A memo issued by a St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department major says a suspect in a recent Belleville-area armed robbery pointed a weapon at a deputy and demanded “shoot me!”
Maj. Richard Wagner wrote in the memo that the deputy feared for his life and how he’d deal with the fallout if he had to shoot the suspect.
“If I don’t shoot and he shoots me, I am making my wife a widow and leaving my child fatherless,” the deputy, Robert Boehm, considered, according to the report.
Boehm also told his supervisors he was reluctant to fire his weapon at the suspect because he was afraid he would “become national news” or that the shooting would somehow be deemed unjustified.
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Public scrutiny of the use of force by police has been a hot-button issue locally and nationwide in the wake of the police shooting that claimed the life of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said he has no doubt the shooting would have been justified. But he said he couldn’t be more proud of Boehm for bringing a peaceful resolution to the situation.
“It’s hard to judge someone when they’re forced to take action, because they’re the only person who really knows what was going on,” Watson said. “But (Boehm) saw something and made a great decision that allowed everyone to come out unhurt.”
Watson said he worries that his officers are affected by the news and scrutiny of police use of force, to the point that it might hinder their decision-making process in a crucial moment.
“You always worry about that as an administrator,” Watson said. “That’s why you put these guys through so much training and through psychological tests. But when I was the chief in Cahokia, I had to bury an officer, and I think about that every day.”
The suspect, 24-year-old Michael D. Dean of St. Louis, was being chased following a robbery April 11 at the Advance Auto Parts store on Carlyle Avenue. He was apprehended within minutes. Wagner said the suspect confessed to that robbery and several similar cases.
Dean has been charged with robbing the Belleville-area store as well as an Advance Auto Parts store in Collinsville.
“At a time when police officers are scrutinized for making bad decisions in the use of deadly force, Deputy Boehm made the decision not to shoot someone where others may have acted differently,” Wagner wrote in his memo. “This is not to judge others that do use deadly force when warranted, but to show how different this particular incident was resolved by the quick decisions of a highly-trained, professional officer that I am proud to say works for the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department.”