From:   RustyBullethole, [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Sunday Telegraph Magazine 10.12.00 (OCR)

"Suicide by Cop"

Roger Gray is a tall, self-assured man with a grey moustache
and blue eyes. A 54-year-old former sergeant in S019, the
Metropolitan Police's Armed Response Unit, he speaks softly
but firmly, and exudes competence and conviction. `You do
not know,' he says, 'you cannot know what is going on in a
man's head when he is holding a firearm. Even if he tells
you he is suicidal, how do you know he is telling the truth?
How do you know he isn't going to kill you or the people he
is holding anyway?'

This was precisely the dilemma faced by Gray and two of his
colleagues on 28 July 1994, when S019's headquarters in Old
Street, east London, received a call from a member of the
public who claimed to have heard gunshots. The call was not
greeted enthusiastically. It had already been an unusually
busy night for the officers on shift, and in any case such
reports frequently turn out to consist of nothing more
serious than a backfire from a passing car. Or the 'gunshots'
are revealed to be exploding warning caps left on railway
lines by rail workers to alert them to an approaching train.

Nevertheless, on Thursday 28 July Roger Gray and his
colleagues undertook a detailed search of the back gardens
of Shaftesbury Road in Holloway, north London, the place
from which `the shots' were reported to have originated.
They uncovered nothing. Nor, despite its thermal imaging
and `night-sun' aids, did a police helicopter hovering
above. Gray and his two armed colleagues returned to Old
Street, relieved that the call was a false alarm. But then
they were called out again: there had been further reports
of shooting in the area.

`We weren't keen to return,' remembers Gray. `We didn't
think there was anything going on.' But back in the quiet
street of terraced Victorian houses, it was clear that
something was very wrong. There had been more `shots';
and, as the police arrived, a window was shattered,
apparently by a bullet. Moments later Lavinia Jessup, a
30-year-old accountant, was captured at gunpoint by her
neighbour John O'Brien, 37, and held hostage at 51
Shaftesbury Road, her own house. Armed police officers
assumed position. Then, with his gun pointed at her left
side, O'Brien took Jessup back to his house next door.
Gray was in charge of negotiating Jessup's release. Inside
the house Jessup was also attempting to negotiate her
release. After all, she knew O'Brien; they had even had a
few drinks together. Even in these extraordinary
circumstances he was surprisingly calm. Over and over
again she tried to find out what had driven him to such
desperate measures. He refused to tell her. In exasperation,
she asked him if he wanted to (lie, if this was just a
silly attempt at suicide. To her astonishment, O'Brien
said, `Yes, but I haven't got the guts to do it myself:
if I start firing at the police, they'll have to shoot me.'

When dawn broke O'Brien told Jessup she could go. He then
walked out of the house through the back door, and as
Jessup screamed, `He wants you to shoot him, he wants
you to shoot him!', O'Brien approached the waiting
police. Ignoring repeated pleas by the police to put
his weapon down, he instead pointed it at them and was
shot dead. It was only afterwards that the police
discovered that his gun was a replica, albeit one which
fired `shots' that sounded genuine. The fact that his
gun was only a replica would seem to confirm Jessup's
description of O'Brien's motive: he wanted to die, and
he wanted the police to be the agents of his death. At
St Pancras Coroner's Court on 14 June 1995, the jury
returned a verdict of `lawful killing'.
The idea that someone might deliberately manipulate the
police into abetting a suicide bid seems bizarre, but
the O'Brien incident is not an isolated case. The terms
used by the authorities to describe it are Police-Assisted
Suicide or Provoked Shooting. In America the phenomenon
has become so commonplace that it has been given its
own mediafriendly name: suicide by cop.

`Suicide by cop' isn't a term used to describe the acts
of mania or rage that follow a bungled criminal act and
lead to a criminal's shooting; nor does it refer to the
actions of a person too mentally ill to be aware of his
actions. What the phrase is meant to convey is a calculated
suicidal attempt to force the police to act as executioners.
In many cases that suicidal intent is unambiguous: those
who have been killed or wounded in this way have often
warned friends or relatives about their plans. And
sometimes the victims leave suicide notes, apologising to
the police.
Take the case of Moshe Pergament, a 19-year-old New York
college student with a penchant for gambling, who had
racked up a $6,000 debt during the baseball season.
Pergament planned his death on 14 November 1997 with
chilling precision. For 40 minutes he drove erratically
along the Long Island Expressway in his brand-new Honda
Accord, at speeds likely to attract the attention of
police. Sure enough, a police cruiser soon flashed its
lights at him, and Pergament pulled over. Then, with a
plastic replica of a .38 revolver in his hand, he jumped
out of the car. Anthony Sica, the police officer in the
cruiser, ordered him to drop the gun. But Pergament didn't
drop it; he kept on coming. Twelve feet. Ten feet. Seven
feet. Sica fired.

It was only after an ambulance had taken Pergament's body
away that detectives found an envelope on the front seat
of his Honda. It was addressed `To the officer who shot
me', and inside, on a Hallmark card, was a neatly written
note: `Officer, it was a plan. I'm sorry to get you
involved. I just needed to die. Please remember that this
was all my doing. You had no way of knowing. Moe Pergament.'

Though Pergament clearly wanted to die, why should he - or
anyone - choose to do it this way? Rebecca Stincelli has
worked as a crisis interventionist with the Sacramento
County Sheriff Department in California for more than 20
years; as a result, she has frequently come into contact
with both the bereaved families of a suicide by cop, and
the officer responsible. She believes there are a number
of reasons for choosing this method of suicide: `Suicide
has always carried a stigma in our society, and it still
does. For many of these people, police assisted suicide
achieves the result but without the suicide verdict.

That way there's less shame for the person and their
families. In other cases, the victims target police
because they know they don't have the nerve to carry out
the suicide themselves. I've also heard of incidents
where individuals have phoned the television and radio
stations right after they call the police. They want to
go out in a blaze of glory.'

For Randall Curtis Fullerton, of Mooresville, North
Carolina, suicide by cop seemed to be the easy way out.
The 36-year-old knew how the police would react: `My
experience as a former army officer taught me that if I
posed a sufficient threat to the police they would have
to respond with lethal force.' So on 17 September 1998
Fullerton called 911 and then left the phone off the
hook, aware that it is police procedure to investigate
all emergency calls. `I had been living with depression 
nd addiction to cocaine for several years. Suicide seemed
like the only option. I wanted the pain to end.' And so
the police came, and Fullerton advanced on them,
brandishing a shattered bottle and threatening to kill
them. But Fullerton was lucky: though Officer Patrick
Hairston fired at him, the bullet narrowly missed
Fullerton's heart, and he survived. He now regrets his
actions. `The first thing I did when I was able to was
to make an apology to the officer involved. I do not
hold him to blame at all. I manipulated the officer's
responses. I manipulated him into becoming a mechanism
for my suicide. I'm only grateful I survived.'

Although it is now suspected that suicide by cop has been
practised for decades, there had been no formal studies of
the phenomenon until 1996, when Richard Parent, a Canadian
police constable, examined cases of fatal police shootings
in British Columbia from 1980 to 1994. To establish suicidal
motive, Parent went through each case thoroughly. Where
there was no suicide noteor suicidal declaration either to
family or friends, he built up his own exhaustive
psychological studies. In other cases he was able to rely
on psychological autopsies (the analysis of suicide through
interviews with friends and relatives in the hope of
discovering why he or she committed suicide). His startling
conclusion was that ten per cent of the shootings had
involved people who wanted police to kill them. A year later,
a study by Dr H Range Hutson, research director at Harvard
Medical School, found an even higher percentage. Hutson
examined more than 425 fatal and non-fatal officer-involved
shootings in Los Angeles County in the period from 1987 to
1997, and, using the same methods as Parent, established that
nearly one in six were suicide attempts.

In this country in a study covering a three-year period, an
even higher proportion of such incidents seems, remarkably,
to have taken place. In its review of shooting incidents in
England and Wales from 1991 to 1993 the Joint Standing
Committee on Police Use of Firearms, in consultation with
the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), found that of a total
of 23 incidents, nine involved 'armed people engaging in
language or behaviour which would suggest that they were
provoking the police to shoot them'. Richard Offer, a
spokesperson for the PCA, believes the figure, which, he
says, was unusually high, can partly be explained by the
policy of 'care in the community' which was taking effect
at the time, and partly by the recession. Sir Alistair Graham,
chairman of the PCA, adds, 'Mercifully, the number of
shootings by police is very low in Britain... But this was a
period when there was a larger than normal number of domestic
incidents. The provoked shootings examined did include those
which are reckless [due to intoxication] and some people who
wish to die.'

The case of Peter Swann seems to be an example of this kind
of 'provoked shooting'. In June 1992, after repeated requests
from police officers to put down the sawn-off shotgun he was
carrying, Swann was shot dead outside his south London flat.
Swann was an unstable character who was wanted in connection
with a burglary carried out a month before at Sydenham railway
station, where his wife, jenny, worked. According to Jenny
 Swann had been shattered by the suicide of his 35-year-old
sister Janet the year before. Jenny believes that there was
nothing anyone could have done to prevent her husband's
death. 'Peter wasn't drunk and he wasn't on drugs,' she
insists. 'He was just too far gone with his problems. He
wanted to die that night.'

A similar motive seems to apply to Kirk Davies, a
30-year-old who is strongly suspected of having engineered
his own death earlier this year. Davies, who was shot dead
by officers in North Yorkshire in September, was a former
soldier; he had served in Northern Ireland before deserting,
and had later become a mercenary in the Croatian army during
the war in Bosnia; he once boasted that he had killed 46
Serbs - a claim disputed by the Croats. Whatever is the
truth of his claims, Davies was a troubled man: not long
after he was dishonourably discharged from the Croatian army,
he discovered that his father - who had claimed to be an SAS
hero and whose achievements Kirk may well have been trying
to emulate - had, in fact, been a lorry driver in the Royal
Corps of Transport. He responded to this information by
smashing up the family car and then threatening his father
with a Gurkha kukri. For this, he was sentenced in September
1997 to two years probation, recorder Aidan Marron remarking
that 'There is a need to address your problem and we wish you
well.' Three years later, on 24 September, Davies walked into
the police station in Selby, North Yorkshire, and pointed a
gun wrapped in camouflage netting at the officer on the desk
before fleeing in his car. Davies then drove to a nearby
hospital and threatened staff. As armed police arrived on
the scene, he refused to hand over his weapon and fled into
a wood. He was challenged again, and after once more refusing
to hand over his weapon - which was later discovered to be a
relatively harmless air rifle - he was shot. Given his
military background, Davies must have known that his actions
would provoke the police to shoot.

As in the cases of O'Brien and Swann, it is possible that
Davies got what he wanted. If this is so, it also seems
unlikely that he would have considered the effect of his
action on those who were forced to kill him. Britain is not
an armed nation; it has some of the world's strictest gun
laws, and less than five per cent of our police force is
authorised to carry firearms. This fact is reflected in a
comparison of London and New York police firearms records.
Between January and October this year there were 105
incidents in which New York Police Department officers
fired their guns, discharging 432 rounds; 25 civilians
were hit and ten killed. In the Metropolitan Police area
over the same period only four shots were fired, with two
casualties and one fatality.

That fatalities in this country are relatively few in no
way diminishes the pressure on our armed police officers.
They join armed units in the knowledge that if their fire
either injures or kills someone, they face an automatic
investigation from officers from an outside force,
supervised by the PCA. They will be taken off operational
duty pending the outcome of the investigation - an outcome
that is by no means a foregone conclusion. In 1995 PC
Patrick Hodgson, an officer who had shot dead a suspected
armed robber near Hammersmith Bridge, in west London, was
charged with murder and manslaughter after the victim was
found to have been unarmed; a year later at the Old Bailey
he was acquitted on both counts.

A police shooting will also be followed by a coroner's
inquest, during which it is likely that a solicitor will
query the inevitability of the fatal outcome. The solicitor
may also want to know why the officer didn't aim at the
assailant's hand to try and dislodge his weapon, or at
his leg in an attempt to disable him. Police officers in
this country and America insist they 'shoot to stop' and
not `to kill', but they concede that the fact that they
are trained to aim at `centre mass' - the area between
the neck and the belly button - means that there is a
high probability of death. None the less, the police
insist that shooting at centre mass is the only effective
way of containing a threat, that aiming at the chest gives
the officer the largest target and the best opportunity of
disabling an assailant. They are quick to point out that
an assailant who suffers minor injuries can still use his

In most cases an inquest will clear the firearms officer
of any wrong-doing. The internal process of reports and
statements, inquiry and assessment - a process that can
last up to two years - will finally come to a close. But
as far as the officer in question is concerned, that is
rarely the end of the matter. Colin Jackson is a Police
Federation representative in the Armed Response Unit. He
has seen the effects of a fatal incident on an officer. `He
is required to make a decision in a split second which may
change the course of his life. He will usually go on
questioning his actions for far longer than any investigation
or inquest. What would have happened if he had reacted
sooner? Could he have prevented it from happening in the
first place? It is an extremely traumatic period.'
As well as that, trauma officers must face the possibility
that they may have been used in order to carry out a suicide
bid. `It is devastating for them,' says Jackson. `Police
officers are taught from the beginning of training to deal
in facts; now they have to start dealing in cognitive
issues. They may doubt themselves and their perception of
the incident. Should they have known the people they were
facing were suicidal? Should they have been able to
recognise that the gun was a replica? I have to reassure
them that they have got to stick with what was known at the
time because that was the reason they did what they did.'

Roger Gray is also certain that the outcome that night on
Shaftesbury Road would not have been any different had he
or his officers suspected O'Brien's suicidal intentions.
'The rules of armed confrontation are simple,' Gray insists.
`They have to be. If a man has a dangerous weapon, you ask
him to put it down. If he then points it at you or any
other person, you shoot him. It makes no difference whether
it is a suicide attempt or not. The only way to carry on is
to know that you did your best; that, in the end, it wasn't
your decision. He forced you to do what you did.'

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