I attended a Street Survival Seminar put on for officers and paid for by the family of fallen Deputy James McGraine last year. The class was presented by a national company known for its effective training of officers on tactics and survival skills. One of the presenters made the statement I listed above. Cops make million dollar decisions every day.....
Just what does that mean? In a split second cops have to make a decision which can and will be Monday morning quarterbacked for years. If that decision is wrong and sometimes even if it is right but a good lawyer can make a case that it should have been handled differently then it becomes a million dollar decision. Now there are many, many, many (emphasis on many) lawsuits filed that cost taxpayers and insurance companies nothing or less than a million dollars. In my career I have only seen one million dollar lawsuit affecting an agency I have worked with.
However what are the costs beyond the money? When someone dies before their time or of causes other than natural, people need someone or something to blame. Sometimes blame is necessary to prevent future occurrences. Sometimes its just convenient to point a finger. When the person to blame dies in the incident then the company they work for, or the person who sold them the beer, or the police who should have arrested him before he committed his crime, is to blame.
I was reminded of the whole "cops make million dollar decisions" quote by the story of Iman Morales and Lieutenant Michael W. Pigott whose death came on his 46th birthday.
On Sept. 24, 2008 Mr. Morales mother called police because her mentally ill son was naked and ranting on top of a ledge atop a storefront security gate. When police arrived after trying to coax him down and as he was swinging an eight-foot-long fluorescent light bulb at officers, Lt. Pigott authorized officer Nicholas Marchesona to use a Taser. After the Taser immobilized Mr Morales he fell from the ledge which was approximately 10 feet above the sidewalk. Mr Morales fell on his head and died. Officers had called for an inflatable cushion, but it did not arrive in time.
In a move not usually seen in these days of litigation and not accepting blame, Lt. Pigott accepted responsibility for the fatal decision. He apologized for the decision and expressed his condolences to the family. The department sent Lt. Pigott and Officer Marchesona to counseling and placed the Lt. in a desk job. Lt. Pigott was stripped of his gun and badge. On Thursday October 2, 2008 Lt. Pigott broke into a fellow officers locker, he left a note and pictures of his wife and kids and shot him self in the head. It is believed by fellow officers that he could not face disgracing his family with charges and disciplinary actions he believed would be pressed against him.
I believe that Lt. Pigott made a bad decision but criminal charges in our nation are based on intent. Does anyone believe that it was Lt. Pigott's intent to harm Mr. Morales? Was it reasonable to believe that Mr. Morales would survive a 10 foot fall? Should he have predicted that the fall would be on his head which could be and was fatal? Should officers have been placed to break his fall since the inflatable cushion had not arrived? These are all questions we can ask and debate. A judge or jury will never debate these questions since these matters are settled by attorneys in a room who only debate the money this is worth.
How many realize that when attorneys debate settlements lives are not in the equation? I have been in these discussions and what is debated is what would that person have earned? What is their life worth? Since someone is mentally ill and unable to earn much money are they worth less than someone who earns $90,000 a year for their family? It is stomach turning to see in person. The really sickening thing is that the attorneys make most of the money. The families get what is left.
One other quick note. Approximately 6 officers per year commit suicide in Lt. Pigott's department. According to a study by the National Association of Police Chiefs twice as many cops - about 300 annually - commit suicide as are killed in the line of duty in the United States of America .
Lt. Pigott died in the line of duty.....
No he did not get shot at the scene of a crime, He did not die in a car chase, and he did not take a bullet for a fellow officer. But he gave his life to the badge. Now that he is gone people will have to look elsewhere for someone to blame, and they will.
Here is the video of the Taser incident. Warning, watching this video could be unsettling to some people.