Monday, June 27, 2005

The Death of Nathan Thomas

January 16, 1992
An armed intruder breaks into the Thomas house. 12 year old Nathan Thomas is home alone. Portland Police respond and discover the intruder holding a knife to the boys throat. When the intruder starts to cut Nathan's throat, the officers shoot and both the intruder and the boy are killed.

In this case, the city failed the responding officers. The Police Bureau had cancelled formal training for the previous two years, supervision failed and policies and procedures were not current. There was no special weapons team at the house. The officers were on their own and in that split second that defines lives and careers, they made a judgment that turned out to be disasterously wrong. The Thomas family could have owned the city and the police bureau, but instead they forced the city into making long-needed reforms, upgrading policies and providing adequate training in the hopes of preventing another tragedy.

The Thomas case is a prime example of what happens when training, supervision and policy for police fail. This case is so compelling that I've written a couple of short stories about the aftermath and how the lives of the involved officers spiral downward in the years after the shooting. In the stories at least, some good cops can never recover from that defining moment in their lives.

No comments: