Chandler officer's arrest stuns police Fear scrutiny may stir doubt in line of fire

By Jim Walsh and Chris Fiscus

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 11, 2002

Police are accustomed to being second-guessed, but Valley cops were still jolted by the landmark arrest of a Chandler police officer on murder charges.

Many officers are incensed by Officer Dan Lovelace's arrest on second-degree murder charges and may "back off and let things happen," said Sam Wooldridge, president of the Arizona Police Association.

But others say public scrutiny of police shootings is nothing new and hope officers will continue to rely on their training while making split-second decisions to avoid life-threatening delays.

"From the time we put on a badge and go to work, we know every move we make is going to be scrutinized," said Sgt. Randy Force, a Phoenix police spokesman.

Police officers throughout the Valley cautioned that Lovelace deserves his day in court and complained he is being lynched by the public and media.

"The reality of the job tends to come out more accurately in a courtroom than in a newspaper," said Sgt. Kelvin Smith, president of the Mesa Police Association.

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley announced Thursday that he was taking the unusual step of charging Lovelace because evidence shows the officer shot Dawn Rae Nelson from behind at the drive-through window of a Walgreens drugstore.

Romley said two autopsies showed that the bullet entered the back of Nelson's left arm and traveled at a forward angle into her body. He said Lovelace was not in immediate danger of Nelson running him down.

Lovelace said he feared Nelson was turning the car toward him, but witness accounts dispute his statements.

"Everyone knows when you screw up, you pay for it," Smith said, "but we've never seen something like what this officer is facing."

If officers were to second-guess themselves during a life-threatening situation, the results could be disastrous, he said.

"You are processing the situation as quickly as possible and trying to reach the right decision," Smith said. "If that process is slowed down, you are risking serious injury."

Smith believes most officers will continue to rely on their training, but said the public often has a misconception that officers can be perfect all the time.

"I think sometimes there's an expectation from the public that we're robots, but we're people like anyone else," he said.

Wooldridge said he expects officers will react the same when their lives are on the line, but said doubt could creep into their minds in non-life-threatening situations.

"It might make officers think twice," said Wooldridge, a retired Phoenix police officer. "Am I sure? Do I want to suffer the possible consequences if I'm wrong? . . . It's going to bring a chill."

But Jake Jacobsen, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, expects no difference between the response of officers to threats against their lives and other people's lives.

Most life-threatening situations unfold at lightning speed and officers don't have the luxury of pondering the consequences for hours, he said.

"I would hope there would not be a hesitation. They have to react," Jacobsen said.

The case is a reminder to officers, Wooldridge said, that when things don't go right, a police department might "drop you like a hot potato."

"When the going gets tough, they get going," Wooldridge said.

Lovelace is being defended in the criminal case through the Arizona Police Association legal defense fund.

Visit the Crazy Atheist Libertarian
Check out "David Dorn" - Hate Monger
Check out Atheists United - Arizona
Visit my atheist friends at Heritics, Atheists, Skeptics, Humanists, Infidels, and Secular Humanists - Arizona
Arizona Secular Humanists
Paul Putz Cooks the Arizona Secular Humanist's Check Book
News about crimes commited by the police and government
News about crimes commited by religious leaders and beleivers
Some strange but true news about the government
Some strange but real news about religion
Interesting, funny but otherwise useless news!
Libertarians talk about freedom
Cool Useless Photos, Cool gif files, Cool jpg files
Legal Library
Gif, JPG, and other images you can use on your web pages
David Dorn Insuranse