When a hero is just a hero

Update 12:44 p.m 1/29 – Let me clarify what this post is about because it’s clear after talking to several people, including Attorney Gaertner , that I didn’t write it properly to get the message across. The point is not that the actions of a police officer were reviewed — of course they should be — or that it took 5 months for the county attorney’s office to issue a clean bill of health. The posting should not have said it took the county attorney’s office five months. It should only have noted that the final disposition came five months after the incident. For the record, the case wasn’t turned over for review by her office until last week. The post is about how the story was framed at the media end, and the elevation of the possibility of charges at the media’s — that’s us — end. The reason I put the entire news release online is so readers could see that the county attorney’s office affirmed heroic actions, which goes — at least by my editorial sensibilities — beyond phrases like “acted properly” and even “justified.” I regret not being more clear in the original post.

I was going to read this story on my Current “newscast” today (). And then I read it to myself first:

Authorities say a Maplewood Police Officer was justified in using deadly force when she fatally shot the man who killed North St. Paul Officer Richard Crittenden in September.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office released the findings of its review Wednesday, saying Officer Julie Nelson won’t face charges.

What’s the problem? To me, raising the possibility of charges against Officer Julie Nelson cheapens her actions on the awful day that Officer Crittenden died trying to protect a woman and her child from an abusive man.

It took the Ramsey County Attorney months to determine that she will not be charged with anything. Most of the media reports also led with the angle that the shooting was justified… and Officer Nelson won’t be charged with anything.

Here’s Attorney Susan Gaertner’s full press release today. See if you can find another headline for the story:

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has determined that Maplewood Police Officer Julie Olson was justified in using deadly force against a man who assaulted her and killed North St. Paul Police Officer Richard Crittenden in a September 7, 2009, incident at a North St. Paul apartment.

Prosecutors reviewed reports from a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigation of the incident and determined there is no probable cause to consider charges against Olson in the fatal shooting of 34-year-old Devon Dockery.

It is standard practice for the County Attorney’s Office to review fatal shootings in Ramsey County involving law enforcement officers.

“I am convinced based on my office’s review of this tragic and violent incident that both Officer Ron Crittenden and Officer Julie Olson not only acted properly, but acted heroically,” County Attorney Susan Gaertner said.

“Officer Crittenden was killed while trying to protect Olson and two women who had called police for help. Officer Olson placed her life in grave danger while defending Officer Crittenden, the two women and herself,” Gaertner said.

According to the BCA investigative reports: Officers Crittenden and Olson were dispatched to an apartment building at 2253 Skillman Ave. E. shortly after 8 a.m. on September 7, 2009. They were responding to a 911 call from Stacy Terry, Dockery’s estranged wife, who feared that Dockery was in her apartment in violation of a court Order for Protection.

Terry told the officers that Dockery was at her apartment building on September 6, 2009, and told her that he had a gun. After that conversation, Terry told police, she and her teenage daughter left the apartment building and not did return until the morning of September, 7, 2009.

When they arrived that morning at 2253 Skillman Ave. E, Officers Crittenden and Olson entered the building and first searched for Dockery in a vacant apartment near Terry’s apartment.

The officers then went to Terry’s apartment along with Terry and her daughter. When the officers and women entered the apartment, Dockery advanced toward them and threw a flaming rag that landed on Crittenden’s head.

Crittenden pushed the women away from Dockery, then wrestled with him. At some point, Dockery disengaged from Crittenden and physically accosted Olson. Crittenden then tried to get Dockery away from Olson. During their second struggle, Dockery got control of Crittenden’s handgun and fatally shot him in the head at point blank range.

Dockery then pointed the gun at Olson, and they exchanged gunfire from opposite ends of a short couch.

Olson was wounded when a shot fired by Dockery hit her utility belt and fragmented, sending pieces of metal into the officer’s right arm. Olson then retreated into a hallway outside the apartment to reload her weapon from a better position of cover.

Olson and Maplewood Police Officer Lonn Bakke, who also was responding to the 911 call, then reentered the apartment and found Dockery fatally wounded and lying near the couch next to Crittenden.

The BCA investigation determined that the entire violent incident, in which multiple shots were fired by Dockery and Olson, occurred within a matter of seconds.

Gaertner’s review of what happened reads almost exactly the way the BCA said it happened when it released details of the incident in North St. Paul almost five months ago.