Punishing Police Officers

PTSD or Racism: Metallic and a bullet hole in a police officers cruiser result in “KILL EM ALL” comment

This week I covered the punishment of a 20-year-career Colorado Springs police sergeant who commented “KILL THEM ALL” and then “KILL EM ALL” on a June Black Lives Matter protest live stream. Here is the article, below are some thoughts and behind the scenes reporting that dig into the question of accountability for police.


Was it PTSD or racism and in the end does it even matter?

Key points:

  • A 40 hr unpaid suspension and lateral movement out of a special division was not an adequate punishment for community members.

  • The officer seems to be suffering from PTSD and anxiety from reading the Internal Investigation interviews. [This is not confirmed but read the interview to come to your own conclusion]

  • He was involved in two major shooting incidents in the last five years, including one where an officer was killed and another where he won a medal of valor after getting shot at by a dude with a rifle from an apartment building.

  • Job evaluations show no foul marks the last six years. [These were obtained through open records requests. I reviewed 187 pages of redacted evals. It showed at least since 2014 that he’s met or exceed job expectations.]

  • His actions, though acknowledged as damaging by the police department, are not extreme enough and were ruled to not have INTENTIONALLY caused violence against protesters to cause him to be fired.

  • A petition has gathered over 2500 signatures calling for his firing.

  • His bosses and the mayor cannot fire him without risking legal proceedings from the officer that could challenge his termination. By policy, he’s been adequately punished.

  • So if he can’t be fired, the community feels betrayed here and there are no other options, what can be done?

Read the full article here.

In reviewing the internal documents, even with redactions, it stuck out to me blatantly that the officers is struggling with PTSD. In the current system there seems to be no way to rectify that the officer is struggling due to mental health, that his actions were incredibly damaging and that the punishment is completely inadequate to mend bridges with the community.

His suspension is not minor in the scheme of police getting punished, but looks like a slap on the wrist to people outside of law enforcement.

I interviewed Martin Lewis, a vet who founded the local grassroots organization that started the petition to fire the officer.

Lewis is no stranger to PTSD, he was medically discharged from the military and would not have chosen to leave if it had been left up to him.

“You can’t leave that up to the person who’s suffering from that illness,” he said.

He sees the signs of PTSD in the officer and is looking at policy changes that have allowed the officer to continue to work with mental health that could compromise his ability work as an officer.

Colorado Springs June 2020 protests.

 In the internal affairs’ interview, Wrede said that he was completely “professional” the entire time he was in uniform responding to the city’s George Floyd sparked protests. But when he got home, he couldn’t help but think back to the bullet hole in the officer’s windshield that was shot by an unknown suspect in May and think “Damn, what if?”.

The cruiser was shot on the second night of protests and the interview seems to show that Wrede started began to get panic attacks and bad anxiety after that.

“We expect warriors to be resilient and part of resiliency is denial which didn’t work out for me very well,” Wrede said. Lewis still thinks that Wrede needs to be fired.

It sounded to Lewis like Wrede need help, and maybe he’s gotten help, but it hasn’t been enough in his view.

“You have to look at this and say, I got to actually be able to maintain my professionalism. And if I can’t because of PTSD, then it might be time for me to hang up my coat. Which what you said. He said that and he’s still there,” Lewis said.

“We need to actually look into changing the policy to when police actually go through these things, we’re actually acting and helping them instead of just continuing to put them out there,” Lewis said. He views the week suspension and reassignment as putting the officer “right back out there”.

“Not only should CSPD follow the standard for everyone, they should be held to a higher standard because they enforce it,” Lewis said.

So without any community process to hold the officer accountable, the only solution for those who want more accountability is to fire the officer. And the only option for law enforcement and city government is to function within policy which limits their actions.

It’s interesting to me because the justice system so often fails the people on the other side of the blue uniforms, but in this case it seems to have failed and be failing the officer as well. When justice systems are only punitive can healing of individuals or communities occur? Thoughts or comments -> drop me a line or a song @ lj@dawsons.us.


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