Police fatally shoot UF student during traffic stop
Did you see this item in the Gainesville Sun? "A Gainesville man was arrested Wednesday on charges of homicide after he allegedly shot an unarmed motorist. Jimmy Hecksel, 29, fired seven to eight shots at the victim, Corey Paul Rice, at the 1000 block of NW 21st Ave. at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, January 30, according to police reports. Rice, 30, died several hours later at Shands at AGH. Hecksel told police that the victim tried to run him over, and that he was acting in self defense. Hecksel was an on-duty officer with the Gainesville Police Department at the time of the shooting."
Didn't see it? Neither did we. Of course, everything above happened, except the arrest and the charge of homicide. What actually happened is that the officer was put on paid administrative leave, standard procedure when the police discharge their weapons at members of the public. The police said they were sure the murder was justified because, as Police Chief Norman Botsford said, "The officer was defending himself." According to the Gainesville Sun, Hecksel told police that he was talking to Rice through the window of Rice's car when Rice suddenly backed up and then drove forward toward him. Most people would get out of the way if someone were driving a car at them, since shooting the driver will not stop the car.
Rice was initially stopped by Hecksel for allegedly "driving erratically." There is a video of the incident but it will not be released until Gainesville Police complete an internal investigation. Neighbors who heard the incident had not, as of Saturday, been interviewed about what they heard.
Rice's friends have arranged a candlelight vigil for Rice on Thursday, February 8, on the Plaza of the Americas on the UF campus at sunset. Rice was a student at UF and worked in the UF Facilities Planning and Construction office. He leaves behind a 6-year old son, and family in Michigan.
Officers at the Alachua County Detention Center were also reported to be 'defending themselves' when, on July 17, 2000, they beat John Tenneyson "J.T." Smith in the jail. Two hours after his arrest he was taken to Shands at AGH with massive head injuries, and underwent surgery, but he never regained consciousness and died a few hours later. At that time, Major James Eckert, acting Alachua County Sheriff said, "I believe that the final conclusion will be that the jail staff acted appropriately."
On July 25 1998 Sheriffs Deputy Donald L. Hawkins shot to death Larry "Pop" Robinson in Archer. Witnesses reported that Robinson was pepper sprayed by the Deputy, ran away from him, and tripped. Witnesses said that Hawkins shot Robinson twice in the back as he lay face down on the ground. Police officials said that Hawkins was in fear for his life and was defending himself, and said that Robinson had grabbed his gun. Robinson was shot twice in the back. A grand jury found that there was no criminal conduct on the part of the deputy. (See the September 1998 Iguana for family member Liz Jenkins' article on this incident.)
In May 1999, John Henry Boyd, 18, was alleged to have stolen a neighbor's truck. When the truck was spotted, Boyd was pursued by Deputy Mike Powers. When Boyd parked the truck and fled on foot, the deputy shot him. He required 8 hours of surgery and 44 pints of blood and remained in a coma for days. The police agreed that the victim was unarmed, and the shooting was regarded as accidental. Sheriff Steve Oelrich said, "I don't think the deputy sheriff meant to shoot him. He meant to hold the gun on him and it fired accidently, but it was not a malfunctionÉ It's a tragic situation"
One would have to conclude, from the foregoing, and the denials and evasions around famous police beatings and killings such as Frank Valdez, Rodney King, Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo, that the police never judge themselves to have acted inappropriately. Either it's self-defense or a tragic accident (as Sheriff Oelrich in the Boyd shooting claimed, and as the police who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times in the Bronx claimed, successfully avoiding prosecution.)
John Green, Boyd's uncle, told the Gainesville Sun at the time of his nephew's shooting, "Unfortunately, I'm not very comfortable when you have officers investigating officers. It seems to be a conflict of interest."
Currently, there is no non-police oversight of either the Alachua County Sheriff or the Gainesville Police Department. The police investigate and they are the ones who report to the State Attorney on an incident if they conclude that a crime was committed. The State Attorney may then convene a grand jury, but this is based primarily on what the police tell them. If a grand jury is convened, it is the prosecutor who is the main source of information. The prosecutor works daily with the police and his or her success is dependent on their cooperation, so this creates another bias and conflict of interest.
The police argue that they are engaged in a particularly risky occupation and therefore they should be given some leeway to do their jobs. However, the occupation with the highest rate of death in Florida is construction, followed by agriculture & forestry. National statistics show that police are much more likely to die in traffic accidents than to die at the hands of a member of the public.
Hecksel's shooting of Rice is causing critics to renew their demands for a civilian review board. The deaths are the tip of the iceberg, say police watchers, who have identified cases of guns being drawn for no reason, police canine attacks and other unprovoked or inappropriate assaults on the public. Complaints are filed with the police and disappear into a file. Many of these problems were brought to the police's attention in 1999, spearheaded by the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP. In a disproportionate number of these cases, the victims are African American. In the cases cited above, Rice and Smith are Euro-American, Robinson and Boyd are African American.
Without accountability to the community, these incidents are going to keep occurring and escalate. The police are our employees, hired with our tax dollars to protect people. When that protection is not occurring, and the police are in fact significant perpetrators of violence in our community, it is past time to create civilian oversight with the power to inflict consequences. Otherwise, once again, police who kill will experience no negative consequences for their actions.
If you have experienced an incident where police behavior was unacceptable, write us with the details at Iguana, c/o CISPLA, P.O. Box 14712, Gainesville, FL 32604 or email Contact us
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