Death of Conn. Officer Reinforces Dangers of Family Violence Calls
By Eugene Driscoll, Danbury News Times (Connecticut)
A man sits on a chair in his living room, eating his dinner. The family dog paddles over, perhaps begging for scraps. The dog nips the man's finger. The man gets angry.
After beating the dog, the man directs his anger at his wife. He smacks her in the head with a cooking pot.
The woman, bleeding, calls police. But when officers put her husband in handcuffs, she gets angry.
"She just wanted somebody to tell her husband to leave her alone," Officer Michael Georgoulis said, describing Sunday's incident in Danbury.
It is precisely at that moment when domestic disturbance calls can veer out of control. Ask any police officer to identify the most dangerous part of the job and chances are the answer will be "domestics."
Emotions are running high. Police are on someone else's turf. Throw alcohol and weapons into the mix and the result can be lethal.
The danger of domestic disturbance calls was underscored last week when Newington police Officer Peter J. Lavery was shot and killed while responding to a report of a domestic disturbance.
The gunman, a former corrections officer named Bruce Carrier, was holed up inside his basement for about 12 hours before police entered and discovered he had shot himself in the head.
Police from the region are expected to attend Lavery's funeral today. They'll show up to show solidarity and to support Lavery's family. There is also a less obvious reason.
"When you come down to it, it literally could have been any of us," Georgoulis said. "The old saying 'There but for the grace of God go I,' is very applicable in a situation like this. All of us go to domestics every night. Something real simple like, 'Hey my husband is in the basement' turns out to get you killed.' "
The dangers of domestic calls are not new.
Capt. Mitchell Weston, acting chief of the Danbury Police Department, said one of his hairiest calls came when he and another officer responded to a report of a domestic disturbance involving a man and a woman at an apartment on Balmforth Avenue.
It was 1977 and Weston was a rookie. They arrived outside the apartment and were greeted by two people — the woman's mother and the mother's boyfriend.
Meanwhile, the female victim was on the second floor, banging on a window and screaming "No cops, no cops."
"We still had to check it," Weston said. "We walked inside and we started going up the stairs and the next thing we know a man is at the top of the stairs, pointing a rifle at us.
"We were just about ready to shoot him, but the mother's boyfriend runs up behind us and places himself between us and the shooter. If we shoot, we're going to hit him. Then they start wrestling over the rifle. Thankfully, no shots were fired and we were able to disarm him and get the rifle," Weston said.
According to press reports, Lavery and another officer responded to a report of a domestic disturbance in Newington Thursday just before 10:30 p.m. Carrier opened fire as Lavery entered the basement. The other officer made it out unharmed and called for backup.
Several police departments, including a state police tactical team, descended on the house.
Police negotiators tried to secure Lavery's release, but Lavery stopped talking to police at about 3 a.m. Friday. Police tried everything from firing a water hose to tear gas in an effort to get Carrier out of the basement.
Robin Montgomery, a former FBI agent who is the chief of the Brookfield Police Department, said police respond differently to hostage situations and situations where a suspect has barricaded himself someplace and refuses to come out.
"Normally, in a situation where you've got a hostage, two things are critical," Montgomery said. "You have to establish contact with the subject and you have to get some assurance that the hostage, is, in fact, alive. Each case is different, as you can imagine."
Police are more likely to rush a suspect who isn't holding hostages, Montgomery said.
"If there is a hostage, you are more inclined to attempt a dialogue and to try to draw out the hostage through negotiations. In a barricaded subject situation, you are more inclined to resolve it tactically, because you've got a subject and he's not going to give up. He's not interested in negotiations."
In Danbury, the department's emergency services unit has two major components. The crisis negotiation team has officers who specialize in hostage negotiations. The tactical team has heavily armed, specially trained officers — including snipers.
Weston said when the teams are dispatched, force is used as a last resort.
The first thing the police negotiator does is to establish a rapport with the hostage taker.
"We try to figure out why they're doing what they're doing and how can we provide assistance to get them to stop," Weston said. "Some people are doing it because they don't feel anybody is listening to them."
"We have all the time in the world — as long as nobody's being injured," he said. "If you have hostages and the hostage taker isn't hurting them, then it's whenever they are ready to give up. If it takes a week, it takes a week."
In addition to regular patrols, Georgoulis, the Danbury police officer, is also on the department's emergency services unit. He said Lavery's killing had an impact on anyone wearing a badge.
"It reinforces all the officer safety training you're supposed to recall on each call," he said. "It's an eye opener. I've been doing this for 15 years. If you do anything for 15 years you tend to have a harder time keeping your edge up. This reinforces the fact that it could happen to you. It will keep you a little sharper than you were last week."