Speed Kills: The Avoidable Death of India Kager

One of the hardest things in law enforcement is to judge officers on what they did in a shooting incident, after the fact. No one in my profession likes to “Monday morning quarterback” these situations. In fact, we are often told not to, but the time has come to do just that; to take a look at cases and second guess the tactics that officers are using that get them involved in this type of situation. Maybe with a better understanding of how we get to where we are, we can avoid death and injury, not only to the people we are interacting with, but also to ourselves.

In the case of India Kager, it is the options the police took leading up to the shoot that I have some issue with. If you’re unfamiliar with the case, I’ll run through it briefly:

Angelo Perry

A confidential informant (CI) alerted the Virginia Beach Police that Angelo Perry, India’s boyfriend and father of their child, was responsible for two murders and home invasions. The CI also told them that a “hit” had been ordered on a resident of Virginia Beach. They began surveillance on Perry.  Because he was known to have weapons, they asked the SWAT Team to surveill him. They started monitoring him as he was a passenger in the vehicle that India Kager was driving.  

Unbeknownst to the officers at the time, their infant son was also in the car. The car began to move erratically and even made a U-turn, leading the surveillance team to believe they had been made. As the car pulled into a 7-11 parking lot, two miles away from the address of the person the “hit” had been ordered on, they decided to take Perry into custody. They blocked the car in with two unmarked, blacked out SUV’s and threw a flash bang grenade at the passenger side door as a distraction. As the officers approached Perry, he shot at them and they returned fire, killing him and also hitting Kager. Despite performing CPR and first aid on Kager, they were unable to save her.  

After an investigation, the officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Commonwealth Attorney’s Investigation

Let’s talk about the actual shooting and the criminality aspect that the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney investigated. Given what was known to the officers at the exact time of the attempted apprehension, I would agree that there was no criminal wrongdoing by the officers and that it was reasonable for an officer in that situation to return fire. If someone shoots at you, you return fire. It’s that simple. Is it a terrible tragedy that Kager got shot?  Yes. It is always heartbreaking when an innocent person loses her life. But what angers me is that even though it is accepted under the letter of the law, this death could have been avoided. With better choices on the part of the officers, India Kager would still be alive.

Using SWAT Tactics on a Traffic Stop

The choice to use SWAT to conduct the surveillance is strange to me. I can see them helping or standing by in case things get out of control, but for them to be conducting the surveillance doesn’t make sense. SWAT has a different set of training, a different mindset. They charge into dangerous situations using manpower and force to take control. There is a time and place where that works very well, but I’m not sure that works for a traffic stop. Instead of charging in, staying behind the cover of a car and ordering a subject out to make the apprehension is safer for the officers. It also makes it obvious to the person in the car know that the police are there and they are taking you into custody.

What happened in this situation is that two unmarked, blacked out SUVs pulled into the 7-11 parking lot behind Kager’s car. They didn’t have their emergency lights on and they blocked the car in. Yes, the officers were wearing vests with “POLICE” marked on them and they were yelling “police,” but could Perry see that or hear them? Did anyone in the car realize that it was actually police officers coming after them?

A flash bang grenade just went off by Perry’s door. These grenades are designed to disorient, so isn’t it reasonable to assume that he was disoriented when people started running up to him with guns out? And why go in so hard knowing there is someone else in the car?

Speed Kills

I’ve been saying this for years to my officers: speed kills. All too often, we rush into situations and try to muscle control of it. Instead of rushing in like cowboys, I teach my officers to take a step back and reassess the situation.  Make a plan and think about safety for everyone involved. This doesn’t mean don’t act. It takes training to make these decisions quickly, but taking a moment to think before just charging ahead generally leads to better outcomes.

If the officers in Virginia Beach had taken a step back, maybe they would have devised a plan; used emergency lights; provided cover for the officers and not used a flash bang grenade. Speed kills. If the officers took a moment, maybe India Kager and Angelo Perry would be alive today.

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A Traffic Stop and an Arrest: A Failure in De-Escalation

michigan state trooper abi
A Michigan State Trooper pulls over Abenicio Cordoba-Wilson

I just recently listened to the Truth & Justice podcast about Bob Ruff’s student Abenicio Cordoba-Wilson, and quite frankly, I’m pissed. For those of you who have not taken the time to listen to Truth & Justice, I highly recommend it if you’re interested in criminal justice reform. Bob Ruff takes deep dives into cases where he believes justice was not served. This case hits close to home for Bob, as he knows both the victim and the officer involved.

The Facts of the Case

Abenicio (Abi) is a college student on his way home at night and he gets pulled over by a Michigan State Trooper. The reason cited for pulling him over was having a dim or non-functioning license plate light. The majority of the traffic stop was recorded by Abi on his phone.  

The trooper initially approaches the passenger side of the vehicle. This is a common practice that allows the trooper to stay safer at night when passing motorists may not be able to see him. Abi’s passenger-side window doesn’t roll down, so he unlocks the door and the trooper talks to him through the open door.  

As the trooper is talking to Abi through the open door, he is shining his flashlight into the car. Abi then tells him that he is not consenting to a search of his vehicle and he begins to film the interaction on his cell phone. He then says to the officer, “Sir, can you please get away from my car, because you are invading my privacy in this moment in time.” Abi then seems to try to shut the passenger side door, at which point The trooper states, “Do not shut the door, otherwise I’m gonna rip you out by your face.”

Abi asks the trooper to come over to his side of the vehicle where the window works, but the trooper stays on the passenger side and calls for another unit. He then asks Abi for his driver’s license and Abi begins to look for it. His car is a mess and you can see him frantically looking through papers for his license.  

As he is doing this, Abi says, “God, you are so awesome.” He then asks the trooper, “How’s your day going, sir?” to which the trooper replies, “It’s going great.” The trooper then asks Abi again if he has his license. Abi says yes, and continues to look for it. A few seconds pass, and the trooper asks again, “Do you have your license, or no? You have five seconds to give me your license.” Abi replies that he is still looking, which prompts the trooper to tell Abi to get out of the car. He repeats this command while Abi continues to search for his license. The trooper walks to the driver’s side of the car and begins to take Abi out.  Abi, trying to turn his phone off, does not comply immediately by putting his hand behind is back, but does so as soon as he turns his phone off.  The entire interaction only lasts about two-and-a-half minutes. Now, let’s discuss a few things about this.

Why was Abi Pulled Over?

The initial reason for the stop, dimmed or non-functioning plate lights…bullshit.  

Continue reading A Traffic Stop and an Arrest: A Failure in De-Escalation