Okay, this incident is a tough one in so many ways. I know what it looks like “on paper,” but after you read about what happened, can any one of us say we wouldn’t have done the same thing this Missouri police chief did?
According to KTLA.com, on Dec. 17, 2018, Greenwood Police Chief Greg Hallgrimson and one of his officers rescued a six-month-old baby from an icy retention pond. Greenwood is a suburb of some 5,000 people located about 20 miles from Kansas City. The rescue is obviously not the problem.
The problem arose out of the question: what was a baby doing in that pond? Her father, Jonathon Stephen Zicarelli, allegedly attempted to drown his baby daughter. Charging documents showed Zicarelli admitted to the police he’d tried to murder his daughter. He said he’d been thinking about it for more than 24 hours, saying he wanted to “help” his wife by eliminating the stress of a baby.
Reportedly, the cops found the baby floating face up and had apparently been in the water for several minutes. Chief Hallgrimson and the other officer took the baby’s wet clothes off, and the chief wrapped the baby in his shirt to warm her. Somehow, the baby girl survived. Medics transported the infant to a hospital where doctors, who called the baby’s survival “miraculous,” treated her for hypothermia.
Once at the police station, Chief Hallgrimson told Zicarelli, “You deserve to die.” Reportedly, another officer’s body-worn video camera recorded Chief Hallgrimson allegedly striking a handcuffed Zicarelli in the face and head.
Without seeing the video, it’s difficult to determine the degree of the alleged assault. However, reports mention cuts to the suspect’s face and a sore jaw. There is no mention in the reporting of Zicarelli receiving significant medical care or hospitalization.
Reports of Hallgrimson allegedly striking Zicarelli have so far come from the suspect’s defense attorney, Susan Dill. Thus far, the Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, has not charged Hallgrimson with a crime. However, Baker has sent the excessive force allegations to the FBI and Missouri Highway Patrol for investigation.
Like I said, this is tough. On paper, a police officer cannot go around punching in-custody suspects. However, are there some circumstances that are so egregious, society may suspend normal expectations or at least add mitigation to the officer’s wrongful act?
Shouldn’t the criminal justice system —and public opinion— consider the degree of offense? Doesn’t trying to drown a baby rise to the realm of extraordinary circumstances? And isn’t a couple of pops in the snout a rather mild reaction, considering what this fiend allegedly did to his own daughter? Whether there were mental health issues, officers are not aware at the time. And with a baby left to drown in the water it doesn’t matter much, does it?
When I heard about what that father had done to his own baby daughter, I couldn’t think of a proper punishment that would even approach justice. I remember a similar circumstance I was involved in a while back.
I was one of three officers who arrested a father who’d just killed his ten-year-old daughter. He’d given her sleeping pills (telling her they were only aspirin), put her to bed, and then after she’d fallen asleep, he put a pillow over her face and shot her in the head. He was a divorced father whose ex-wife had brought their daughter over per their parental visitation agreement.
When we found the suspect, he was in a park several blocks from his house. He’d been walking his Black Lab puppy. On the way to the precinct, I asked him what he wanted done with his dog. He said, “I don’t care. Kill it!”
I was a field training officer, and I had a student officer riding with me. I strived to remain emotion-free, at least outwardly, when dealing with criminals. A coping and defense mechanism. But, if my student officer hadn’t been with me, I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t have given him at least a good hard smack. Although, that would be far less than he deserved.
Then again, unlike now-former Chief Hallgrimson, I benefitted from not having to suffer the emotional trauma of seeing the man’s baby daughter or, in my case, the 10-year-old girl, and what their fathers had done to them. No emotional effect from having wrapped the baby in my own shirt to warm her—to save her life. No, my squad mates had to deal with that part, while I and other officers scoured the area for the child-killer.
I understand cops can’t go around thwacking criminal scumbags willy-nilly, as much as we might want to. But society has to consider situations in context and remember we are dealing with mortals. We have to consider proportional responses even when the officer’s actions are technically wrong.
What was the nature of the crime committed compared with the police officer’s response? Especially, when the officer has rescued and carried the severely injured baby in his arms.
Can we please use common sense, even when the situation involves law enforcement officers? After all, cops are human beings, too. No, really…it’s true. And, frankly, I’m not sure many non-cops could have refrained from letting that cretin know, viscerally, just how they felt about what the father had done to his daughter.
Blue Lives Matter reports there is strong community support for former Chief Hallgrimson. “Residents of Greenwood were dismayed by the turn of events and have put on a very public show of support for their former police chief with yard signs and banners.”
Even if the prosecutor charges the former police chief, good luck finding a jury who will convict a man who punched a father who’d just tried to drown his six-month-old baby girl—even if the man who punched him was a cop.