Dougherty siblings' case an example of police bravery, restraint

The Dougherty siblings' road trip to Colorado generated worldwide media coverage full of silly comparisons to some other notorious losers glorified by Hollywood — Bonnie and Clyde.

One article in the New York Times even suggested the siblings provided "diversionary fodder'' in a week dominated by the stock market roller coaster and riots in London. Nothing like a stripper who photographs herself in a bikini and a brother labeled a sex offender for his lewd communications with an 11-year-old girl to make you forget all about another collapse of your 401(k).

True, this trio left a trail of great video for TV and the Internet audiences that love car chases, shootouts and bank robberies. But now that the Doughertys are securely tucked away and no longer a threat to anyone, the focus ought to be on the restraint and bravery of police officers who endured automatic weapons fire — and who somehow resisted the temptation to blow them away.

Colorado police certainly had the chance Wednesday morning when the siblings led them on a chase while firing automatic weapons. After they crashed, Lee-Grace Dougherty reportedly pointed a gun toward officers who shot her once in the leg.

Restraint.

On the day this whole "diversion'' started, Aug. 2, Zephyrhills police Officer Kevin Widener, a six-year veteran of the department, married with a baby, tried to pull over a speeding white sedan. Its occupants opened fire, hitting Widener's cruiser but not stopping him from a pursuit.

Though under attack, Widener kept the sedan in sight as he radioed calmly to dispatch, "He fired several shots at me.'' Finally, after about 5 miles, Widener had to stop as a bullet flattened one of his tires. The video from the cruiser's dash-mounted camera captured the dramatic scene and helped other law enforcement agencies in their search for the suspects.

Bravery.

All this happened about the same time another law enforcement officer, Pasco sheriff's Deputy Ashley Grady, was suspended for five days without pay after an internal affairs investigation concluded she had erred in handling a DUI arrest on May 10. Grady, 23, left her cruiser's window down and Brittany Miles, 21, managed to slip out and speed away in her pickup truck. Miles headed north at 100 mph before colliding with Henry McCain, 67, as he rode his motorcycle onto U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.

Lawyers will likely debate whether Grady's failure to secure Miles caused Mr. McCain's death. But understated in the public humiliation of this young deputy was her heroic action. She jumped on the truck's running board and tried to pull the keys from the ignition as it raced north, slinging her onto U.S. 19. She suffered several injuries, including a broken leg.

During press conferences about the Dougherty siblings, recently appointed Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco made a few comments that seemed a bit too macho and calculated. He's a politician and tough talk might play well as he seeks to craft an image in time for next year's election.

But as he announced Deputy Grady's suspension, he was more measured. "We can second-guess everything,'' he said, "but I will say this: It always goes back to Brittany Miles. She's the one who decided to jump out that window. She's the one who decided to get back in that vehicle. She's the one who decided to take prescription pills, and she's the one who decided to go down that road recklessly.''

Nocco is right about second-guessing, the national pastime. And yes, cops make mistakes. But they make split-second decisions in hazardous conditions, often in the face of desperate, intoxicated men and women with no conscience or concern for human life.

This is just to let them know some of us, at least, understand.

Correction

Zephyrhills police Officer Kevin Widener's name was misspelled in a previous version of this article.

Dougherty siblings' case an example of police bravery, restraint 08/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 8:02pm]

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