Monday, April 23, 2018
Public safety

Shooting of mentally ill Hernando woman was hardly commendable

Let's start by looking at how it ended.

Inga Marie Swanson, 42, lay dead on a Saturday morning last October.

The people who had shot and killed her, Hernando sheriff's Detective Rocky Howard and Tampa police Officer William Mechler, were sworn to protect people who need it, as Swanson surely did.

Though Swanson had never been diagnosed with a mental illness, she'd been wandering through her sparsely populated neighborhood just north of County Line Road for about an hour, talking incoherently. And she was naked, practically the definition of vulnerability.

Yes, she needed help, advocates for the mentally ill would tell you, as surely as the victim of a heart attack.

That she didn't get it means her death was even more than a tragedy; it was a failure.

And, so, the proper response is to look at what went wrong and see how to make it right.

We need to beef up our meager facilities for treating psychological disorders. We need to teach people to recognize signs of distress and how to get help if these start showing up in friends and family members. In strangers, too, considering that two people had seen Swanson naked and disoriented on the day she died — and let her walk away.

What's the best way to stop us from asking tough questions and correct what went wrong? Well, to make it seem as if it somehow went right.

And that's the message Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis sent on Wednesday, when he presented Howard and Mechler with his office's highest award, the Medal of Valor.

I'm not saying, not at all, that they were to blame for her death. And it seems that Howard, in particular, tried to do more for Swanson than anyone else did that day.

When Howard was told Swanson had shown up at his in-laws' house, he followed her and offered to help. When she walked away, Howard, who was off-duty, called for on-duty deputies.

Swanson returned with a gun before they arrived and said she wanted to take a 5-year-old boy who was sitting in a nearby truck.

Howard and Mechler shot her only after they had told her repeatedly to drop the weapon and she continued to walk toward them and point the gun.

That's where the heart attack comparison breaks down, Nienhuis would tell you. She was more than a victim; she was a threat, or at least an apparent one.

Right, which is why everyone agrees Howard and Mechler deserved to be cleared of wrongdoing. It was an excusable shooting.

But that doesn't mean it was commendable.

First of all, though Mechler and Howard couldn't have known this, Swanson wasn't in a position to kill or kidnap anyone.

The gun was old, broken and unloaded.

That's the smallest problem with giving them this award. It's supposed to be reserved for "exceptional cases where an employee risks his or her life in the performance of duty," and I'm not sure this qualifies.

Worse, overstating the threat to potential victims glosses over the tragic death of the actual victim, Swanson, which is the same thing Nienhuis did when he allowed Howard to return to work before he'd been cleared.

Worst of all, this award suggests Swanson needed to be killed when, really, what she needed was help.

Comments
‘Tase me, and you’ll see what happens,’ an American Airlines flier said. Police did - 10 times.

‘Tase me, and you’ll see what happens,’ an American Airlines flier said. Police did - 10 times.

Washington PostWhat began as a simple boarding dispute at Miami International Airport escalated into a tour de force of plane drama on Sunday as a belligerent passenger was repeatedly stunned by police, forcibly carried out of his seat, then driven t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
In search for stolen car, the baby inside was the calmest one

In search for stolen car, the baby inside was the calmest one

ST. PETERSBURG — Photojournalist Michael Egger pulled into the apartment complex off 71st Avenue N on Monday afternoon, waiting for reporter Mark Douglas. The two WFLA-Ch. 8 journalists were looking for someone — they wouldn’t say who — when they fou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Parents may have fled with newborn ordered taken by court

Deputies: Parents may have fled with newborn ordered taken by court

TAMPA — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a missing child alert on Monday for the 1-month-old son of an Illinois couple who fled to Tampa after losing custody of two other children. Newborn Sage Cooper was last seen Friday at a home on...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Port Richey man admits molesting, attempting to rape 8-year-old girl

Deputies: Port Richey man admits molesting, attempting to rape 8-year-old girl

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 26-year-old man was arrested Friday on charges that he molested and attempted to rape an 8-year-old girl, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Kaleb Harrah, 26, of Port Richey, faces charges of attempted sexual battery o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
FHP: Man struck, killed by SUV while walking in center of road

FHP: Man struck, killed by SUV while walking in center of road

TRINITY — A 49-year-old man was struck and killed early Monday morning by a sport-utility vehicle as he walked in the center of westbound Trinity Boulevard, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Phillip Meadows, of New Port Richey, was wearing dark...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

TAMPA — A man with a history of arrests for roadside soliciting has been found dead at the side of a road. Jess Paez, 51, was identified by Tampa police Monday as the victim of an apparent hit-and-run crash over the weekend. His body was found about ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Police arrest suspect in Waffle House shooting

Police arrest suspect in Waffle House shooting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The suspect in a quadruple homicide at a Nashville Waffle House was taken into custody Monday, police said. Authorities had mounted a massive manhunt for 29-year-old Travis Reinking, after the Sunday morning attacks. Authorities an...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Moments before the first shot, James Shaw Jr. was watching a Waffle House employee wash dishes, stacking them higher and higher. When the first shot was fired, Shaw thought the tower of plates had come crashing down, he would later recount at a news ...
Published: 04/23/18
Teen killed in Hernando crash was ‘always smiling and laughing’

Teen killed in Hernando crash was ‘always smiling and laughing’

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputies: St. Petersburg man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: St. Petersburg man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG — A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported. Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27, of St. Petersburg now faces charges o...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18