Two Gunshots on a Summer Night
November 23, 2013 6:17 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times (Two Gunshots on a Summer Night) and Frontline (A Death in St. Augustine) collaborate to present the story of the death of Michelle O'Connell, who died of a gunshot wound on September 2, 2010. O'Connell was the girlfriend of St. John's County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Banks. She was shot with Deputy Banks' county-issued handgun. Her death was quickly ruled a suicide.

Embedded in both the New York Times and Frontline pages are numerous other relevant links and multimedia, including:

How to Combat Officer-Involved Domestic Violence

Departments are Slow to Police Their Own Abusers

One Survivor's Story
posted by MoonOrb (26 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The show's up on the FRONTLINE site now, but it's not airing until Tuesday. We wanted it to be concurrent with the Times. Enjoy!
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:29 PM on November 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is why the vaunted, lauded, wept-over concept of 'Brothers in Blue' is not a good thing, it's a horrible, horrible thing. Who will protect us from you, O Brothers in Blue?
posted by umberto at 7:52 PM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

"But if you're really being abused, why don't you go to the police?"

And people wonder why so many people distrust cops.

The state of policing in this country is fucking disgusting.
posted by NoraReed at 10:54 PM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ugh. I'm having a lot of trouble finding words for this. This one gets a PBS documentary and a NYT article about it, and he'll still never be charged. What is anyone even supposed to do?
posted by a birds at 11:01 PM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Assuming the facts are as reported by the NYTimes, then this cop got away with murder. The strangest part is that the victim's brother, a deputy sheriff, flipped sides and is now bff with the cop murderer. This is the shoddiest investigation followed by friends protecting friends.

Fucking Florida.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:02 PM on November 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm so disgusted by this account, I'm not exactly sure what to say. This isn't even a court case that was perhaps decided wrong. It never got far enough for the evidence to be considered.

We need a completely new approach to police, because this kind of thing is just becoming too common. They're no longer protecting the people, they protect the state, themselves, and the assets of the wealthy.

He motioned to Mr. Banks and added, “This guy right here came so damn close to being charged with homicide, it’s scary.”

Yes, congratulate your buddy for getting away with murder, that's great. Congratulate the guy with a history of domestic violence for poorly faking a suicide and let your other officers know they'll be safe to, if, you know, they ever feel like getting some beating or murdering in.

I do like, how on top of it all, they talk about the policy of zero tolerance for domestic violence, and yet even after they play all cutesy and rig the game so the guy doesn't face charges, there is no one saying "well wait a minute, we at least found some credible evidence of this other problem."

My comment probably doesn't make much sense. I'm failing to express just how angry and sad this story made me.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:02 PM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

The unnamed Tacoma Police Chief in the beginning of the Departments are Slow to Police Their Own Abusers link is David Brame.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 11:06 PM on November 23, 2013

For fuck's sake. Why would you even want to close ranks on a murderer like this? Why would you want to continue to work along side a murderer? Heck, people turn in their friends and family for lesser crimes all the time. What makes prosecutors not give a care that they're turning a murderer free who might murder somebody that they give a rip about next time? Presumably they entered into that profession in order to put murderers in jail, right?

I mean, I only work in a cubicle, but if one of my coworkers killed someone on the job, I'd probably report that. I mean, that would be a good idea, right?
posted by Skwirl at 12:13 AM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

For fuck's sake. Why would you even want to close ranks on a murderer like this?

Yeah, but it was just a woman. And you know how they get. Bitch had it coming.

Presumably they entered into that profession in order to put murderers in jail, right?

Only on TV. IRL, it's a great place to crack heads with impunity.

My answers are flippant, but I suspect there is also a level of straight denial. I've known people who outright refuse to believe one of their own could do X. I'm sure that's part of the brother's forgiveness. Which is so so sad, he was with her the night she died, and saw how the boyfriend was agitated.

I think the most damning part is where he talks about the physical violence towards her. The supposedly necessary leg sweep for a woman that's almost literally half his size. Assuming she was in some sort of rage, which I doubt based on the source, he absolutely could have controlled the situation without throwing her to the ground. And hearing him about it like it's a perfectly reasonable thing to have happen in a relationship.

I really feel for her daughter and hope she didn't witness the abuse or/and gets some good counseling so she understands this behavior is not okay when looking for a partner.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:14 AM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's not about whether one of their own could do X, it's about it doesn't matter if one of their own does X. The problem with police departments all over the US is their defending of the indefensible.
posted by Xurando at 5:26 AM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Does the family have civil lawsuit options, a la OJ Simpson?
posted by beagle at 6:27 AM on November 24, 2013

What came next was unexpected. “We heard her yell ‘Help,’ and there was one gunshot, and then she yelled ‘Help’ again, and there was a second gunshot,” Ms. Ladley told Mr. Rodgers. After that, silence. ...

The next day, the women said, they learned from a news crew in the neighborhood that the shooting had occurred in a deputy’s house. “I wasn’t really sure if I should say anything,” Ms. Ladley said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be involved in giving a statement against a deputy.”

Lovely setup we've got here in America
posted by crayz at 7:15 AM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by benzenedream at 7:54 AM on November 24, 2013

I hope the victim's brother is just setting up his alibi.
And yet one more reason for me to hate Rick Scott.
posted by whatgorilla at 8:55 AM on November 24, 2013

There is no apostrophe in St. Johns. Could the OP be fixed?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:37 AM on November 24, 2013

It's just as well that he's not being prosecuted (yet). Judging from the comments by the prosecutor in the Frontline piece, it would not be a very spirited prosecution and the deputy would most likely get off. (cough) George Zimmerman (cough)

The second thing that struck me was the response of the next door neighbor. The next day she said that she didn't want to say anything when she heard that it was a deputy involved. Well, how about getting involved at the time it was fucking happening??? What kind of a person hears a scream for help from next door, a gunshot, another scream for help, another gunshot and then silence and does nothing?? A simple 9-1-1 call is the very fucking least that a decent person would do. Call it in as a noise complaint if nothing else.

Fucking Florida
posted by leftcoastbob at 1:23 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

not to excuse that woman, but in my old apartment crackheads lived across the hallway. there were frequent loud violent fights. it was usually two or more men.

there were times I was holding the phone in my hand, 911 dialed, and debating pressing send because I didn't know if the cops would actually take anyone away if and when they did decide to come. and if they didn't take someone away, how long would it take of those scary men to come into my apt? no one else was on our floor. they would have a good idea it was me. my flimsy door would not keep them out and I could not leave without going in front of their door.

and even if they did take someone away, what about when he came back?

maybe she was afraid the cops would never come again if she told on a cop.
posted by sio42 at 3:12 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The saddest thing I've seen is that the reaction on Twitter is largely, "Well, it's Florida" or "Carl Hiaasen doesn't write fiction, does he?"

Like "Oh, well, we've given up on America's Very Own Banana Republic! Good luck, citizens of the Sunshine State!" When did it become okay to shrug and accept such blatant, lawless corruption? And what can people outside the state do, other than quietly implore our loved ones to unload any Florida real estate and boycott the state ourselves?
posted by sobell at 3:35 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think this is particular to Florida. People that believe this is specific to the culture there and that it doesn't happen in their part of the US are deluding themselves.

I think that what happened in this case was that cops have two very strongly competing fundamental motivations: arresting criminals and protecting themselves and fellow officers. Here, they reached the scene and a few influential people, caught in a conflict between the two impulses, broke toward the "protecting cops" direction and therefore so did everyone else. At that point the stakes became very, very high for anyone who didn't go along with that flow. And so the investigation wasn't done properly, the medical examiner provided the "correct" result, and everyone involved hoped that this problem would quietly go away.

It's possible that if Michelle O'Connell's family, particularly her brother the deputy, had arrived there before Jeremy Banks's friends and family, and had presented their suspicion of Banks along with their report of conversations with Michelle (hearsay, so not admissible in court but that doesn't mean it's not useful for an investigation), then the detectives and the supervisor on the scene might have broken in the other direction, seeing Banks as a bad guy, even if one of their own, and conducted the investigation very differently.

I don't think it's as simple as them knowingly and deliberately covering up to protect one of their own; I think that a set of contingent circumstances caused them to begin walking down an attractive garden path and, pretty quickly, there really wasn't any possibility for them to turn back. Anyone who had qualms about it once the investigation was begun in such a way that, were this properly a murder investigation, it would have been unambiguously bungled, would have been putting their professional livelihood at risk. The combination of worrying about one's job and worrying about being perceived as a traitor to the fellowship is a powerfully motivating force. Everyone basically went all-in and, once criticism surfaced, they had a lot of emotional investment to delude themselves.

And I also think that while I think that prosecutor Brad King's arguments are specious, I also think that ultimately he's correct, unfortunately: with everything that had already happened in the investigation, there is no way that the state could have won a guilty verdict at trial. It's a terrible injustice to O'Donnell and her family, but having a trial that would inevitably find Banks not guilty wouldn't help.

What would help would be a special investigation into the sheriff office's conduct and numerous reprimands and dismissals as a result, including Sheriff Shoar to be voted out of office. And then all the various investigations used in a civil action against Jeremy Banks on behalf of Alexis and her family. That wouldn't undo the damage done by the failure to properly investigate and prosecute what looks like a probable murder, but it would help. A trial with a not guilty verdict won't.

Some other thoughts — although Detective Jessica Hines clearly decided that Banks wasn't guilty of murder, on their own her friendly interview that night and the later one, also friendly, where he confesses to having looked at the investigation report, are not problematic. I think that a friendly affect can be a very effective tactic in interviewing a suspect by law enforcement, lowering their guard and possibly making them overconfident. The reason I say, though, that she "clearly" believed him innocent was her conduct and conclusions of the rest of the investigation combined with her affect in those interviews. But being friendly, while seemingly odd, is not in itself objectionable.

Had it been strictly an interview tactic, I don't think it would have worked. He was moderately believable in the excerpt of Hines's interview of him that night; he wasn't, for example, needlessly elaborating and embellishing his story, something that an overconfident suspect might do. And, indeed, it looks like it might have been more productive to be hostile rather than friendly; he may have been put quite off-guard by being obviously suspected by his fellow deputies. But, you know, this is armchair quarterbacking. Interviewing is difficult, by all accounts, and investigators make the decisions they make.

In contrast, though, I felt that his affect on the 911 call was suspicious. I'm very uncertain about making any judgments on that basis, because I firmly believe that how people think people "normally" react in extreme situations like that is not, in fact, how people always normally act. There's quite a large variation in how people behave at crime scenes or when learning that a loved one has been killed. I think that people have naive expectations about a certain kind of emotional outburst, when in fact different kinds of people normally react in ways that run the gamut from uncontrollable outbursts to ultra-rationality and deadened affect to a calm "everything is normal" friendliness.

That said, Banks's 911 call just sounded "off" to me. To be frank, it sounded like a performance of what he thought he should sound like making that call. I want to make something of his sudden change of affect in response to "ma'am", but that could be quite normal, a sudden hyper-focused diversion to an irritation away from what is very upsetting. I don't know. On the other hand, it could be meaningful. I can only report that the call sounded quite unconvincing to me, though I've little experience with such things.

What's going on with Michelle's brother, I don't completely understand. It's not unfamiliar, though. Recall that he was said to have endangered or temporarily lost his job for his outburst when King announced to the family that they were not going to prosecute. I think I can understand how his need to work and his conflicting feelings about his fellowship with the sheriff's office could lead him to reach a place where he had a decision to make to go "all in" one direction or the other. Quite like what happened to the sheriff's office right at the beginning of the investigation. He chose, ultimately, to protect his own self-interests. I find it very disturbing, even repugnant, but I am hesitant to really condemn the man because, let's face it, he's been through a hellish situation with only bad choices. This was an especially bad choice, though, sadly. I think he'll ultimately find that whatever the outcome with Banks, his estrangement from his family in conjunction with his sister's death will be a loss that could not be possibly compensated for by his position within the sheriff's department.

And this whole case is basically domestic violence writ large. Very often, when it's revealed, by accusations or even unambiguous evidence, people and families take sides and some people close ranks with the criminal. I think that we've made strides in our culture about taking it seriously, about listening to the women who are victims and helping them be safe and arresting and prosecuting the offenders, just like we've made strides with sexual violence. But that's only progress, it's relative to how horribly bad it was in recent memory (that's only twenty years ago, which is "recent" to me), and we really have a long, long way to go. There's still rampant violence against women committed by their partners that is unseen, denied, covered-up. It happens everywhere. There's a particular and special problem with law enforcement comitting such violence, both in terms of frequency and in LE response. But it's a general problem, victims of domestic violence are very much at risk and the deck is still stacked against them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:36 PM on November 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

“It is not illegal to ruin your life in the U.S. It’s just illegal to take your life. Until he tries to take your life there is nothing we can do for you.”

And if he's a cop, there's still not a thing they will do for you.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:01 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It took Drew Peterson to kill 2 wives before he got noticed. And even in jail, he's smiling and cocky as ever.

The domestic violence laws/restraining order laws have to change.
posted by stormpooper at 7:35 AM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The sheriff's office involved has put up a page with documents, including some heated correspondence with the NYT reporter, in response to the story.
posted by mediareport at 7:38 AM on November 25, 2013

... and taken it down again, it seems.
posted by tigrrrlily at 8:22 AM on November 25, 2013

They're no longer protecting the people, they protect the state, themselves, and the assets of the wealthy.

Sic semper transit.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2013

tigrrrlily: "... and taken it down again, it seems."

It is back up as of this comment.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:17 PM on November 25, 2013

Victims of abuse by their partners who happen to be in law enforcement also have it ten times rougher when it comes to getting out of their bad situation. Cops have access to the locations of domestic violence shelters in the area. I remember having to block three cops from going upstairs to the living area at a Chicago shelter where I was the sole overnight counselor-advocate on duty; the guy, backed by his two buddies, was looking for his girlfriend, and you could see him weighing his options as I firmly insisted that it was a private residence and he wasn't invited or allowed up. As a 108-pound woman, I was very relieved when he backed down, halfway up the stairs.

This was by no means the only woman I counseled whose abusive husband or boyfriend was a cop. Generally we tried to find them safe places to go out of state, if possible.
posted by salix at 9:52 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

« Older 50 Years of Dr. Who   |   Fun Home (the musical) Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments