The Westside Optimist Club recently recognized two local law enforcement officers for their bravery and courage in making split-second decisions not to pull their gun triggers when they encountered two different suspects with weapons.
Retired St. Clair County Judge Milton S. Wharton said police officers put their lives on the line every day that they are working. And in light of the recent scrutiny of police officers in Ferguson and elsewhere, the officers were honored for past incidents where they did not shoot.
Those recognized were Delbert Marion, a former East St. Louis patrolman and police chief, and St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Robert Boehm two of law enforcement’s finest. Marion is now public safety director for the village of Washington Park.
With family and friends alongside, the club gave plaques to the two officers during a ceremony at Fischer’s Restaurant.
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Marion’s brush with death was many years ago, but still fresh in his mind. In the 1980s, he was working in narcotics and street gangs at a time when there was a very serious gang problem in East St. Louis. Marion was on patrol when a call went out about a disturbance at Parson’s Field. Marion was dispatched to answer the call.
“Most of the time, I rode by myself. I pulled up on the south side of the field. He (the suspect) was a juvenile. I knew him. I knew he was capable of doing a lot of things. That day, he brought a shotgun, his favorite weapon, to Parson’s field. He pointed that shotgun at me. I had a 9 millimeter 16 shots. I could have put all 16 in his chest. He turned and looked at me. I knew if I kept walking and he didn’t shoot me, I had a chance to arrest him,” Marion told his audience.
With his adrenalin pumping, Marion said he thought about his family. “I didn’t want to be dead. I wondered if I had an opportunity to take the gun from him.” He told the people he is a former Marine, a former Vietnam veteran and that he had been shot before. “That kid could have lost his life at my hands,” Marion said. He said he wondered if he shot the boy if he would have been justified.
St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Richard Wagner told the audience that he recently overheard Boehm at his desk, while writing his police report, tell another police officer about the situation that brought him face to face with a suspect who had an object in his hand
“He was talking about an armed robbery in Belleville where the suspect took off running. He sees the car and chases it. It was dark. The car was a gray wrecked car. He gets out and goes after him on foot. The guy just committed an armed robbery. He gets all of the way out into the woods by himself and shouts: ‘Police — halt.’ He stops, turns around with a weapon in his hands.
“His (Boehm’s) heart is racing. All he has is his flashlight. He tells the guy to drop his weapon. The guy does, but the weapon falls on the ground beneath him and he sits on it. The suspect tried to cover up his weapon with weeds and dirt. Then the guy yells at him saying ‘Shoot me, shoot me,’” Wagner said. “With the training, ability and professional officer he is, he made the decision to stay where he was and wait for help. When help arrived, he stopped others from ratcheting up the event. Boehm got close enough to the suspect that he could knock him back and get his arm under him. The guy told him the gun was under him.”
Boehm credits his training with helping him to make that split-second decision to not shoot the suspect. “We go through a lot of training. We’re expected to perform to a certain standard,” he said. And he admitted that first and foremost in his mind was getting home to his family and friends.
“We at the Westside Optimist Club recognize and respect our friends in law enforcement. We appreciate you putting your life on the line doing your duty and protecting us,” Wharton said.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.