Leesburg, VA — A 78-year-old Leesburg man is dead, shot in the head by police as he brandished a gun while officers approached — or so the tagline would read had this 78-year-old man encountered a different set of officers.
In reality, this 78-year-old man, who remains unnamed, did brandish a firearm and did threaten police with it. But the officers who encountered him, showed compassion instead of aggression. Now this 78-year-old man is alive and well and thanking the officers who would have been entirely justified in killing him.
Sgt. Mark Davis and Officer Alex Hilton of the Leesburg police department are the two officers who spared the life of this suicidal elderly man that fateful day in March of 2014.
The incident started when the man called 9-1-1 to report that he was having trouble breathing. His plan was to kill himself and have the paramedics find his body. However, when the fire and rescue team arrived, he was still alive — and armed.
The paramedics then called the police.
We’ve seen video after video of police officers immediately resorting to deadly force in instances where men are armed with nothing more than a tiny computer screwdriver. But Davis and Hilton were different.
According to the Washington Post, when Davis and Hilton pulled up, they repeatedly told the man to put his pistol down.
The man did not comply. Instead, he darted into the next room, hid behind a wall and held his gun out in the doorway, daring the officers to make the next move.
But this story does not end as many others have recently. The officers did not shoot.
Rather than fire at the armed man, Davis slid his gun back into its holster. He walked over and gripped the man’s hand holding the pistol. And, slowly, he talked the man into lowering the weapon. Then, rather than arrest him, the police arranged for him to get psychiatric treatment.
Several months later, Hilton walked past the apartment, and the man, whom police declined to identify, stepped outside. “Officer Hilton,” the man told him, “thank you for what you guys did.”
The term “hero” is thrown around so much in reference to law enforcement that is has lost its true meaning. A “hero” does not indiscriminately kill because he would be justified in doing so. A “hero” doesn’t immediately resort to “comply or die” tactics in stressful situations. A “hero” doesn’t take any means necessary to avoid injury because they have to “make it home to their family.”
No, those people are not heroes. A real hero is someone who selflessly risks personal harm to preserve life rather than destroy it.
Davis and Hilton are real heroes — And their training has a lot to do with the reason why.
Leesburg Police Chief Joseph Price explained why Davis and Hilton were able to conduct themselves in such a selfless and compassionate way.
The Leesburg Police Department is trying to instill a “guardian mentality” in its officers instead of a “warrior mentality,” a sense that officers are there to “protect the citizens rather than conquer them,” he said.
Imagine that. Teaching police officers to preserve human life instead of kill at will actually results in the preservation of human life.
“Those cops took a risk,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, “but they did what we have learned in Scotland and England — which is you try to communicate with someone by asking questions rather than issuing orders, and that more than anything else starts to de-escalate a situation. Too often in these kinds of situations, police see it as a use-of-force decision rather than a mental-health crisis. And that is so important in how you approach these encounters.”
The way these two officers responded to this incident is not only heroic, but it shines light on the violent and incompetent nature of other departments across the country who immediately and without conscious, kill.
Case after tragic case, cops in America execute people in the midst of mental instability. These cases happen so often that many of them are caught on video.
In April, the family of Lavall Hall, a 25-year-old mentally ill man killed by Miami Gardens Officer Eddo Trimino, chose to release dashcam footage of their son’s murder. Hall was in his underwear and “armed” with a broom when his life was taken.
Also in April, a grand jury declined to indict two officers who shot and killed a mentally ill man whose mother had called police for help in getting her son to the hospital. 39-year-old Jason Harrison was gunned down on his front porch as he fiddled with a tiny screwdriver.
In January, a 17-year-old girl was having a mental breakdown inside the police department when she was gunned down by Longview police.
In October of last year, the gruesome dashcam video of a summary execution of a mentally ill man by police was released to the public. The video shows six police officers, in firing squad fashion, execute mentally ill, Milton Hall, in broad daylight in a Saginaw parking lot.
The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce recently awarded Davis, 54, and Hilton, 27, medals of valor for their actions — or rather, non-actions. The non-actions of these officers should serve as an example to police across the nation. All lives have value.
The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.