officers.
Sgt. Michael Baylous, who has been with the State Police for more than 19 years, said he thought the issue came down to "moral relativism."
"We now have a generation of kids that grew up exposed to violence, be it video games or movies," Baylous said. "There's also a lack of respect for authority. We see it in classrooms.
"These kids that had no respect for authority in the classroom grow up and have no respect for authorities in the real world."
Police officers every year are the victims of aggravated assaults, Baylous said.
Kanawha County deputies were responding to a domestic incident Saturday in Quick, where a man was allegedly beating his mother. He came out the front door, firing on the officers.
The deputies, who were unharmed, fired back. The man, identified as Lawrence Edward "Pete" Vaughan, 49, was killed.
Both deputies involved in that incident were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. That is the routine procedure for most law enforcement agencies after such incidents.
In Mercer County, deputies were sent to a Montcalm area home where a man was wielding a chainsaw. Jason Dillion, 31, confronted officers with a large club-type object when they arrived. He refused to put it down. He approached the deputy with the object and was shot dead, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
There were more than 226 aggravated assaults on West Virginia officers last year, according to the 2012 Uniform Crime Report, which is made up of records from about 75 percent of law enforcement agencies in the state.
Baylous said figures were still being compiled but that figure was down so far from 2011, when there were 289 aggravated assaults on officers.
Of those reported in 2012, 32 involved a firearm. Of those, 16 involved a handgun, Baylous said. Roughly 85 percent of those assaults involved another implement, be it fist, knife or car.
But the officers are trained to deal with those situations and have procedures in place to guide them.
Every officer must attend the State Police Academy for training. In addition to running through simulations with training officers, trainees also use what is called a shoot-no shoot simulator, a computer program that forces officers to think quickly and react to different scenarios set before them.
"You have so much information you have to process and very little time to do it," Baylous said. "You have to make a decision. You have to make the right decision because there is so much at stake.
"You can't go check to see if their weapon has ammunition. You have to rely on your training and hope you've made the right call."
He said it's virtually impossible for an officer to shoot a weapon out of a person's hand like the Lone Ranger and shooting the tires on a moving vehicle is stuff only really accomplished in movies.
In his 19 years with the State Police, Baylous said he's pulled his gun before but never fired it. There were times he thought he would have to, however.
"That's when my training and experience kicked in and fortunately I didn't have to," he said. "When you get back and look at it later, you realize it happened so quick you didn't have time to be afraid. But then you realize how close it was or how many different ways it could have gone wrong."
Troopers were involved in two "critical incidents" last week, both of which ended with troopers shooting and killing a suspect.
Thursday night troopers shot and killed John Dempsey, 37, after a short police pursuit in Logan County ended in gunfire. Police believe Dempsey killed an elderly man in his Logan home days before he stabbed another man to death in Taplin and carjacked a woman.
With troopers and other police on his tail, he ditched the vehicle and ran into the woods with a "long gun" and opened fire on pursuing officers. Troopers returned fire, killing him.
Last Monday troopers and Lewisburg police encountered Jimmy Hamlin, 44, of Kathleen, Ga., who was wanted for a domestic incident. When they encountered him along U.S. 219, Hamlin threatened himself several times and then threatened officers.
He was shot multiple times and died at a local hospital.
The troopers involved in both situations were put on leave while the matters were investigated. Baylous said a two-part investigation takes place after critical incidents - one part administrative and the other handled by the county prosecutor's office.
Investigating officers compile a thorough report and then turn their findings over to the county prosecutor's office, which presents those findings to a grand jury to determine whether any wrongdoing occurred.
State Police also take part in critical debriefing, which is done after every critical incident. Those debriefings usually include other first responders and emergency dispatchers involved in the situation at hand. Baylous said a debriefing was being organized for the officers involved in the Logan incident.
"It's not touchy-feely, but it does address what I called the holistic approach, targeting the emotional, physical and mental aspects," Baylous said.
The debriefings usually last about half a day. Troopers also have a wellness officer in Cpl. Jim Mitchell, a chaplain, at the State Police Academy in Institute. Mitchell is available for troopers to talk
and help them with their physical and emotional well-being.
"It's a very stressful job," Baylous said of police work. "That's why I've been really proud of Col. (Jay) Smithers for moving Cpl. Mitchell to the academy. You're creating an atmosphere that allows that officer to perform their duties in a better manner. When you do that, you're allowing them to be more productive as law enforcement officers."
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.