Apartment shootout, 'abduction' show some cops don't like tough questions

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeCasselberryMaitland

The caller was clear: He wanted me dead.

He was responding to last weekend's column where I said this community deserved the full story surrounding a January shooting where deputies unleashed more than 100 rounds inside a crowded apartment complex.

In his message, the caller had no qualms about the shooting in a poor part of west Orlando where he didn't live. Nor did he care about the bullets that reportedly entered a unit with sleeping children.

His only regret was the cops hadn't used more powerful weapons — and that I wasn't alongside the man they killed. "Maybe next time you can be in the front seat with the car [thief] when they shoot it with the bazooka," he said.

I also heard from several people suggesting I should no longer expect help from law-enforcement help if my family ever needs it.

The crime here was asking questions. And for some people, it's apparently a capital offense.

Those are the extreme examples. But we've also seen the more sophisticated attempts to stem questions about law enforcement.

Sheriff Jerry Demings got personally involved when he penned a piece for this paper last week. On the heels of my pieces about the 100-round shooting and questions from my colleague, Mike Thomas, about the arrest of a 14-year-old boy, Demings urged the media to stay focused on "substantive issues."

I gotta tell ya, sheriff: If bullets were flying near my kids, I'd consider that quite substantive.

And that is the main reason I have been asking questions.

My sympathies don't rest with the criminals. Neither do Mike's.

If you break the law, you pay the price.

If you try to kill an officer, you get killed.

It should go without saying (but apparently doesn't) that I hold law enforcement in extremely high regard.

In my own life, I've experienced professional and top-notch service from officers from Orlando to Maitland. Heck, a few months ago, I penned a personal note of appreciation to the chief in Casselberry after I received help from the true professionals on his force.

Our protectors take part in countless acts of bravery and altruism. And this newspaper often documents them.

And I hear from a lot of cops who appreciate what we do. In fact, the best cops don't mind questions. As much as anyone, they want their forces to have good answers.

The right to ask questions and speak up is what this country's all about.

And nobody lives that credo better than a newspaper.

Not only do we allow people to criticize us, we encourage it.

We publish comments from readers who tell us we are misguided, uninformed and incapable of doing our jobs. And we do so regularly.

But start asking questions about law enforcement, and there are a bunch of people who want you to shut up.

Sorry, but that's not how it works.

It's not only OK to ask questions; it's essential.

And right now, that's all I have — questions. Not accusations. And most of them are on behalf of the sleeping innocents, not the suspected criminal.

I have questions about the officers' decision to follow and confront a suspect in a populated apartment complex vs. stopping him on the side of the road.

I have questions about the events and decisions that led to more than 100 bullets being fired at a moving car — something discouraged by most law-enforcement offices.

And residents like Porcha Peterson, have questions about why the bullets that entered the unit with her sleeping 1-year-old came from the gun barrels of those who were supposed to keep her safe.

All we're asking for is answers. It defies reason that anybody would want anything less.

And yet, as of today — nearly half a year after the shooting and more than four months after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement declared its investigation complete — not a single piece of information has been released.

I contend you wouldn't stand for such a thing if the bullets had flown into your house.

So I'll wait for the answers. But I'll also keep asking questions about why the media, this community and so many of our silent leaders aren't treating this incident the way we all know they would if it had happened in a wealthier part of town.

I can take the questions and the criticism. But I won't apologize for asking those who make life-or-death decisions to take it, too.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

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