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Police Authority Questioned in Slaying

July 07, 1985

One month ago Police Officers Carl Smith and Robert Stinson shot my son, Wayne Holden, age 21, six times from behind, destroying his spine and liver and killing him, an act of homicide.

Police were called that morning to prevent Wayne from committing suicide with a kitchen knife. He had committed no crime. He was mentally distraught. An autopsy showed that he was not under the influence of an aggression-producing drug.

San Diego Police Chief William B. Kolender, in a press conference, stated that these two killers "deserve to be commended" for shooting my son in the back. He also stated that they exercised "great restraint," and that they had "obvious justification" for doing so earlier. "The bottom line is, don't come toward an officer with a knife," he concluded.

Is Kolender implying that police have a right to act as judge, jury and executioner when this happens?

Kolender stated at the news conference that Wayne was "going to kill an innocent citizen." This is pure conjecture on his part and on the part of the man who gunned him down. To "commend" police officers who kill a person on the basis of conjecture--in the words of Paul Johnson, former editor of the "New Statesman," in a recent Times commentary--"comes closest to arrogating . . . the authority of the divine" to members of the police force. No proof has been advanced by Kolender or anyone else that my son intended to injure anyone. It appeared to me that he ran into this person's house to escape being killed or injured by the police who were pursuing him. Newspaper photographers showed the police pursuing with drawn guns. Is this the way Mr. Kolender thinks the police should treat people in need of psychiatric assistance?

Kolender was quoted in a news article that "a net, although available, was not used because not enough officers were on hand to use it effectively." Why weren't there "enough officers on hand?" Other articles stated that a Taser, a non-lethal weapon for stunning people with a jolt of electricity was used by the officers one or more times but without success. What is the excuse for this failure? If either of these methods of subduing potentially violent persons had been properly used, my son would be alive today!

Kolender stated that he has "no plans to revise police policy" because of my son's tragic death.

Kolender described a proposed Police Review Board, made up of eminent citizens to oversee actions of the police such as the killing of my son and other instances of police brutality, as a "kangaroo court." The dictionary defines such a court as "one so controlled as to render a fair trial impossible." Instead he supports the present system, stating that "this case, like every other one, was reviewed by the Police Department and the district attorney." Which is fairer, a neutral Police Review Board or the Police Department investigating itself, aided and abetted by the district attorney, which works hand in glove with the police in all of its dealings? The present system looks like a "kangaroo court" under the dictionary definition.

Police officials stated in the news article that it is department policy to shoot to "incapacitate," that is, to "aim for a vital area of the body, particularly the chest." In other words it is police policy to shoot to kill, violating the 14th Amendment prohibition that "no state may deprive any person of life . . . without due process of law."

Kolender made a statement that "it seems to me that (Wayne Holden) was lost a long time ago." I demand that he explain this presumptuous and outrageous statement to me! My son was my best friend. I have been overwhelmed by grief daily since my son's death. I do not think that I will ever fully recover from the loss of my beloved son. How dare he make a statement like this to the public?

My son cannot be brought back to life. However, by changing police practices through the use of non-lethal weapons, doing away with the "kangaroo court" system of the police force investigating and forgiving itself when it commits killings or other lesser brutalities and replacing it with a Police Review Board, we can weed out the "bad apples" in the department. We cannot have a double standard of justice for the police and for other citizens. If we do, we are no better than the police state in the Soviet Union.

I challenge Chief Kolender and others to debate these important issues before the public. Perhaps this will take place if a proposed Police Review Board initiative is placed on the ballot.

ROBERT W. HOLDEN

San Diego

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