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Keep the public in the loop on deputy’s murder-suicide

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on May 18, 2010 at 7:42 pm with 1 Comment »
May 18, 2010 9:24 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It’s been more than four days since a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot two innocent people, then himself. The public still knows next to nothing about the killings.

We know that 49-year-old Deputy Allen Myron killed his wife’s parents, Monty and Susan Multanen, on Friday evening at his home near Gig Harbor.

The Tacoma Police Department – which is handling the investigation – revealed Monday that Myron had quarreled with his father-in-law before the murder-suicide. But that could safely have been surmised from the fact that the deputy shot Multanen.

Beyond those bare facts, what?

When there’s a vacuum of information, people fill it with speculation. Was Myron depressed after a long siege of back pain? Did mounting stress trigger some festering mental illness? Was he a controlling man losing control of his family? Did the family have big money problems? Was a stressed-out Myron getting too much unwelcome advice?

The mystery is all the deeper in light of Myron’s known background. He was highly respected by many who knew him. Acquaintances seem uniformly shocked by his explosion. No one has reported a history of violence, though his wife, on a website, had mentioned marital troubles and what sounded like emotional abuse.

So far, not the faintest whiff of an explanation. It may be that the explanation is buried so deeply in the psyche of a dead man that even the best detectives would have a hard time finding it. But the Tacoma police should be planning to share what they find out in a timely way.

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor got it right the day after the shootings: “As we go forward, we promise that we will let everyone know everything when we know it and confirm it.” Yet the Tacoma investigators have been tight-lipped, despite the fact that there are no suspects at large, no case to protect and no trial to worry about. We hope there’s a good reason for that.

When a police officer guns down innocent people, his commanders must account for it. Officers are entrusted with lethal force only after tight psychological screening and only – presumably – under close oversight.

The most important questions arising from this shooting concern the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Did someone fail to spot signs of a troubled officer? Does the department provide for adequate scrutiny of its deputies? Or was this simply an unforeseeable tragedy that happened despite due diligence and proper safeguards?

To evaluate the performance of its sheriff’s department, the public must know the facts – all the facts, sooner rather than later.

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