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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shots Fired: Two Days, Nine Shootings

     On Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, 2011, the police, in separate incidents in Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, California, Illinois, and Missouri, shot nine people, killing four of them. As in most police involved shootings, five of the cases received cursory media coverage. Four of the more newsworthy shootings are featured here.

Suicide By Cop in Hollywood

     A month ago, Tyler Brehm, an unemployed 26-year-old from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, moved into a Hollywood, California apartment with his girlfriend. On December 6 they broke up, and on Friday December 9, at ten-fifteen in the morning, Brehm, armed with a 40-caliber handgun, began walking down the middle of Sunset Boulevard toward Vine Street. He shot several times into the air then fired several bullets into a silver Mercedes-Benz coup driven by music industry executive John Atterberry, hitting the victim in the neck and face. Atterberry later died from his wounds. Pedestrians who were aware of what was happening ran for cover. A few bystanders thought they were witnessing the filming of a movie scene. As Brehm fired his weapon, he screamed that he was going to die.

     Two Los Angeles police officers, one of whom was providing security on a nearby movie set, ordered the gunman to drop his weapon. Having run out of ammunition, Brehm pulled a knife. The officers fired four or five times, killing Brehm on the spot.

     Brehm did not have a criminal record. According to one of his Hollywood neighbors, "He wasn't a bad guy, he just got fed up." Another area resident reported that Brehm and his girlfriend had recently moved out of their apartment. "I could tell that he was an unstable person," this neighbor said, "but I don't know the details on what actually made him snap."

     This police shooting has all the earmarks of a suicide by cop case. Although such deaths have become quite common, this police involved shooting drew media attention because it took place in the heart of Hollywood, the town of broken dreams.

Death of a Shoplifter in a Wheelchair

     At four-thirty in the afternnon on Saturday, December 10, loss prevention officers at the Sears store in Visalia, California approached a shoplifting suspect in a wheelchair. The 29-year-old man wheeled out the back door of the store with the security officers in pursuit. When the officers confronted the suspect, he brandished a knife. As the knife-wielding shoplifter rolled into a nearby Marshalls Department Store, the security officers called the police.

     As the police entered Marshalls, the suspect wheeled out the back door. Confronted outside, he lept from the chair and lunged at the officers with his knife. The officers shot him, and he died on the spot.

Suicide By Cop in Chicago

     At eight o'clock Saturday night, December 10, police officers responded to a call regarding a man with a gun at the Western Cermak Pink Line train station in Chicago. When the officers arrived at the scene, they found 55-year-old Frank Steponaitis holding a gun to his head. Ordered to drop the weapon, Steponaitis pulled a second gun and pointed it at the police. The officers opened fire, killing Mr. Steponaitis. According to court records, the dead man had a history of alcoholism and psychiatric treatment.

Double Murder, Car Chase, and Shooting

     In Salem, Missouri at six-thirty in the evening, during an argument with his ex-wife and her boyfriend over custody of their 2-year-old son, 44-year-old Mavin Rice allegedly pulled a gun and killed both adults. The dead woman's 6-year-old daughter heard the gunshots from another room and called 911. Rice, a former Dent County (Missouri) deputry sheriff, drove off with his son in his white station wagon. After leaving the boy with his current wife, Rice headed north on U.S. Route 63 toward Columbia, Missouri.

     Police picked up Rice's trail through his cellphone signals which led to a high-speed vehicle chase that ended at nine-thirty in the parking lot of the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. The hotel is just blocks from the grounds of the state capitol.

     The fleeing ex-cop ran from his car into the lobby of the luxury hotel where hundreds of doctors, nurses and their families were attending an annual Christmas party. Other hotel guests included a youlth hockey team. The pursuing officers shot Rice as he ran past the lobby elevators toward the swimming pool. Rushed to a local hospital, Rice is expected to survive his wounds.  

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