Mimesis Law
14 November 2019

When Situational Awareness Goes Wrong

Oct. 5, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — “Situational Awareness” is a crucial part of police work. PoliceOne, an infamous website for law enforcement officers, uses the Army Field Manual’s definition of “situational awareness,” in part, as “knowledge and understanding of the current situation which promotes timely, relevant and accurate assessment…in order to facilitate decision making.”

Officer Scott Hedrick of the Columbia, Missouri Police Department may need some brushing up on his “situational awareness” after putting a seventy year old man having a stroke in an arm bar.

An elderly man says after he lost control of his vehicle and struck a house, an off-duty police officer held him against his will while he suffered a mini-stroke.

James “Jim” Miller, 70, a grandfather and longtime realtor in Marshall, says around 6 o’clock Sunday night he was driving to a Wal-Mart when he suddenly felt dizzy and ill. According to a police report, Miller’s pickup veered off the road near south Hawthorne and Sunset and hit a house. In the report, an officer says there was a crack in the house and minor damage to the front left bumper of Miller’s truck.

A horrible incident, especially for Jim Miller. Strokes can be life threatening if not attended to promptly and properly. It’s a good thing the property and Miller’s vehicle only suffered minor damage. It didn’t help that Officer Hedrick decided to take the matter into his own hands and subdue a man who was in imminent medical peril.

A disoriented Miller says he couldn’t believe what happened next; an off-duty officer Scott Hedrick with the Columbia Police Department ran up to him, pulled him out of his vehicle, slammed him face down to the ground and held him down with his knee on his back and neck.

“I was leaning over a little bit and the next thing I know the door jerked open and he jerked me out,” recalled Miller.

Miller says he has a blocked artery on the right side of the his neck and repeatedly asked the officer, who was allegedly accusing Miller of being drunk, to remove his knee because he believed he was having a stroke.

“They thought I was some old drunk and everybody in this town knows who I am,” said Miller.

What exactly prompted this response from Officer Hedrick? We have no reports of the telltale “smell of alcohol” that permeates police reports for DUI cases. We don’t have a failed sobriety test. We have no blood analysis that suggests elevated alcohol levels. In fact, Jim Miller was cognizant enough to tell Officer Hedrick he believed he was having a stroke. Yet none of this mattered to Officer Hedrick; the First Rule of Policing kicked in, even while off-duty, and Jim Miller needed to be restrained for his safety and that of the public.

Miller and his family say the officer ignored Miller’s pleas and held him down until Marshall Police officers arrived.

“He had my arm twisted behind my back. I said it was hurting and he said ‘I’ll break your arm,’” Miller recalled.

I’m at a loss to understand why a threat of breaking an arm was needed for a man who was desperately pleading with an off-duty officer to help him in the middle of a medical emergency. I’m at a loss as to why a seventy-year old man needed to be restrained with that level of a threat and to such a degree of force in any situation.

Fortunately, the officers who responded to the scene are more than happy to give us an explanation.

According to a police report, Sergeant Hedrick was attending a gathering at the home when he says Miller hit the house where Hedrick’s wife was standing. Hedrick told investigators he restrained Miller until cops arrived, because he says the elderly driver refused to get out of his truck after the accident.

We have minimal property damage, a police officer who is off duty, and a man sitting in a truck disoriented. The best excuse those writing the paperwork can come up with for Hedrick’s behavior is Miller refused to get out of the truck on command? Just how fast does a stroke victim need to comply with an allegedly lawful demand in order to avoid physical harm? The answer, from accounts by Columbia police, is “immediately, even if you’re experiencing a potentially life threatening situation.”

A Marshall police officer says when he got there Hedrick was restraining the elderly man on the ground.  The police report states the officer then handcuffed Miller, walked him to his patrol car and noticed that he was limping. Miller says after he hit the ground he suffered swelling under his left eye and a bruise on his right leg.

We call law enforcement “first responders” to crisis situations, because those first few minutes can save or take a life. As a result, “situational awareness” becomes a key component of the job description. One with the ability to injure and kill with the full blessing of the State should be able to distinguish between a diabetic attack, for example, and intoxication.

Yet more and more police continue to take their own “situational awareness” of a scene, apply the “criminal activity” filter in their brains, and act, as opposed to accurately assessing a scenario and responding accordingly. Lives can be threatened with each misstep, but we trust these men and women, and, as in the case of Jim Miler and Officer Scott Hedrick, we will often err on the side of the cop, because reasons.

This week, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department announced that the department has decided not to investigate Hedrick for use of excessive force.  Of course they wouldn’t investigate him. Officer Hedrick’s “situational awareness” was just fine for their procedures.

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