The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported last week on the story of a 59 year-old nurse, Louise Goldsberry, who found herself pinned down in her apartment during a home invasion. Fortunately, she kept a gun in her home, and so was able to defend herself…right?
Well, no, because the home invaders were actually cops, including the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the Sarasota Police Department, looking for a suspect in a child rape case. Goldsberry stated that she was standing at her kitchen sink, while her boyfriend Craig Dorris was in the next room, when she saw a man “wearing a hunting vest…aiming a gun at her face, with a red light pinpointing her.” She reportedly screamed and ran to her bedroom to get the gun for which she has a concealed weapons permit. She didn’t know whether to believe him when the man claimed to be a police officer, because she said she had no idea why the police would be behaving in this way in her apartment.
Dorris managed to at least somewhat defuse the situation, although both of them ended up in handcuffs for at least half and hour. Police found the child-rape suspect in a different part of town later that night. He had never been in Goldsberry’s apartment, and Goldsberry had no idea who he was. The U.S. Marshal who was at Goldsberry’s door, Matt Wiggins, admitted that the tip regarding the suspect’s location was about the apartment complex as a whole—they had no reason whatsoever to suspect that he was in Goldsberry’s apartment, except for this:
But when the people in Goldsberry’s apartment didn’t open up, that told Wiggins he had probably found the right door. No one at other units had reacted that way, he said.
Maybe none of them had a gun pointed at them through the kitchen window, I suggested. But Wiggins didn’t think that was much excuse for the woman’s behavior. He said he acted with restraint and didn’t like having that gun aimed at him.
“I went above and beyond,” Wiggins said. “I have to go home at night.”
This is a prime example of the First Rule of Policing, as defined by Scott Greenfield: Make it home for dinner. No matter what led to the situation where a gun was pointed at Wiggins, he intended to defend himself. Wiggins made a decision that, because the occupant of a particular apartment did not answer the door politely, they must be up to no good. As much as anyone may want to see child rapists get pummeled, this is simply a bad general rule.
This demonstrates another principle identified by Greenfield: police assume you know exactly why they stopped you or are pointing a gun at you, and may start beating you or shooting at you if you don’t do exactly as they say.
That’s the funny thing about not having the slightest clue why a guy is pointing a gun at you. The cops start with the assumption that you’re guilty, and therefore know exactly why they nabbed you. This bit of confusion can, and often does, lead to a problematic reaction.
Goldsberry is actually pretty lucky that the cops didn’t just start shooting, although I don’t think she should be sending the Sarasota Police Department or the U.S. Marshals any thank-you notes.
We are always being told by the gun lobby that we need whatever firepower we can get our hands on to protect ourselves from home invasions. What happens when your home is invaded by police who are in the wrong place? Do we have to live our lives as though, at any moment, police could break down the door?
“I was thinking, is this some kind of nutjob?” [said Goldsberry.]
No, just a well-trained officer who knows how to go after a man assumed to be a dangerous felon, but isn’t so good at understanding a frightened woman confronted with an aggressive armed stranger coming after her in her own home.
Wiggins offered the Herald-Tribune perhaps the most chilling statement I’ve seen uttered by law enforcement in some time:
“I feel bad for her,” Wiggins conceded, finally. “But at the same time, I had to reasonably believe the bad guy was in her house based on what they were doing.”
Goldsberry wasn’t arrested or shot despite pointing a gun at a cop, so Wiggins said, “She sure shouldn’t be going to the press.”
Why shouldn’t she be going to the press? Wiggins, at least from the tone expressed in the Herald-Tribune article, seems annoyed that he has to answer for what happened in Goldsberry’s apartment. I think Radley Balko sums up my thoughts on that quite well:
Jesus. The US Marshal flat out *admits* he had no idea if it was the right apartment. Inexcusable. http://t.co/AZxNVBopmh
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) July 20, 2013