by Trevor Bothwell
I’m not hurting anybody!
I’m in here by myself!
Tell your men to back off!
Why are you surrounding me?
These are some of the final (paraphrased) pleas heard on a police audio recording of army reservist and Afghanistan war veteran James Emerick Dean, who was shot and killed by a Maryland State Police sharpshooter during a standoff on December 26, 2006. The despondent Dean, who had just received orders of deployment to Iraq, simply wanted to be left alone, barricaded inside his childhood home to contemplate suicide. The State, however, had other ideas.
Jamie, as he was known by his friends and family, was 29.
But let’s rewind a bit, shall we?
Jamie Dean voluntarily enlisted in the army in 2001 and served 18 months in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2005. After he returned home to Southern Maryland in the summer of 2005, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the carnage and horror he had witnessed during combat.
According to a recent report released by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, “At least one-in-three Iraq veterans and one-in-nine Afghanistan veterans will face a mental health issue, including depression, anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” and “PTSD rates for Iraq veterans are already higher than the rates recorded among veterans of Vietnam.”
Perhaps even more astonishing, a different study has found that of those vets who have received a mental health diagnosis, more than half exhibit two or more mental health disorders.
By any reasonable account, Jamie was probably in the majority. He began to drink heavily and suffered from nightmares and night sweats, all among the more prevalent symptoms of PTSD. He could naturally be moody, but the disorder only seemed to make his temperament worse. Despite the pain, Jamie generally kept his feelings bottled up even around his family members, who never quite grasped the severity of his illness even as it metastasized into suicidal impulses.
Jamie was prescribed a handful of medications for the PTSD, but there was one thing in his life that seemed to help him cope better than anything else. On August 16, 2005, he went to Toots’ Bar in Hollywood, Maryland with his father Joseph. That’s when he met Muriel, the girl who would become the love of his life.
Jamie and Muriel
It didn’t take Muriel long to fall in love with Jamie, the man who always made her laugh, spent almost every day with her, would call her every morning to sing to her and tell her how beautiful she was, and would eventually propose to her on Valentine’s Day 2006 over a candlelight dinner. Jamie and Muriel were married on August 26, 2006.
“To look at his face, Jamie looked like a hard, mean man,” Muriel tells me, “but he was gentle and loving, the most caring man. The PTSD made him have the moods he had, but that didn’t matter to me because being with Jamie was all I wanted to do.”
Muriel doesn’t pretend her marriage to Jamie was all hugs and kisses, however. They had their share of arguments (usually over the drinking), and they struggled together through Jamie’s emotional ups and downs and nightmares. On several occasions Muriel recalls waking up in the middle of the night, herself soaking wet as the result of Jamie’s sweats. But like most marriages, the good far outweighed the bad. In large part Jamie was happy; he loved to hunt and ride his four-wheelers around the family farm. Most of all, though, he just enjoyed being with Muriel and spending his time with her two children (his new stepchildren) and their dogs.
And then it happened. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Jamie received orders to Iraq. He was to be in the war zone by the New Year. Almost immediately Jamie’s attitude changed, and he was sent into deep depression. He would tell Muriel he felt like he was going crazy, his drinking became much worse, he was constantly angry, and he would stay out late until he knew Muriel was in bed for the night.
“He was pulling away from me, the pain of which I can’t explain,” recounts Muriel. “My counselor says that is their way of making it easier to leave when they have to deploy.”
A few days before Christmas, Jamie made Muriel dinner and gave her one half of a necklace he’d bought for each of them. “I wear one half of a heart and he wore the other half that says, ‘God watch over me and thee while we are absent one from the other,’” Muriel explains. “Jamie told me that, no matter what happened, we would always be together as long as we had these necklaces.”
On the night of Jamie’s birthday, December 23, 2006, Muriel asked her husband what bothered him the most about going to Iraq. He responded, “Leaving you and the life we have.” Jamie was philosophically opposed to the war in Iraq, but he told Muriel that going would be easy if he didn’t have her.
On Christmas Eve, Jamie told his uncle, Robert Purdy, that 2006 was sure to be his last Christmas with the family, that he kept having nightmares about dying in Iraq. “I tried my best to assure him that he was wrong and that he would be all right,” Purdy recalls. “Then he hugged me good-bye and told me he loved me. I should have noticed this odd behavior but I thought that he was just down with the depressing letter calling him back to duty.”
That night Jamie upset Muriel by getting really drunk after he promised he wouldn’t, so the two weren’t speaking by Christmas morning. Jamie left to go to his father’s house but returned later in the day so he and Muriel could exchange presents. Despite their feud, Jamie had still taken the time to hide all of Muriel’s gifts around the house so she’d have to go on a scavenger hunt to find them.
But then, merely hours later, Jamie flew into a tirade. Whether brought about by the impending deployment date during the holidays, the fear and frustration accompanying Jamie’s imminent departure from his wife, or the cumulative effects of an emotional tidal wave that flooded reality with an illness he simply couldn’t overcome, Jamie lost it and proceeded to trash his house. He broke glasses, hit furniture, and told Muriel the next time she saw him he’d be in a body bag. He angrily smashed a large mirror that hung above the couch before storming off again to his dad’s place in the woods.
According to the death investigation by St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney Richard D. Fritz, who notes that it is the responsibility of his office to “[make] sure that our police are above reproach in their relations with our citizens,” on the evening of December 25, 2006, Jamie Dean called his sister at approximately 9:10 p.m., telling her he “just can’t do it anymore.” Hearing a gun shot and fearing her brother had just committed suicide, Jamie’s sister made a “check the welfare” call to 911.
Shortly after 10:00 p.m., St. Mary’s County Deputy Sheriff Morley approached the home of Joseph Dean, where a despondent Jamie Dean was barricaded alone inside. Morley proceeded to tell Jamie to come outside so he could see that he was all right. Agitated and intoxicated, Jamie indicated he would comply but ultimately refused to do so.
During this timeframe, Maryland State Trooper Sughart made contact with Muriel, who informed him about Jamie’s military status and mental issues, and indicated that there were up to 12 shotguns and possibly a black powder gun in the house. Surrounding residents were soon evacuated from the area, while Sgt. Johnson of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department contacted Jamie, who told Johnson to leave him alone, that he was not going to come out of the house, and that he would hurt anyone who tried to enter.
At 10:45 p.m., the St. Mary’s County Emergency Services Team (SWAT team) took up perimeter positions around the house (Fritz refers to this as the Emergency Response Team in his report). They were soon joined by the Calvert County and Charles County Emergency Services Teams. Police attempted to negotiate with Jamie Dean for several hours, during which time they disabled Jamie’s cell phone and routed the residence phone to the negotiator’s telephone number.
Instead of waiting for Jamie either to exit the property or pass out from exhaustion and alcohol intake, the county police units began to fire chemical munitions (tear gas canisters) into the house at approximately 4:19 a.m. on December 26. Though the state’s attorney’s report states that between 40 and 60 canisters were fired, the actual final count was around 85. After being fired upon, Jamie exited to the rear of the house around 4:33 a.m., raised a shotgun into the air, and fired in the direction of a police car located at least 50 yards away. State’s Attorney Fritz noted that there was little evidence to establish whether the shot was fired directly, or if pellets “rained down” around police cars. An officer also remarked, “The windshield of the vehicle sustained numerous chips that were barely visible.”
By 11:10 a.m. on December 26, the Maryland State Police had arrived on the scene and begun to deploy personnel and resources. For the next hour or so, county and state police attempted negotiations, deploying throw phones and engaging in sporadic telephone conversations.
At 12:25 p.m., a negotiator made telephone contact with Jamie, who stated, “I’m going home,” and indicated that he may be coming out. However, it was at this point that the batteries in the police cell phone died. Then, mysteriously, at 12:45 p.m. power was cut to house, and a state police Peace Keeper vehicle deployed chemical munitions in front of the house while a Calvert County armored vehicle did the same in the rear of the residence.
At 12:47 p.m., the Peace Keeper vehicle was located between 8 to 15 feet from the front of house, continuing to dispense tear gas. The driver’s side door was facing the front door of house when Jamie partially opened the storm door. According to several reports, Jamie raised a long gun and pointed it at the Peace Keeper. At this point, state police sharpshooter Sgt. Daniel Weaver fired one round from approximately 70 yards away, striking Dean in the left side. By 12:52 p.m., Jamie Dean had no life signs.
Response to investigation
The shooting of Jamie Dean can only be described as an atrocity, an appalling abuse of authority by government agents who seem intent to prove that we aren’t to do anything without their oversight, apparently even kill ourselves.
Jamie Dean held no hostages, was not a fugitive, posed no threat to anyone but himself, and, above all else, committed no crime that warranted harassment by police, certainly not SWAT teams. SWAT units are comprised of police officers trained in tactical skills who have one goal: to defuse existing violent situations, with deadly force if necessary. Their duties most definitely do not include needlessly creating or escalating nonviolent ones. (This seems to be becoming a disturbing trend, however. Only a few weeks ago, SWAT teams in upstate New York surrounded a house occupied by Iraq war veteran Eric Podosek, who got drunk, told someone he was depressed, and passed out. Thankfully, Podosek surrendered to police before the State could execute him.)
State’s Attorney Fritz has ruled that the shooting of Jamie Dean itself was “justified,” inasmuch as the sharpshooter perceived a mortal threat to his fellow officers at the time Jamie raised his weapon. Indeed, the police have just as much right to protect themselves as we do. However, to his credit, Fritz also concluded in his report that the tactics employed by the Maryland State Police “can best be considered as progressively assaultive and militaristic in nature,” were “overwhelmingly aggressive,” and were “not warranted under the circumstances of the facts present in the case.” In other words, the situation never should have been escalated to the point where shooting Jamie Dean was necessary.
After all, Fritz emphasized that because the police had time and location in their favor (Jamie was on a secluded family farm surrounded by woods where threat to innocent passersby “was slight to non-existent”):
“[T]here was absolutely no need to push an extraction of Mr. Dean. This was not a hostage situation, where an innocent civilian was being threatened by Mr. Dean; to the contrary, it was a barricade by a single individual, who was demanding to be left alone.”
Specifically, Mr. Fritz also criticized the misuse of the state police Peace Keeper vehicle, which is susceptible to many types of ammunition. While it has many practical law enforcement uses, it is not intended for use as a siege vehicle against individuals firing unknown weapons of an unknown caliber. While this vehicle was in use, a Charles County armored vehicle was in a standby mode, positioned to the left of the residence.
Fritz condemned the state police not only for placing every member of the emergency services team in danger by using an inappropriate vehicle to approach the house, but also for needlessly creating a situation that would give a sniper no choice but to use lethal force if Dean exposed himself as he did.
The Maryland State Police arrived on the scene at 11:10 a.m. on December 26. Jamie Dean was dead by 12:52 p.m. that same day. Given that only one hour and forty-two minutes had elapsed between the time the state police arrived and the time they shot Jamie, one has to wonder if the use of a vehicle susceptible to ammunition was intentional, a part of some perverse plan to justify a “quick kill” of their target. Amazingly, if the tear gas didn’t get Jamie to come out of the house, the final phase of the State’s three-tiered plan was to blow a hole in the side of it. Could one honestly contend that the police were not determined to kill Jamie Dean?
While Fritz’s report is sufficiently and appropriately critical of the Maryland State Police for its actions and poor decision-making, the state’s attorney inexplicably lends no narrative in his report to the equally unacceptable actions of the county police departments. After all, it must be noted that Jamie Dean never fired his weapon until he was fired upon by county authorities dispensing tear gas well before the state police arrived. This was initially authorized, it is assumed, by St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron, who was eventually joined by state police Lt. Mark Gibbons, the on-scene commander.
Moreover, Jamie Dean merely discharged his shotgun into the air, not directly at the police, which caused the shotgun pellets to rain down on one or more police cars with the velocity of a bird dropping. Certainly this may have been a lamentable act, but one that was entirely justified given that the police initiated the use of force. Moreover, Dean, a trained marksman, was in possession of at least one rifle and could have begun picking off the cops if he truly wanted to. The police were well aware that they were dealing with an emotionally traumatized individual and must be accountable for unnecessarily provoking him.
To be sure, the firing of the tear gas marks the most pivotal point in the timeline of events, as it defines the moment where the police go from protecting and serving to tactically assaulting Jamie Dean’s civil liberties. Why this is apparently undeserving of the state’s attorney’s utmost criticism as well is anyone’s guess, and raises the question of whether Mr. Fritz is trying to cover for his county’s sheriff’s department.
Given the fact that police needlessly escalated a situation where no life (other than Jamie’s) was initially in danger, the only reasonable deduction here is that Jamie Dean was slaughtered gratuitously and in outrageous fashion by government agents of Maryland.
At the beginning of this entire episode, Deputy Morley’s job was to check Jamie Dean’s welfare. Instead of merely confirming that Jamie was suicidal and leaving well enough alone, the police surrounded him anyway knowing full well he wanted no business with them. Without provocation, the police initiated force by firing dozens of tear gas canisters at Jamie. And when he did what any other normal human being would have done in that situation and retaliated, the police simply seized on this and used it as an excuse to further antagonize Jamie Dean and ultimately kill him.
Murder or manslaughter?
So where do we go from here? The state’s attorney has submitted his death investigation. He has admitted beyond question that, at the very least, the actions of the state police were an egregious assault on an innocent man’s civil liberties. Though he has given no indication of doing so, the only appropriate course of action at this point is for Mr. Fritz to bring manslaughter charges against those persons on the respective county and state police forces who made command decisions that directly resulted in the death of Jamie Dean.
While it could well be argued that the Maryland State Police made premeditated decisions that only could have caused Jamie’s death, murder charges likely would be over the top given that the police had a tactical plan that at least began with peaceful negotiation. However, there is every reason to believe that St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron and Maryland State Police Lt. Mark Gibbons could rationally be accused of manslaughter as a result of their collective negligence.
Indeed, Sheriff Cameron all but admitted that his department had no business assaulting Jamie when he stated, “[Dean] said he was not going to come out [and] that he intended to commit suicide.” And state police Col. Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins should be fired on grounds of idiocy alone for having the audacity to claim that Jamie Dean’s killing was “a tragedy that was not of our doing,” and that ‘‘[i]t was Mr. Dean who decided” his own fate.
Unfortunately, given the double standards that exist between agents of the State and the rest of us commoners who are expected to merely conform and comply, I won’t hold my breath waiting for Jamie Dean’s killers to be brought to justice. How that makes them “above reproach” is beyond me.