To the editor:
Mr. Kellar, I read your report on Officer John White’s trial with great interest. I had always assumed the town of Greenville was one of those small Texas cities who didn’t fall into the rut of the large cities where everything a policeman does in a volatile situation has to be reviewed for a criminal act, and if at all possible, a racist matter.
Can a policeman not break the speed limit to rush to the defense of a citizen in trouble? Can he not do the same to catch a criminal trying to escape? Do we not expect him to do what ever is needed up to and including deadly force to protect himself and others? In fact, don’t we require this, and would we not remove him from duty if he failed to do these things?
Enter Officer White, alone, in a situation where he is outnumbered 7 to 1, and someone other than he has a gun. Add to that, tempers are high and an altercation has already occurred. Yet, this officer does his duty and puts himself between the warring factors.
Soon, he is trying to watch everyone and make some arrests. Enter a second officer. Now, Officer White has the original seven to watch along with his fellow officer’s back. While the second officer is engaged in his duty and making an arrest, he is approached by one of the original seven. To an officer, this is full, on guard, danger. Officer White pushes the intruder away and the young man gets verbal and obstinate. This should and did tell Officer White that the intruder was uncooperative and ready for confrontation, and remember here that we still have recovered any guns, so we don’t know where they are or who might have them.
In a split second, Officer White must decide what to do and at what level to react. It must be strong enough to stop the intrusion, but not excessive. His response was to push the young man to the ground. Not strike him. Not pepper-spray him. Not draw his gun and hold him at gunpoint, and not to use deadly force.
Pretty good decision-making except now he faces trial that could end his career. He protected himself, his fellow officer, and everyone else, including Mr. Ugalde. Mr. Ugalde could have very easily found himself shot depending on his actions, and Officer White put a stop to all of it. He should thank Officer White for putting him in his place and defusing the situation before it reached another level. Officer White should also be thanked by Mr. Ugalde’s parents that their son was returned home to them rather than sent to the morgue.
Then, a district attorney decides to prosecute Officer White for his actions. Would he prosecute another 13-year-old if he had pushed Mr. Ugalde to the ground after being approached in an aggressive manner? I doubt it. How would the district attorney have reacted if he had been in the exact situation? Would he have been in fear? We will never know because he’s not the person who is required to put himself in harms way when conflict arrives, but then again, the prosecution of Officer White means votes in the next election.
Also, how will Officer White be judged by a jury of his peers? His peers are policemen who will run towards the sound of gunfire rather than away. His peers are the ones who do whatever they must to keep from taking lives. His peers are men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect yours, mine, and even the district attorneys who has chosen to prosecute him for votes. His peers understand the situation he was in, and none of the rest of us possibly can.
Mr. Ugalde should have been slapped across the face, and it should have been done by one of his parents who were surprisingly absent. Officer White should have never had to deal with Mr. Ugalde, and if Mr. Ugalde had been properly raised, he would have been willing to obey Officer White’s orders. Mr. Ugalde’s lack of parenting is the root cause of this incident, and they should accept the responsibility of his actions. Officer White did a good job and should be commended, not on trial.
The last thing I would like to mention is, what will this do to officer morale? Senior officers will surely start looking for jobs in other cities, changing careers, or retiring. I’m sure Greenville has the same issues with recruiting police officers as most other cities, and can they recruit enough good quality candidates to replace those who leave. I doubt it. Even if they do, what will they have in place of Officer White. Green officers who have never been in the situation Officer White was in and may not make good decisions. Instead of pushing Mr. Ugalde to the ground, maybe he uses a night stick, or pepper spray, or, God forbid, a gun. Could anything be worse? Yes, maybe he does nothing and the not yet found gun is used on him.
No good scenarios here, but I can tell you this. If Officer White is convicted, I will take a wide path to avoid the city of Greenville — a city I and my family stop in at least twice a month. I will also tell everyone I know this story, and encourage them to do the same. I have no use for PC politics in government, but less when it is used against men and women who are willing to put a badge on their chest on a daily bases and protect me and my family. This is a sad day for Greenville.
To the editor: