Thirty-eight year old Berry Millsap was fighting with his wife Monday. This really was nothing new. Someone called 911 around 1:30pm and the cops were dispatched to the Millsap’s house on Sixth Avenue. This too was nothing new. Officer Kevin Lorberau, a thirteen year veteran was one of the responding officers. (Tacoma Police always send at least two officers to respond to domestic disputes due to their volatile nature.)
Lorberau and another officer met with Mrs. Millsap in the alley behind her house. Her husband had locked himself in the house. While interviewing Mrs. Millsap, Lorberau noticed signs she’d been assaulted. When asked Mrs. Millsap said that Berry had assaulted her.
Inside the house, Berry was aware that the police were outside. He was also no strange to domestic violence laws and likely knew that he was at the very least going to jail because Washington State law is that if police respond to a domestic dispute, they have to arrest at least one person involved.* The police were trying to talk to him and get him to open the door. He didn’t want that. He told them that if they came inside he’d shoot them.
Outside Lorberau and the other officer knew that this was a potentially bad situation. It was the sort of thing that could take hours and end up with someone dead. But Berry was no stranger to the police. He may be dangerous, but he wasn’t the sort of guy you’d call in a SWAT team for. They decided it was time to go in.
One officer entered the front door while another entered the side door. Berry ran and hid behind a couch. As the officers approached, he stood up from behind the couch and pointed something black and gray at them. Officer Lorberau opened fire. Local residents say they heard five or six very quick shots. Berry Millsap was dead. In his hand was a cordless drill.
It would be easy for someone to write a story with a headline like “COP SHOOTS MAN HOLDING DRILL”. It would be easy to paint this as yet another example of police overreacting. All you have to do is leave out almost all of the facts. At the end of the day, what happened is simple. Berry Millsap threatened to shoot the cops and then pointed something that looked like a gun at them after already demonstrating on his wife that he was capable of violence. What Kevin Lorberau did will likely haunt him for the rest of his life. It is a tragedy. But the only one to blame for the tragedy is Berry Millsap. He assaulted his wife. He threatened the police. And he popped up from behind a couch and pointed something black and shiny at armed men who had reason to fear for their lives. Yes, police brutality exists. I’ve personally written up police reports with phrases like “suspect apparently fell while getting into the squad car and lost a few teeth”. However, there is such a thing as ‘suicide by cop’ and this certainly looks more like that sort of situation than anything else.
Don’t worry. I’m still working on the Java Jive story. I’ll post it as soon as it’s done. But writing about the Java Jive is like trying to tell a blind man about color. It’s just something you need to experience. Still, I’m one for lost causes and so the Jive story will be told.
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*A reader wrote in to inform me that Washington State Law says they only need to arrest someone if there is evidence of assault or interference with a 911 call, but experience has shown that Tacoma officers arrest people (usually men) simply because there was a domestic dispute.