Tag Archives: Robert O’Connell

Second Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Robert David O’Connell

Friday night, a little before 7pm, 42-year-old Robert David O’Connell walked into the 76 Station on Puyallup Avenue a few blocks away from Portland Ave. He’d recently been diagnosed with a mental illness. He’d also been put on leave from his place of work. In his pocket, he had a revolver. He decided to purchase a knife from the 76 Station. After this he walked around outside. Someone, perhaps the clerk, called the police because they thought he was behaving strangely. This was likely due to the fact that he had stopped taking his medication for some reason.

Two Tacoma police officers arrived in a patrol car. They saw him hanging around a phone booth by the gas station. As they approached him, one of them asked that he take his hands out of his pockets. When he did, he pulled out the revolver and began firing. One shot hit the patrol car. He fired two other shots, but it’s unknown what, if anything they hit.

The two police officers returned fire, striking Robert O’Connell multiple times. When the fire department arrived, he was already dead. While there was initial and unsubstantiated speculation that these events happened differently, both the evidence and most witness statements seem to back up this version of events. Witnesses say they heard a couple of shots followed by ‘a bunch’ of more shots. Any speculation that Robert didn’t have a gun can be disproven by the bullet hole in the police car. I have no doubt that whatever investigation as done will rule this shooting justified.

However, just because the two police officers responding to the scene were in a situation where they had to use lethal force, this doesn’t make it any less a tragedy. Robert O’Connell had friends, a family, and a job. At some point, he snapped. There’s talk that perhaps this was ‘suicide by cop’. It’s possible. We’ll never know for sure.

Mental illness is a tricky thing. It’s not something you can usually see. What the two police officers encountered Friday night was a man who pulled out a gun and started firing. What happened next took only a few seconds. There was no way to know that he was mentally ill and even if he did, that does not negate the fact that he was firing a gun at them.

It’s likely that if Robert had taken his medication, this tragedy would not have happened. Robert would still be alive and two Tacoma cops would have had just another Friday night on the east side of Tacoma. My thoughts go out to Robert’s friends and family and to those of the two police officers.

– Jack Cameron

Officer Involved Shooting In Tacoma

Last night brought the second homicide of 2011 in Tacoma. Two patrolmen found a suspicious person near a phone booth by the 76 Station near East Portland Ave. and Puyallup Ave. As they approached him, he pulled out a handgun and opened fire. The two patrolmen returned fire, killing him.

This is just the latest local police involved shooting and there are many people jumping to conclusions before all of the facts are in. At this point, there are very few facts. I’ll be writing about this in much more detail once more information has been released.

During KIRO 7’s newscast last night they talked to a guy who called himself ‘John’ who didn’t want his face shown and refused to talk to police. He said that the cops just walked up and shot the guy. There’s absolutely no reason to believe his story at this point. Let’s buy into his story for a moment.

Let’s pretend it’s true. You watch two cops shoot an unarmed man. Talking to the news is probably a good idea, but if you’re actually afraid of the police at this point, the thing to do is show your face to the world. If everyone knows who you are, then the odds of retaliation go down significantly. Of course this is all assuming you’re telling the truth and you really think the cops are just power mad killers. Then again, if you were just a guy who didn’t like cops and wanted to paint them in a bad light but didn’t really have anything on them, I’m willing to bet you might try to smear them with some made up story as to what ‘really’ happened.

Here’s a little secret. Cops are people. And they want to shoot people about as much as you or I want to shoot people. However, there are situations when the use of lethal force isn’t only okay, it’s outright necessary. A night where you’re fire your weapon at someone isn’t something any cop forgets. It’s a night that lives with them for the rest of their lives.

I’m not saying that every officer involved shooting is a good shoot. It’s just that there’s a fair amount of people out there that seem to assume the opposite. Too often people who weren’t in the situation and who don’t know the full facts of the case will spout off about how a cop didn’t need to use lethal force. Sometimes this is true. But the vast majority of the time the police officer involved used lethal force because their life or other lives were in direct danger.

This particular issue is a bit of a hot button locally. In 2009 six cops were killed in the line of duty in Western Washington. Four of them in an ambush in a coffee shop in Lakewood. In 2010, the amount of police involved shootings went up. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Any rational person could see and understand why a cop might be more willing to pull his piece after a year like that.

Of course, the first thing on anyone’s mind around here if they hear about a police shooting is John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver in Seattle who was shot last summer by a police officer seven seconds after the cop got out of his car. An inquest into the shooting determined that it may have been a criminal action the part of the police officer.

Sometimes the police feel they have to use lethal force. Are they always correct? Of course not. No one is. However, jumping to conclusions and just assuming that police officers are just shooting people for the fun of it is just stupid. The facts of the case will reveal themselves. They always do. Even in the case of John T. Williams, what really happened has come out. Until then, let’s give the police the benefit of the doubt. I for one say they’ve earned it for putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect the people of Tacoma.

Update: Police have identified the man who was shot as 42-year-old Robert O’Connell. More soon.