A 74-year-old man recovering from surgery, likely asleep and on pain meds, responded as any of us might when he heard someone breaking in through his back door late at night: he grabbed a weapon and prepared to defend himself.
Unfortunately, the person breaking into his home was a Gastonia, NC, police officer that had been badgered into breaking into the man’s home in a forceful welfare check after the elderly man had been unresponsive to attempts by his family to contact him.
This is a disaster, no matter how you slice it:
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said Anson County first asked for a welfare check for James Howard Allen, 74, around 10 p.m. Saturday at the request of Allen’s relatives.
“Due to some medical issues he had had — some surgery he had recently — they were concerned for his well-being,” said Helton.
Helton said an officer went to Allen’s home on Mary Avenue around 10:20 p.m., and got no answer at the door. He cleared the call.
Just after 11 p.m., said Helton, the Anson County Sheriff’s Office asked that police to check local hospitals. Helton said police called area hospitals but didn’t find Allen, so an officer returned to his home.
Allen’s car was in the driveway and neighbors reported seeing Allen the previous day, said Helton.
Police called Gastonia Fire and EMS at 11:30 to request help, according to Helton. Officers contacted a supervisor and the decision was made to enter Allen’s home through the back door.
Helton said officer Josh Lefevers announced his presence, and the officer and firefighters were confronted by Allen, who had a gun.
“He was challenged to lay the gun down,” said Helton. “The gun was pointed in the direction of the officers, and a shot was fired that fatally wounded him.”
This was a homicide that should never have happened. The only question in my mind how we should spread the blame.
Does the hysterical family that harassed the Gastonia police until they forced their way into the home in the middle of the night bear some of the blame? I think they do.
Does the individual officer bear blame for breaking into a man’s home and shooting him without giving him reasonable chance to disarm under the circumstances? Without a doubt.
Does the Gastonia Police Department bear part of blame for allowing a welfare check to turn into a quasi-legal home invasion and killing, even though they knew that a neighbor had seen Mr. Allen up and around that very day? Again, I think that they do.
This was a bad shoot, but there seems to be plenty of blame to go around and I’m not putting all the blame on the individual officer for a systemic problem we’ve seen playing out nationwide in recent years.
Criminals have long ago adopted the tactic of screaming “police!” when they forcefully break into dwellings in home invasions. The uncertainly often makes homeowners pause long enough for the criminals to get the upper hand. Law enforcement nationwide is well aware of this, and yet agencies have done little or nothing to address the issue tactically to the best I can determine. They still conduct no-knock raids. They still conduct entries where they lead gun-first without adapting different tactics to different situations. They’re still shooting innocent people who are merely trying to defend themselves, and criminally charging those individuals who fire at officers, thinking that they are encountering criminals.
This is unacceptable, and it has to change.