Friday, February 03, 2006

Well Done, Officers


Houston takes its share of flak for police misconduct and mistakes, but not enough for saving lives. Thursday afternoon a very dangerous situation was resolved as well as it reasonably could have been, through the courage and cool judgment of the Houston Police Department.

Somewhere around 2 PM, DeSoto Police issued an Amber Alert for Kiara Renee Allen, 4 years old, and an endangered person report for Andrea Nicole Allen, the mother. Jeremy Ethon Roberson, Allen’s boyfriend, had been overheard having a loud argument with her and when the child was not dropped off the grandmother phoned police.

Shortly after that time, police near Willis were notified about a passenger in a white Neon firing shots at another car. The caller identified the car and the police matched the license plates with the Amber alert, which led to the chase by police.

In past incidents, the police had held back and followed at a distance because of fears they might cause an accident, but because this time shots had already been fired at other cars the police stayed in close contact. The chance to stop the vehicle was hindered by the two hostages Roberson held. A Shenendoah police officer reported “The violator attempted to evade, and as the pursuit continued, our officer observed that a gun was pointed to the head of the driver”. Multiple cars were shot at by Roberson, who appeared to have a shotgun and pistol, and possibly a third weapon as well. The multiple weapons as well as Roberson’s clear willingness to fire at innocent people raised the stakes higher.

The chase continued into Harris County, and by this time Houston news helicopters provided live view of the pursuit. I saw the last fifteen minutes of the chase as it happened, in time to see Roberson fire his pistol twice at a pickup truck which briefly tried to force the Neon against the retaining wall.

Clearly in fear for her life, and aware that Roberson’s actions were increasingly desperate and reckless, Andrea Allen made a difficult decision of her own; she opened the driver side door with the car moving at more than 70 miles per hour, took her foot off the accelerator, and dived out of the car just as the Neon rammed the back of a white pickup truck, at I-45 at Crosstimbers. Allen climbed to her feet, swayed for a moment, then realized he daughter was still in the car and tried to run after the Neon, which was drifting off to the right side of the road. Police intercepted Allen and took her out of the danger zone, while a circle of officers moved in towards the car with guns drawn.

For a few seconds, it looked as though the police might be able to take Roberson into custody without further incident, but Roberson suddenly began firing at police, as I saw the back window shatter from shotgun blasts. The police then did a brilliant maneuver:

About six police officers moved towards Roberson on the right, drawing his fire and firing their own pistols towards the front of the car, away from Kiara in the back. At the same time, another four officers crouched down and ran to grab the left rear door; they opened it and grabbed Kiara. Two officers shielded Kiara with their bodies as they ran away from the car and Roberson to take the little girl to safety.

Once Kiara was safely removed from the situation, Roberson had one choice – surrender or die. He opened fire again on the police one last time, and the police fired back with lethal results.

Traffic was a mess for hours afterwards, since the police had to wait for investigators to collect all the evidence in this officer-involved shooting. And yes, some people were slightly injured. But Kiara and her mom are alive and safe, and a situation was addressed which could easily have been much, much worse.

Not to tell you your job, Mister Harold Hurtt, but it seems to me you have some commendations and awards to hand out, for valor and professional performance.

Well done, officers, and thanks. We don’t say it enough.

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