Sunday, August 3, 2008

When I first heard about the tragic shooting of the Eli Escobar child in northwest Houston in 2003, my first reaction was sympathy for the parents of the child shot, even though the news reports indicated that the child was something less than an ideal citizen.

Later, when I heard the officer’s name, I was shocked: first that this mild-mannered former student of mine was even a policeman, for my impression of him was that he was not of particularly rigid stock, like most policemen I’ve known; second, that anyone could possibly accuse him of intentionally hurting anyone dismayed me even more. This was a gentle giant, a tall, genial student who got along with everyone and never had a malicious word for anyone. I would never advised him of that vocation, for I wouldn’t have adjudged him “harsh” enough, or physically stout in mind or body.

This assessment was confirmed in 2007 when I read about his case in The Houston Chronicle:

The rookie Houston Police Department officer who shot and killed a 14-year-old special education student in one of the decade’s most controversial shootings earned his badge and gun despite flunking a crucial test of firearms handling as well as initial police field training, according to documents recently made public as part of a civil rights lawsuit.

Officer Arthur J. Carbonneau also failed 16 of 30 subjects in his mandatory Texas peace officers’ test, including “use-of-force law,” “use-of-force concepts” and “arrest, search and seizure,” records show.

In field training, records show, he repeatedly got lost trying to find locations he was called to and became so rattled that trainers had to take over his calls. When the 23-year-old rookie was assigned to remedial training because of the problems, he mishandled the subduing of an agitated person — a mistake his instructor said could have cost lives.

Yet, Carbonneau still became a full-fledged officer in December 2002. Eleven months later, he killed Eli Escobar II, 14.

The system let us all down; this was certainly a tragedy that could have been avoided.

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