Is Police Use of Deadly Force a Problem? It Is If Happens to Your Son!

I recently received this letter from Sarah Fitch in response to one of my posts regarding the need to better control police use of deadly force.

It is not unlike the continuing efforts of Michael Bell, whom I have personally met, in trying to make sense of his son’s death and how and why it happened.


“Hello Mr. Couper, I’m writing this to thank you for lending your extensive experience and being a voice of reason regarding police use of deadly force. I’ve been following your post for some time now.

“My son Samuel Toshiro Smith was murdered by a Seattle police officer on July 17, 2015. Sam was grossly impaired with overdose level of drug in his system. How he came to have overdose level of drug in his system is still a mystery . If it were not for a dash cam video that shows him being killed I would have to believe …… Believe the unbelievable, that my kind nonviolent son who had absolutely no prior history’s….. my beautiful son who had never missed a day of work in his life until that day.

“Well I would just have to believe that police had no other choice. I have my own PTSD seeing my son in the video. The image of his discordant body movement. He is alone on the street no one else around and he is killed in under two seconds… no time wasted in killing him. Not a thought to simply evasion of a impaired person who posed no threat to others. I learned in the inquest that the officer stood over him with his gun aimed for the 16 seconds it took for other officers to arrive. No thought of first aid to my actively dying son who posed no threat. The ambulance given the wrong address as well.

“I didn’t mean to write so much but the words just started coming about my son Sam. The officer showed no remorse during the inquest and only admitted to being panicked.

“There’s something very wrong with how police are trained. Now I know more than any parent ever should. My family is not the ‘kind’ of family that is familiar with trouble or court rooms. I live in a little town called Port Townsend and a large percent of the town knows my family and loved both of my sons. My sons were best friends. My other son Pete committed suicide last year in May. Communities and families are harmed when beloved members are killed.

“I’ve worked as a nurse over 30 years and there are many many times where I could’ve been harmed by either a patient or a patient’s family member. De-escalation saves lives. Critical thinking before entering a potentially volatile scenario saves lives . I wish police were trained to think of how they would handle scenarios without a gun.

“Now I am a grieving parent for the remainder of my years. It does give me hope to read your words. Perhaps the day will come that the sanctity of life is truly valued for all. I harbor no anger only deep sadness for the mentality that exists in thinking that it is ever OK to kill another.

“In appreciation of what you do and hope that It can make a difference,

Sarah Fitch


MY RESPONSE

Dear Sarah, i am so sorry for your two unbearable losses. We lost a son to suicide and I can somewhat relate to your grief ( but two?!). Please join a community group to make these needed changes. Bless you! Can I share this message with others. I will keep your name and address and location confidential if you wish.


MORE FROM SARAH FITCH:

“Hello David, There is an initiative in Washington state. I-940 De-Escalate that gained over 300,000 signatures on petitions. Legislatures will review it and either approve it now as is or it will go to ballot. It mandates that police have advanced training in de-escalation, be required to provide first aid when persons are harmed and to also change current language. Washington state is known as the most difficult state to prosecute an officer because current language must prove that an officer acted with, “forethought and of malice”. In other words premeditated use of deadly force. It is more about preventing use of deadly force then prosecuting officers.

“Nothing can bring back those who’ve been lost. I really don’t understand the good guy bad guy mentality that creates the us or them model of policing that is prevalent. I am not anti-police at all. I am anti-insanity, inhumanity and wish that police overall would actually live up to the myth given them as honorable public servants.

“When I think about that I try to put my head into what it’s like to be a police officer. I am baffled as over and over again when I see the comply or die behavior that results in unnecessary deaths.

“I am sorry to hear that you know something of grief with your son lost to suicide. That leaves a wound that never heals but teaches you a new way to choose to live.

“I choose to live and to honor my sons for all the joy they gave me while they lived. It is the hardest road for any parent to experience . In many ways I lost my son Pete at the same time I lost Sam. They were the best of brothers . Further tragedy followed. My grandson was born in 2016. He was a perfect precious little infant named ‘Sami Bear’ He lived for five weeks then died from SIDS. The agony became too much for Pete. Suicide not by a plan but by impulse on a night when all the demons of loss came crashing down.

“You are welcome to share my words. My son’s name is public Samuel Toshiro Smith and anyone who might seek to know his mother can find me. I’ve learned that people are cruel who have not had close knowledge of needless tragedy in regards to police and deadly force. Media has done a good job of blaming victims. It is OK to share my information. I think I am beyond being hurt by words from those who have not had their hearts opened.

“I was interviewed along with 40 some other families by a man named David Baker who is a professor from the UK specializing in criminal justice. He had a scholarship to come to the states. He writes professional books not designed for the layman. I’d be happy to share his report with you if you give me your email.

“With appreciation.

Sarah Fitch


I don’t presume to think that one day all police uses of deadly force will slowly drift away. It won’t. We live in an armed society and police encounters will armed persons are all too frequent.

But I strongly think that the numbers can be reduced; especially when we put under the microscope those deadly shootings not involving a suspect with a firearm. Police can do better and they know that.

In the meantime, let’s support police making “the preservation of life” a core value and ask them to develop less-than-deadly means to contain persons NOT armed with a firearm which is in the neighborhood of 20-30 percent of police uses of deadly force.

As we can see, there is more than enough pain to go around as not only family members suffer but also police officers involved in these deaths. (See “Officer Involved: A Documentary” which captures the grief that police officers’ suffer as well.]