Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Two witnesses to sexual assault, two opposite reactions

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 18, 2012 at 6:57 am with 17 Comments »
June 20, 2012 9:12 am

Two incidents, separated by time and distance, were reported in last week’s news. Despite the months and miles that separate one from the other, the connection between these disturbing stories says much about human reaction to violence.

The first was an AP report about a Texas rancher who allegedly came upon a man molesting the rancher’s 4 year old daughter. The second story was a Trib update update on the trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach on trial for 52 counts of sexual assault. The article summarized the testimony of former assistant Penn State football coach Mike McQueary, who testified that he saw and heard Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10 year old boy in a school shower.

The similarity in these stories is obvious: Both the unidentified Texas rancher and ex-coach McQueary told authorities that they witnessed a known subject sexually assaulting a young child. Where these stories differ is the reaction by each witness to these similar incidents.

In Pennsylvania, McQueary testified that he walked into the locker room and heard a ”skin-on-skin smacking sound” from the shower area. McQueary told the court that he looked into the shower area and saw that “Jerry Sandusky was standing naked in the showers behind a boy, slowly moving his hips.” McQueary’s reaction? he slammed his locker shut. Loudly.

Crime scene tape hung in Shiner, Texas/ courtesy

In Shiner, Texas, the response was much different. A rancher told police that, in reaction to seeing his 4 year old daughter being sexually assaulted, he attacked the man. The rancher killed him with his bare hands.

From the most objective standpoint (and assuming all of the allegations are true) the two incidents are almost identical. Comparing the results becomes a psuedo psych experiment, one conducted solely for the purpose of studying the reaction to a scene of sexual violence. The extremely limited findings tell us that one witness reacted by announcing his presence and then walking away, while another took aggressive action leading to a fatal conclusion.committed a crime.

Mike McQueary/ AP Photo

Let’s add a few layers of context. In McQueary’s defense, he walked into an incident involving a child he did not know being (allegedly) assaulted by Sandusky, a man who was a well known and respected figure as well as his superior. This obviously made for a more difficult choice, though he may regret his poor judgment, even his cowardice, for years to come.

The rancher, on the other hand, witnessed a scene that kicked in a primal and adrenalin-fueled instinct. Unfortunately, his paternal reactions are now muddled in an investigation that now must answer the question of whether the death was a result of mutual combat or a vengeful assault. The rancher could pay a steep price for possibly allowing his rage to control his actions.

Through the convenient lens of hindsight the focus of both witnesses becomes clear. The rancher focused his attention on the man attacking his daughter, while McQueary focused on his own shocked indignation. If we accept that both outcomes are less than ideal – a suspicious death in one instance and possibly more victims in the other – then any mistake made by these men comes down to the focus of their reaction.

Their focus should have been on the victims. The victims in these incidents were an innocent 4 year old girl and a 10 year old boy who suffered in a far more profound way than simply watching a violent sexual assault. They endured it.

Minus the details, the takeaway point from the comparison is this: Had both men responded by making the victims’ safety their number one priority, a lot of wrong could have been prevented.

Witnessing violent crime can be shocking, may require an instantaneous and difficult decision, and could create long-lasting consequences. Fortunately, there is a simple plan when faced with such a traumatic choice. It is the course of action least likely to have a negative outcome for the victim and the witness.

Protect. The. Victim.

Update 6/20: According to an AP report a Texas grand jury looking into the rancher’s deadly reaction came to the same conclusion as police investigators – his response in this instance was not a crime. Good news for the rancher and his family.

Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. Copper2Steel says:

    Well stated, Brian.

  2. Chippert says:

    Brian, you missed one important word: alleged. It has not, as far as I know, been established that either of the assaults actually happened. Are you falling into the same state of mind we see in these forums much too frequently, that of convicting based on a news story?

    Once it is established that the assaults did in fact happen, your story has much to think about. I personally do not believe that the outcome should have or could have been the same in both cases. The rancher who killed the rapist after witnessing the assault on his 4 year old daughter had every moral right to kill, in my opinion (again assuming that the rape did happen as described). I would have a difficult time convicting him if I were on a jury, regardless of what the law actually may say.

    On the other hand, the only proper course of action for the witness in the Sandusky case, assuming his testimony is true, would have been to alert the administration at Penn State and the police.

    Justice is not as clear cut when you are considering the protection of your immediate family against the protection of a member of society as a whole.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    By my count I used a form of the word “alleged” at least three times. I think it’s fair to say I recognize these are allegations until proven in court. I appreciate your viewpoint on the moral righteousness of the rancher, a view that is probably in the majority, but that does not cover the legal ramifications. I would hate to see the rancher put in jail for this offense, but it certainly is a possibility.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. Chippert says:

    Sorry, Brian. After re-reading I see that you did properly attribute the incidents to allegations at this point. I guess my brain is so used to the “read and convict” attitudes of so many forum posters that it automatically edited out the key phrases.

    Yes, I know that the rancher likely broke the law with his actions, even if the rape is proven. And while I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty (but not for the reasons most people are opposed) and opposed to vigilante justice, I do think that there is a better than even chance that the rancher will never be convicted if tried in a jury trial, regardless of the law.

  5. musingintacoma says:

    The story of the rancher reminded me of a incident that occurred in the early 90’s when I lived in Vancouver BC.

    There had been a rash of home invasion robberies. In one, the homeowner defended himself with a knife, the invader had no weapon. In the scuffle, the invader was fatally stabbed. The police arrested the homeowner for manslaughter. (In Canada, one can only defend oneself with the same level of force as is used by the attacker. If more force is used and the attacker dies, the defender is guilty of manslaughter.) The police pressed charges and the story was all over the papers. The Crown Prosecutor (equivalent to a D.A.;) refused to prosecute based on that he would likely be unable to get a conviction based on community sentiment at the time.

    Thus the homeowner, like the rancher, is guilty by law, but society’s moral judgement pronounced (and should for the rancher if his story holds,) him innocent. Sometimes we have to accept the grays in life to go along with the black and white.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Musing- Your point that society can sometimes sway a prosecution is entirely correct. In an opposite example, the three police officers acquitted of assaulting Rodney King (a fourth was released following a hung jury) were retried in federal court due to public outcry.

    Still, I wouldn’t want to bet on society viewing things my way if I were to find myself between a rock and a hard place.

  7. musingintacoma says:

    I was confused by your response Brian; I was under the belief that a person can commit justifiable homicide in situations such as the one that you described in your post and the situation I described in mine. A search of the RCW found that only LEOs and similar officer (corrections officers as an example,) are afforded that luxury.

    I would agree then that I would not want to be at the mercy of the public if I was in the situation the rancher was in. Having said that, if it was my daughter, I too would not hesitate to act and would beat the perpetrator into a bloody pulp. The survival instinct is a strong primal instinct and unfortunately for the molester, he found out that the rancher was willing and able to kill to protect his family.

    Sorry you may disagree, but rape used to be a capital offense and for one molester, the punishment for his horrific act was forfeiture of his life. Can’t say I’ll lose any sleep over it.

  8. Brian O'Neill says:

    I don’t disagree with your sentiment – I simply point out that there may be a legal price to pay for losing control to that primal instinct.

  9. billyizme says:

    Interesting commentary. The usual advice from law enforcement is to call 911 and not take action yourself.

  10. itwasntmethistime says:

    I don’t think you are correct in saying the rancher’s focus was not on his daughter. It was his initial response to protect her by stopping the attack. Once she was no longer being physically harmed he had fulfilled her imminent need and his focus shifted to the attacker.

    I suppose you could say he should have still been focused on her psychological well-being, but there is no way to comprehend the magnitude of psychological damage of an incident immediately afterward. It takes a long time to determine how it will affect an individual. For all we can guess at this time, she may heal more normally because her Daddy guaranteed that bad man could never hurt her again. In which case, I could make the argument that when he was killing the attacker he was very much focused on protecting his daughter from future harm.

  11. musingintacoma says:

    As food for legal thought: Could the rancher claim that he saw the perpetrator committing a felony, and attempted a citizen’s arrest? In the ensuing fight to subdue the suspect and effect the arrest, the rancher landed a ‘lucky punch’ that resulted in the demise of the perpetrator. As an ‘officer’ effecting a citizen’s arrest under common law, would the defense of justifiable homicide be available to him?

    Brian, I am aware, from reading most of your articles and comments, that you are of the opinion that citizens should in almost all circumstances retreat to safety and alert law enforcement to a crime in progress. I can certainly agree with you most of the time. However, in the instance of the rancher, did he not have a duty to prevent the perpetrator from further harming his victim in the manner he saw fit, and if the perpetrator resisted, to use whatever force was necessary to counter and prevent the perpetrator from continuing to resist and detain the perpetrator for LE? For the sake of the argument, lets assume the ranch is rural and LEO response time would be more than 10 minutes.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Musing- self-defense during a citizen’s arrest is a viable defense if the matter was handled in a reasonable fashion (reasonable being the operative word).

    Itwasntmethistime- yours is an interesting interpretation, but the psychological defense would only be necessary now that there has been a fatal result. I maintain that, if it were a matter of rage overcoming the rancher’s self-control, it was unnecessary and would only lead to further anguish for the rancher’s family had he been charged.

  13. itwasntmethistime says:

    Are you assuming he is going with a psychological defense? I haven’t read that anywhere but I could have missed it. It’s a relatively recent event so it would surprise me that his defense has been stated for the public already.

  14. musingintacoma says:

    Thanks for the stimulating discussion all. Much better than the rants one typically sees. Per the AP article, the prosecutor is going to present the case to a grand jury. This will be where the rancher will have to sweat it out. Hopefully the taxpayers and the rancher will be spared the cost of an expensive trial. I do not think (especially in Texas) that given what is known at this point that you could get 12 people to agree to convict in this case. As it only takes one to hang a jury, I would think the rancher is safe.

    Back to the original intent of Brian’s post, it is sad that two separate instances of the same crime are treated so differently. In one, the perpetrator is dealt with swiftly and violently, in the other the perpetrator continues to commit their crime several times over the course of many years. In an ideal world, both would have been dealt with in the same manner and with the same expediency. I guess that it becomes an example of life’s Rule #1 – Life isn’t always fair.

  15. DevilDog2019 says:

    I will be done posting comments on any more of your blogs. Remember you are supposed to be the trained professional. We are supposed to be the average citizen.

    That being said, we all now know the outcome of this event. What was missing in this entire blog was all the other evidence missing. Such as after the father killed (by beating him to death) the molester, the father had called 911 and asked for an ambulance. He told the 911 operator what happened and they (he) were performing CPR. The Dad is exonerated!

    Now I won’t post anymore on your blogs. As I know that what I say causes ruffles with you. I can care less. My Grandfather is Neal Duncan. I suggest that you look him up and see what he did for the city of Tacoma. If he was still alive today his position would have been much different than yours. What do your retired LEO’s from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, say. I bet at the very least that they might be able to see the other side of things differently.

    I see most crime rising just because of entitlements. I got a dumb-@ss brother in-law that decided to break into a middle school on last Thanksgiving weekend. This Assho!e has been living off the state for years. See where your dollars go… Sorry that was just on my chest.

    I love the fact that you (as a bargaining collective) went from Police “Peace” Officers, to “LEO’s”. Really sounds like you care for the public.

    I know how hard your job is, and I know how many idiots are out there. But what is even harder is doing this crap in a Foreign Land with its indigenous people. We who have served know this too well. Have you served in any of our Armed Forces? From what I have read, you have not.

    All I have is a High School Education that I received from the city of Tacoma, from Stadium HSH in 87’. I do not have any college education. GI Bill got robbed from a young man by his government supervisors. They wouldn’t accommodate a school schedule. (This is the only bitterness I have in life) But I have a great salary, could be better, but right now, no time.

    My bottom line is that I took an OATH, To protect and Defend the Constitution of the United States of America against All Enemies Foreign and Domestic!

    All I hear you talk about is just your “Police View” I for one would be happy if we could get a law like Indiana,

    I am tired of all the killings by cops in people’s homes about false drug crap,

    I am now done on all of your blogs.
    See YA!! not likely….

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Happy trails, devildog2019, but before you go…

    This is an open forum and you are, of course, free to express your opinion. I would only ask that you consider my role as a police officer writing an opinion column, rather than a veteran journalist with an inside track on the news. This column, which you find so lacking in details, was written solely on the basis of a single Trib article (which I linked in the column). The article itself gave very few details, and in fact I updated the column when further information (to include some of the details you just mentioned) came out in today’s paper. While you may disagree with my point of view, my comments and my writing, we were both operating from the same sheet of music.

    I served in the USAF Reserves after college, since you asked, and I have gone to great lengths to promote the dignity of service men and women. For that example I would point you to the column preceding the one you find so distasteful. I hope you feel better having gotten all of that off your chest. If you choose not to read/comment/care anymore about this column, then best of luck to you.

  17. BlaineCGarver says:

    Just my 2 Cents…..Deadly force is allowed in WA to stop a felony. Only sometimes? Cut and dried would be a better protection. If no charges are going to be brought against the shooter/protecter, why are civil suits allowed by the perp/perp’s family? Before the ACLU and liberal judges, the situation was surely in favor of the lawful citizen protecting himself and others. It seems to be coming back around, but not soon enough. I wish all felons had a reasonable chance of being hurt/killed…maybe crime would be lowered (as it was in Kennesaw, Georgia….Google that if you want a good pro-gun story)

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