Why do they insist that the police will protect you?

I haven’t posted on the semi-local* incident of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy who killed his ex-wife at a gas station and then got into a shootout with state troopers on the interstate on Monday, because there wasn’t a lot of information beyond the basics, and I didn’t really know where to go with it. When a cop goes that bad, with what was apparently little to no warning, there’s not a whole lot most people can do. There’s no indication from the available information that the victim knew he was following her until he got out of the truck and shot her. Even if she did, she did the appropriate thing by going to a crowded area. It sounds like the violence was sudden and unanticipated, and she wouldn’t have had much (if any) time to react.

But now this information has surfaced.

Almost a half-hour before Jennifer Carter Agee was shot to death on Memorial Day, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office was warned that her sheriff’s deputy ex-husband had an assault rifle and was driving to Salem to kill her.

But Sheriff Ewell Hunt told his dispatch center not to issue a “be on the lookout” alert to other law enforcement agencies, saying he would take care of the situation himself, according to a sheriff’s office radio call log. [emphasis mine]

He instead called the Salem police department directly. He claims “I thought I could get the fastest response by making personal contact,” but when he couldn’t get direct contact with a supervisor he simply left a message with the dispatcher for someone to call him. By the time he got that return call, thirteen minutes later, Jennifer Agee had already been shot. [Note: To avoid confusion, I will refer to the victim either as “the victim” or “Jeniffer Agee”, and the shooter as “the shooter” or Dep. Agee.]

Rather than issue an immediate alert that would have had every police officer in the area actively looking for a rogue deputy who was threatening homicide (and for the intended victim so she could be protected), he waited almost a quarter of an hour for a call back that might never have come – plenty of time for that deputy to reach his destination and commit his planned murder without interference. Additionally, the department he called does not cover the area where the shooting ended up actually happening, which was in the neighboring city of Roanoke.

There are only two reasons I can think of for him to do this. He may have been concerned that Dep. Agee would hear the BOL and know they were looking for him, since he was known to be in a patrol car at the time. But that reason doesn’t wash when you realize that he a) knew that his current wife had called the Sheriff’s Office and told them what he intended, and b) they were trying to call him on the radio – alerting him to the fact that they were trying to locate him. Additionally, in the local departments every officer has a cell phone and the number is on file with dispatch. A “silent” BOL by cell phone could have been easily issued, keeping it off the radios.

The other reason would be to keep the situation quiet. Dep. Agee already had previous disciplinary issues that had resulted in bad publicity for the department. The Sheriff may have been attempting to keep everything under wraps to avoid further bad publicity, or to try and protect Dep. Agee’s career. Those previous issues involved the Sheriff’s 17 year-old (at the time) daughter. Since Dep. Agee still had a job after that, you know that the Sheriff both liked Dep. Agee, and clandestinely approved of his actions at the time.

Either way, it is entirely possible that Jennifer Agee would still be alive had he not withheld critical, urgent information from the neighboring agencies. They could have found her before he did and taken her into protective custody, or they could have found and stopped him before he found her. The second possibility would probably still have resulted in a shootout with the officers that found him, but that is a risk every officer knows is possible when they take the job, and it would have protected an innocent civilian – which should always be any police officer’s first concern.

Instead, we have an innocent woman shot to death by her ex-husband in front of their daughter, and a State Trooper injured in the line of duty.

Remember, the police are not required to protect you.

END OF LINE

* He killed his ex-wife in a neighboring county, and the shootout took place in my county, but not “locally” in my county.

[Source: Roanoke Times story, retrieved 6/1/11]

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Update: Welcome, readers from Snowflakes in Hell! On a blog that rarely breaks 50 views in a day, you’ve pushed it over 300 today! (So is that called a Bitterlanche?)

I just wish it wasn’t such a tragic story that did it.

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6 Comments

  1. I’m curious as to what would have happend if the woman would have been carrying and shot first. Or an armed bystander had shot the rogue cop.

    Bet they’d be in jail right now.

    And not just as “routine procedure.”

    Reply
  2. Laughingdog

     /  June 1, 2011

    “Why do they insist that the police will protect you?”

    Whenever anyone tries to claim that, I just go straight to the USSC’s answer to that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Rock_v._Gonzales

    Reader’s Digest version: If you call for help, the police can essentially tell you to go fuck yourself and suffer no legal consequences for refusing to aid you.

    Reply
  3. Meh… good post and lots to think about. I apparently came through that area on I-81 about 15 minutes before that all went down. That Sheriff has a LOT of questions to answer, period…

    Reply
    • You got lucky – it ended up getting backed up at least 20 miles (from Ironto at exit 128 to Radford, which is the 108) that day.

      They shut the northbound side down again from Christiansburg to Salem for several hours today, too, to do more crime scene analysis. I’m glad I don’t work in Roanoke anymore.

      As far as that Sheriff… it’s worse than what I actually posted. Not only did he not put any real effort into protecting the victim (the one person that he knew was targeted), but he had deputies bring in the shooter’s current wife, the daughter he had custody of, and the shooter’s parents – for their protection.

      Meanwhile, the shooter’s other daughter (that the victim had custody of) had to watch her father murder her mother in front of her, while the man elected and sworn to try and prevent this kind of thing sat on his backside and waited for a phone call from the wrong person.

      The more I read, the angrier I get.

      Reply
  4. Flavius

     /  June 2, 2011

    “Additionally, in the local departments every officer has a cell phone and the number is on file with dispatch. A “silent” BOL by cell phone could have been easily issued, keeping it off the radios.”

    I thought I would point out that this simply would not work. Throughout the Roanoke and New River Valley there are easily 100 officers on duty at any one time from about a dozen separate departments. Calling them individually and relaying the information would have taken hours. The various dispatches are generally manned by only one or two people. Add to that the fact that cell phone coverage in this region is not 100%.

    I do think that the failure to initially issue the BOL was a mistake and the Sheriff will have to answer for that.

    Reply
    • It wouldn’t work for doing it with voice calls, but BOL’s, I believe, are usually sent to neighboring departments by a computer network or teletype-style system unless it involves a very short list of departments. Even if that’s not the case, unless the departments in the area are very stupid they should have a phone-tree style system set up. Franklin County would only have had to call, for example, Roanoke Co. and Montgomery Co. Roanoke Co. would call Roanoke City and Salem City, while Montgomery would call Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Virginia Tech. There is no reason one dispatcher would need to call every single department in both Valleys.

      Similarly, there is no reason each department’s dispatcher should have to call every working officer individually. Even 5 years ago the dispatch center I worked at had CAD software with built-in text messaging from the dispatch consoles. Messages could be sent individually or to groups, and groups could be customized on-the-fly. I would be extremely surprised if that wasn’t a standard part of CAD software now, but even without that ability, there should be a phone-tree system in place based on the shift organization – if for no other reason than to allow rapid dissemination of information in the event the radio system goes down. Additionally, several departments have MDT systems, and alerts can simply be sent to the terminals in each car.

      At most, it would probably take 10 minutes to disseminate an alert to every working officer in the Roanoke and New River valleys even without using the radio.

      Reply

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