Monday, July 30, 2007

What is a law enforcement officer to do?

All the talk in Kenosha today is about a young man that was shot and killed on Saturday night.

I have spoken to several individuals about this- everyone I have spoken too seems to agree- the final outcome was unavoidable.

For five hours- the officers and the deputies did everything they could to save this man's life. In the end- he pointed a gun at the officers and it cost him his life.

Here is the story-

A Randall man was shot and killed early Sunday morning by the Sheriff Department's Tactical Response Team after he led deputies on a chase and then reportedly raised a gun at them.

David J. Estes, 21, had a criminal and mental health history and appeared to want the officers to shoot him, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said Sunday afternoon.

But a member of Estes' family said she believes deputies mishandled the situation and said family members would have never called 911 if they knew this was how it would end.

According to the department, Estes' wife called 911 about 8:39 p.m. Saturday to say her husband had left their house with four loaded weapons, including a handgun and long-barreled weapons.

She said they had an argument, and he left their house in the Nippersink area saying he was going to kill himself. The woman also told dispatchers that Estes might be headed for Paddock Lake, where he had friends and family, and he was driving a red Dodge pickup truck.

A deputy assigned to the Paddock Lake area spotted the truck and followed it until backup arrived. The deputy then tried to pull over the truck, but Estes didn't stop, leading officers on a long chase at speeds of 35 to 65 mph.

Estes apparently stopped at stop signs and stop lights during the chase but wouldn't pull over.

The chase traveled on Highway 45 and onto Highway 50 into Paddock Lake, then onto 60th Street, then onto Highway 83.

Officers tried to use blow-out spike strips several times to stop the truck, but Estes made U-turns to avoid the strips at least four times.

Estes finally drove over a set of the strips and stopped the car on Highway C west of Highway 83 about 9:39 p.m. after stopping for a train. His car was surrounded, and all area streets were blocked off.

Over the next 2½ hours, several sheriff's deputies spoke to the man to try and convince him to give up. Beth said during that time, Estes frequently made quick movements to compartments in the truck in an attempt to make officers believe he was getting a gun.

Estes, who had apparently been shot with bean bags by police before, repeated that he didn't want to be shot with one again and said, "You're going to have to kill me this time."

At one point Estes started the truck in an attempt to leave the scene but couldn't because his tires were blown, Beth said.Estes eventually opened the driver door and sat on the edge of the seat. The tactical team then shot him in the chest wtih a bean bag in an attempt to disable him and let a police dog loose, causing Estes to double over and get back into the truck.

Estes then apparently reached for a rifle and brought the gun up toward officers, according to the department.

The five-member tactical team then fired on him. Beth said the shots broke the window first, but Estes still brought the gun up.

Beth said Estes was shot, but where and how many times remains unclear. All members of the team fired on him, Beth said, and Estes may have shot his gun before he was shot.

Beth said that hadn't been confirmed.

Estes was immediately taken by ambulance to St. Catherine's Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:07 a.m.

Family upset about handling

Estes' mother-in-law Teri White said her daughter, Estes' wife, wasn't contacted throughout the night and didn't know Estes' condition.

"Nobody bothered to even let his wife know that he was dead," she said.

White said Estes was a sweet person who had two kids, ages 9 months and 2 years. He had mental health problems in the past, she said, including anxiety attacks.

He had attempted suicide twice before, and medications that doctors prescribed didn't seem to work, she said.

"I don't think the doctors were giving him the right medicine," she said. "It seems like he got lost in the system."White said Estes had been improving lately and had worked on getting his GED while preparing to take a welding class at a local technical college.

Family members couldn't speak with Estes during the standoff, she said, though it may have helped.

"I know (his wife) could have talked him down," she said.White said the family called police so they would help Estes and said they believe Estes never would have shot at officers.

"He would not have hurt them," she said. "For this to happen is unbelievable," she said.

Man has criminal history

But Beth said the department has had at least three serious and violent contacts with Estes that required hands-on contact by deputies.

Court records show that Estes was twice charged with and found guilty of disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property in 2003, and faced one obstructing charge in the same year.

He also pleaded guilty to battery in 2006 after he, according to Kenosha News archives, bit a woman's cheek during an argument.

Beth said Estes had been taken into custody under Chapter 51 at least twice before.

That means that Estes was committed to a mental health institution because he was mentally ill and had or was likely to harm himself or others.

Beth said the last contact his department had with Estes was last October.

Officers on leave

Beth said the tactical team is made up of two deputies and three Kenosha Police Department officers.

The two deputies were placed on administrative leave for two days, he said, and it's unknown whether the officers are also on leave.

Both deputies are seasoned department veterans with more than 10 years experience, he said.

In line with department policy, the Racine County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident.

The last time deputies shot and killed someone was 1972, according to the department.

Beth said more information would be available today after deputies finished writing their reports.

I think we all wished for a better outcome- including the law enforcement officers on the scene.

However, if you point a gun at a law enforcement officers, something bad will always happen. Either the officer gets hurt or killed or the person doing the aiming is hurt or killed.

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