Report: Rockford police in church shooting violated policies

| June 16, 2010

ROCKFORD — It all came down to a series of quick decisions stretching just over two minutes.

When Rockford police officers Oda Poole and Stan North first saw Mark Anthony Barmore outside a Rockford church on Aug. 24, 2009, they decided to continue their pursuit of the suspect the police were looking for in connection with a domestic violence complaint from the night before. Barmore decided to hide in the church’s basement, holing up in a small boiler room.

The officers decided to draw their guns as they followed him into the basement, where several children — part of the church’s day care operation — were playing. Barmore decided to resist — unsuccessfully — as the officers forced their way into the boiler room to confront him.

Less than a minute later, Barmore was dead.

While a new report has found the shooting consistent with Rockford Police Department policy “at the moment deadly force was used,” it is deeply critical of the officers’ actions from the moment they entered the church.

“Our review indicated that Officers North and Poole violated RPD policy and training and used poor tactics during this incident,” the report states. “Their actions presented unnecessary risks to officer safety and the safety of others because, based upon the existing evidence, they did not act in accord with their training and with RPD policy.”

The report, containing the investigation of the independent agency hired by the city to review the shooting, details decisions like these that go against department policy and training.

“There is no evidence that officers made an attempt to contain Barmore in the church or considered doing so,” the report states. “Officers did not establish a perimeter, summon backup, evacuate the church, inquire about the number of potential occupants in the church or ask about the layout of the building or basement, including the locale of entries and exits.”

The report’s authors — attorneys Kelli Evans and Christy Lopez — say North and Poole disregarded Police Department procedures and proven police tactics as they chased Barmore into the church, followed him into the basement and struggled with him in the boiler room’s doorway in the presence of church employees and children.

Report criticized
Rockford police union President Terry Peterson takes issue with the report, which was released to the public Tuesday.

The union issued a statement questioning the report’s accuracy and dismissing the allegations.

“We support Officer Stan North and Oda Poole and all other officers who have endured mounds of scrutiny in the process, which has become extremely lengthy,” the release states. “Their actions were in keeping with policies, procedures and provided training.”

Also taking issue with the report is Poole’s wife, Robin, who released the following statement Tuesday:

“I question the credibility of the report. Miss Lopez and Miss Evans spent six months working on this report and never spoke with, or requested to speak with, Oda or Stan.

“In my opinion, it is inappropriate to present speculation as fact. I am deeply, profoundly and permanently ashamed of Mayor (Larry) Morrissey, Chief (Chet) Epperson and the current condition of my hometown.”

48-page report
The 48-page report was prepared by Oakland, Calif.-based Independent Assessment & Monitoring LLP at the request of the city.

The firm was hired to assist the city in its administrative review of the shooting, a process that looks at whether the use of deadly force was consistent with policy and training. The review, which could result in disciplinary action against the officers, will conclude in the coming month and will be released to the public, Morrissey said Tuesday.

At a news conference Tuesday, Epperson said he had “grave concerns” over the shooting.

“That is why I signed a complaint against the officers. (What occurred that afternoon) was out of line with policy and procedures,” he said.

Bolstering his concerns are the findings outlined in the report.

According to the report, Poole and North immediately followed Barmore into the church through separate doors. They did not communicate or coordinate with each other, the report states.

It also questions why the officers moved so quickly to remove Barmore from the boiler room and why officers placed themselves in such proximity to a potentially armed suspect.

While evidence supports that Barmore struggled to grab Poole’s drawn handgun, the report says the officers presented Barmore with the opportunity to do so.

“Pushing or grabbing an armed resisting suspect is a bad tactic,” the report states. “Doing so while holding a gun in one hand compounds the tactical error.”

Poole and North have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. A Winnebago County grand jury ruled the shooting justified in December.

The report also criticizes the way the department supervises its officers.

“We were unable to detect any supervisory participation in the events leading up to the shooting or any explanation why there was no supervisory involvement,” the report states.

The report goes on to criticize the department for several actions — as well as inaction — after the shooting. The officers’ written statements were not taken until days after the shooting, the report states. While the report praised the department for having the officers walk through the church with a supervisor immediately after the shooting, it criticizes the department for not recording it.

The report also questions why the witness statements were not recorded, why officers did not probe witnesses for more detail, and failed to use diagrams and photographs in their questioning.
The report ends with a list of 27 recommendations.

‘Could have been worse’
As disturbing as the findings of the report read, Lopez said the outcome of Aug. 24, 2009, could have been worse.

“Officers could have been shot. Children could have been caught in the crossfire,” she said. “These officers cannot continue to rely on luck.”

Releasing the report helps ensure that its recommendations will be implemented, Morrissey said.
“There is a specific reason why we did what we did,” Morrissey said of the independent investigation. “It was a concern to me when I saw that we had children in the basement of a church and we had an unarmed suspect barricaded. We wanted to take another look at that. There were good reasons why people were asking those questions. There were aspects of our policies that were violated, in our opinion, and that is supported by the report.”

City Legal Director Patrick Hayes said the report, submitted in March, was reviewed by Evans and Lopez and members of city staff before its release.

“We discussed and debated some of the opinions,” Hayes said. “I’m sure the authors would indicate that there are no topics in the initial draft that are not in the final,” although some personnel matters were removed from the final report, he added.

But the report puts too much of the blame on North and Poole and not enough on Barmore, Peterson said.

“It’s putting a lot of the onus on the two officers that went in there and risked their lives that day to do their job for the community like they have for years,” Peterson said. “There are a lot of questions about Mark Barmore himself. Why is the report written in such a way that it hangs Stan North and Oda Poole out, as well as others, when in fact the reality of it is Mark Barmore made a decision and his decision was to try to disarm an officer and the end result was tragic?”

 

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Category: Church Security

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