In May during National Police Week, where thousands flock to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to celebrate the lives of 163 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty during 2011, I came across a news story that I felt was the antithesis of the effort the NLEOMF, C.O.P.S., the Fraternal Order of Police and the many other organizations that go the extra mile to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the officers killed in the last year.
The story was about a man who
received 14-25 years in prison from a Michigan judge for the assault on an officer in which that officer sustained five gunshot wounds. That’s 2.8 years per bullet that pierced through Detroit Police Officer Arthur Matthews’ flesh and shattered his femur. Bullets that were intended for his head.
I agree entirely with Officer Matthews, who was shot the morning of May 6 last year during a robbery attempt at a gas station: That’s not justice.
The convicted man, by his own guilty plea, intended to commit murder during the robbery.
There are a couple factors that I should address: 1) the officer was off duty in plain dress. He identified himself as a police officer to the assailant before the gun was fired. However, Matthews says shots began immediately after he told Proctor he was a cop. 2) While I use 2.8 years per bullet as a figure for comparison, the law doesn’t sentence based on a per-bullet basis. It’s a method for us to look at the situation from another order and sense the value given to the act. 3) Matthews was able to return fire.
I want to believe that this 25-year-old
will be able to reconcile his morals and actions in 14 years and not be a danger to others if or when he is released after this sentence. It took him 25 years to come to the mentality that killing is OK. But 14 years to reverse? I’m not alone in my skepticism. Matthews told news organizations he thought the sentence was “insulting,” saying it was more like treating the convicted with “kid gloves.” He told Detroit Talk Radio 1270, “Based on repetition, the violence and the frequency of it, I don’t think Mr. Proctor could be rehabilitated in such a short time.”
Though it varies from state to state, generally U.S. laws differentiate between shooting a civilian and an officer. The law does not take loss of life lightly, with additional weight on the people who wear a badge and stand between those who wish to cause harm and the innocent. If someone should say they are a cop and there is no second thought about pulling the trigger—repeatedly—then what does that say about the risk that individual poses to the public? The law says it is a greater risk and a more heinous act. Punish and correct those actions accordingly.
Matthews, a decorated police officer with years of law enforcement service, was 39 when Proctor gunned him down, causing injuries that force Matthews to walk with a cane and debilitate physically an otherwise healthy man. The charges carried a possible penalty of life in prison. With the minimum sentence doled out to Proctor, he could be 39 when he is able to get out of prison.
The court doesn’t get it both ways: If
the court believes Proctor intended to kill Matthews, the court needs to look at the act of a 25-year-old man who approached a stranger in a gas station parking lot who identified himself as a cop and shot him not once, not twice: Five times.
I didn’t sit in the courtroom. I didn’t review the case or the mitigating factors that may have been presented during the penalty phase. But take stock that only a handful of people did; the rest of us only see the bullet points of this case and its outcome.
Despite Christopher Proctor’s efforts, Matthews lived to stand in court and see justice for an act that would have left his family the survivors of a son, husband, nephew and grandchild who was violently killed.
Protect our officers. Value their lives.