By Steve Pomper | February 6, 2020
At this moment, there is a decorated police officer in Blackwell, Oklahoma who, despite wide and passionate support, is likely feeling pretty damned alone right now. His wife and children, other family members, friends, colleagues, and supporters can commiserate and sympathize, but when you’re the one indicted for murder—for doing your job—no one feels it like you do. Your hell is a special one.
And this hell is made even worse because of the unique circumstances. This hero police officer was indicted after he’d protected his community by risking his life to stop an active shooter before she could kill anyone.
On May 20th, 2019, an armed 34-year-old woman, Michael Ann Godsey (pronounced Michelle), drove her pickup truck through Blackwell, firing a gun out the window at cars, people, and cops. And this was after she’d already shot at her mother.
Blackwell Police Department Lieutenant John Mitchell set his wellbeing aside and ended the danger that threatened the people he is sworn to protect, and he did it in a uniquely heroic way. While driving, he managed to deploy his rifle and fire through his patrol car’s windshield at the active shooter’s car, thereby stopping the rampage.
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By all accounts, from people who know him, Lt. Mitchell is a well-respected professional law enforcement officer and devoted family man who is both dedicated to his job and active in the Blackwell community. But with motives that defy rationality, a district attorney named Jason Hicks has, for mysterious reasons, after a seven-month delay and after having been cleared by an independent investigation, targeted the lieutenant.
During the incident, Lt. Mitchell fired some 60 rounds from his rifle attempting to stop the shooter. He also fired shots with his pistol before the suspect was no longer a threat. The D.A. did not indict another officer who’d only fired his service handgun.
It seems Hicks is hung up on the number of rounds Lt. Mitchell fired. Well, as I wrote in my first article on this story, “It was the number necessary to stop the shooter.” Is firing that many rounds a danger to the community? Sure. Firing one round at a suspect is dangerous. But who made so many rounds necessary? The suspect did by not surrendering and continuing to be a threat.
Should Lt. Mitchell have imposed on himself a bullet quota? How about 7, 13, or 23 bullets? But it didn’t take 7, 13, or 23 rounds to stop the threat; it took over 60. That’s how it went, and no one was killed or even seriously injured. Would people have been killed or wounded if Lt. Mitchell had stopped firing at 7, 13, or some other arbitrary number of rounds and allowed the suspect to continue driving and shooting?
I’d ask D.A. Hicks: aside from disengaging the suspect, what other options did Lt. Mitchell have? Maybe Hicks feels the officer should have, oh, I don’t know, rammed the suspect. But doesn’t that mean the officer would have had to get even closer to a suspect who is shooting at him? No tactical advantage in doing that.
Are there other ways this could have ended without innocent deaths or injuries? Probably. In a unique incident like this, individual officers will come up with different (not necessarily better or worse) tactics to stop the threat. But, for all of them, the mission will be the same: stop the threat.
Disengaging from an active shooter is not a viable option. That’s not what “active shooter” training teaches cops. In backing off, you’re betting that the suspect will deescalate if the you stop pursuing him or her. But remember what the Blackwell cops were chasing her for? She was already shooting! Bot her gun and her car were weapons. Lt. Mitchell did the only thing that was going to “deescalate” the situation: shoot back.
Consider how difficult it is for an officer to stop a shooter who is mobile and shooting at him or her. How can one get so bogged down with the number of rounds fired in such an unusual circumstance? How does Lt. Mitchell not deserve the benefit of the doubt? We can’t list the names of the victims who would have, without the cop’s actions, been injured or killed, to justify Lt. Mitchell’s actions. We can’t because, thanks to that brave officer, there were no victims injured or killed.
It’s not like Lt. Mitchell had a mental Rolodex of similar incidents to scroll through. Officers in these life and death situations have to make it up as they go along using their best judgement over the course of multiple split-second decisions. Considering the dynamic, life-threatening circumstances of this incident, the lack of the benefit of the doubt given to this officer by D.A. Hicks is confounding.
But, rather than D.A. Hicks hailing Lt. Mitchell for his heroics, after a bizarre, inexplicable seven-month delay, and well after the cop had been cleared following an investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), D.A. Hicks, reportedly using only evidence heavily weighted against Lt. Mitchell, got a grand jury to indict the veteran lawman, charging him with second degree murder.
And how is Lt. Mitchell to move forward from here after the charges are dropped or he is acquitted (as should happen)? Will he second-guess and hesitate if he’s involved in a similar situation? It would be unnatural not to under these circumstances.
In police work, hesitation can mean injury and death. And this is just a part of the damage D.A. Hicks has done to this community. Other cops in his jurisdiction will have to watch their backs too… not for criminals but for this county D.A.
Several years ago, I was a witness officer in a case where an officer, the victim of an assault at a stolen car collision scene, was charged federally for violating the suspects’ civil rights. I wrote about the incident in my book, De-Policing America. That officer did nothing wrong. In fact, the suspects had resisted arrest and assaulted him and other officers.
Long story short, they should have been charged with felonies for assaulting police officers, but they were only charged for misdemeanor assault in municipal court. A jury acquitted them, later saying they felt the defendants had “suffered enough” because one of them had been pepper-sprayed during the melee.
This acquittal encouraged their lawyers to pursue the federal charge mentioned above. That officer is probably the toughest cop I ever knew. During the course of the lengthy trial, he lost at least 20 pounds he couldn’t afford to lose, had trouble sleeping, and he was never again the proactive cop he’d always been. And this wasn’t a murder charge.
Now, people who say cops shouldn’t worry if they’ve done nothing wrong have their heads up their… umm, in the sand, these days. No less than the Obama/Holder DOJ found that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson did nothing wrong during the Michael Brown incident. Yet, Wilson will likely never work as a police officer again. And that’s without being charged with any crime.
Ironically, during this legal hell, his community and professional associations have honored Lt. John Mitchell for his service as a police officer. In July 2019, he received a prestigious award for his work in rural drug enforcement. Most recently, in January 2020, John was selected by the readers of the Blackwell Journal-Tribune as the 2019 Best Law Enforcement Officer.
The important thing is for as many people as possible learn about what a county D.A. is doing to this stellar public servant. And then, hopefully, those people will let John know how they feel about his service and let him know they support him (information about how you can do that is provided at the end of this article).
John is supported not only by his community but also by the Oklahoma Fraternal Order of Police (OFOP), and by cops and civilians all over America. Under what must be the intense pressure of commonsense niggling at Hick’s conscience, the man continues this mockery of the American justice system and his attack on all law enforcers.
It isn’t known exactly what evidence Hicks included or omitted for the grand jury or how many mistakes were made, but consider this. One mistake was issuing a flawed subpoena intended for the Blackwell Police Chief Dewayne Wood. Instead, the subpoena went to a (likely bewildered) Duane Wood, who, dutifully, appeared before the grand jury instead.
The other thing to consider is after what you’ve read about the incident in just these brief descriptions, you’ve likely concluded what other lucid people have. That John acted bravely under the most harrowing of circumstances and prevented injuries and deaths.
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Now, just think about what evidence the D.A. had to exclude for the grand jury to arrive at the conclusion that “Mitchell’s actions were ‘imminently dangerous’ and were ‘without justifiable cause or excuse.” Especially, that last one. Sorry, shooting at someone who is shooting at you and other people seems a justifiable cause or excuse to put all the rounds on your target that you can until the target stops shooting.
As Jason Smith, president of the OFOP noted, “A grand jury indicted a Blackwell police lieutenant for murder for killing an active shooter, and the state’s police union is questioning why the district attorney held back evidence from the indictment.” He added, “I’ve yet to see in American history when an active shooter was taken out by a police officer or civilian who was then charged with murder—murder isn’t defined by that in America.”
There’s a more to this story, but it’s my intention just to keep his plight in the minds of John’s growing list of supporters, and to inform people who haven’t heard about this sham, as the preliminary hearing approaches. The hearing will be held at the Noble County Courthouse, Perry, Oklahoma on Feb. 18th, 2020.
If you’re interested in other aspects of the case, which are as curious as they are fascinating, I wrote a more in depth article last December and a brief follow up in January about John’s ordeal.
One bright note is the outpouring of affection and support for John from across the nation. Thousands of people have joined a Facebook page established to support John. Anyone interested in showing their support can go to the Facebook page: We Stand By John Mitchell. There you can post notes of encouragement for John and his family. You can also purchase t-shirts and stickers to demonstrate your support.
This piece originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.
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