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Shoot Him

I was training a rookie one night on Hilton Head Island. We arrested a man on a warrant for some minor infraction, I don't remember the exact charge. As always we put him in handcuffs. Since it was early evening we took him before the local Magistrate instead of taking him directly to jail. We did this so that the Magistrate could set bond on him.

The Magistrates office was in a room added onto his home. We had the dispatcher call the Magistrate and tell him we were coming, so he met us in his office. We walked in and had the man take a seat on one of the chairs in the office, which was just a large room.

The Magistrate looked at us and at the prisoner and then told me to take the handcuffs off of him. I tried to explain to the Magistrate that I would rather not have him uncuffed, for our safety and his. The Magistrate again told me to take the handcuffs off of the man. Again I tried to tell him that I did not think this was a good idea, but he got rather upset with me and ordered me to take the handcuffs off the man. I didn't want to, but felt I had no choice, so I took the cuffs off.

I tried to keep myself between my prisoner and the door to the office, which led directly outside. My rookie did not give it much thought and stood near the judge's desk watching the proceedings. The judge talked to the man and explained the charges and the amount of bail and that he would have to go to jail in Beaufort until someone posted the bail for him.

The man just calmly sat there and nodded to what the judge had to say. Then the judge motioned for me to come up to his desk. I looked at the prisoner and my rookie as I headed to the desk. As soon as I was past the chair, the prisoner was sitting in, he jumped up and ran out the door. My rookie took off after him and so did I. My rookie got a step in front of me as we headed out of the office. In the background the judge was screaming at the top of his lungs: "Shoot that Son-of-a-****, shoot him, I said shoot him!!"

Over the den I kept yelling to my rookie not to shoot. There was a chain link fence around the yard and it slowed the man down just enough for us to grab him on the way over. We pulled him to the ground and re-handcuffed him. I did not even bother to take him back in front of the judge, I just put him in the car and told my rookie to watch him. I then went inside and got the paperwork from the judge.

The judge didn't say a word, he just handed me the paperwork and I left. That was the last time this Magistrate ever ordered me to take the handcuffs off of anyone I brought before him.

On the thirty mile drive to Beaufort I talked to my rookie and made sure he understood that deadly force was only justified when his life or the life of someone else was in danger and never just because a judge or anyone else told him to shoot someone.

In police work you have to make a lot of split second decisions. Decisions which you will have to live with the rest of your life. Decisions that other people will judge but they will have lots of time and calm nerves and emotions, things that police officers seldom have in an emergency. They will also have the benefit of all the facts, which unfortunately you don't always have when you have to make the decision.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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