Thursday, November 04, 2004

Officer Killed Enforcing Pot Possession Law

An Austin police officer was killed in my neighborhood the other night, right over near the Sam's Barbecue. Initial reports in the Statesman of the officer's death said that Officer Amy Donovan and her partner were looking for "drug dealers and prostitutes" when she started chasing a suspect for "acting suspiciously" (registration required to Statesman links). She took off on foot. Her partner followed in the car driving in reverse (they were both rookies), and accidentally ran over and killed her.

Now it turns out the truth is more mundane than drug dealers and suspicious activity: Yesterday the Statesman reported she and her partner smelled marijuana, so they rousted four suspects and chased one of them when he ran. That's right, she was killed trying to arrest a someone for sparking a joint. According to the Statesman,

"Patrolling an alley behind East 13th Street, Austin police officer Amy Donovan and fellow rookie Adrian Valdovino had spotted a Chrysler with at least two people inside and two others outside the driver's-side door.

"They also smelled marijuana, according to court documents released Wednesday.

"That led them to investigate further, prompting a chain of events that ended in Donovan's death.

"When one of the suspects fled, Donovan gave chase while Valdovino tried to use the patrol car to block the fleeing man, according to the documents. The car struck Donovan, pinning her against a utility pole.

"Donovan, a 37-year-old mother of four, died at Brackenridge Hospital about three hours later, becoming Austin's first female officer to die in the line of duty."

Officer Amy Donovan died to enforce a Class B misdemeanor pot possession law.

Truly, how many senseless victims will the drug war claim before we're no longer willing to pay the cost? The Travis County Jail can't find space for casual drug users, but trying to arrest a pot smoker literally cost this young woman her life.

Please don't think in any way I'm blaming Officer Donovan or trying to score political points off her tragedy. I honestly sympathize with her family and coworkers. It's an irrational system I blame. I find it unthinkable that an idealistic person with her whole life ahead of her died over something so trivial. I could care less if Nicholas Jarmon gets high. That's nothing compared to society's interest in preventing common circumstances so quickly leading to tragedy.

Jarmon's decision to flee could now cost him 2 to 20 years in prison, since evading arrest becomes a second degree felony in Texas when a death is involved. That the incident may destroy his life, too, increases the costs mightily. Obviously no one intended for this to happen.

Just two weeks ago I blogged about a young man in East Texas who was shot by a drug task force cop when he fled over a marijuana possession beef. I suppose the harshest law and order maven might claim the two incidents together justified the cycle, that the death of the police officer justified harsh tactics in the drug war like chasing down and shooting someone over pot possession. I take no comfort from any of it. All I see is a growing body count that I can't justify.


Dani said...

You must think that it was a dumb idea for Amy to chase after a guy that was just liteing up a joint? I think not... Amy was doing her job. She wasn't just gonna sit in the car and say " oh its just someone smoking a joint we dont have to worry bout that"... no she didn't say that.. she wanted to make her town safer by gettin all these druggies out. Im not just making a comment bout this because shes my aunt.. but because she was doing her job.. she couldn't just pass it by.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm sorry for your loss. What I think is dumb is a policy of telling officers to chase down pot smokers when, functionally, there's simply no room in the county jail for them.

I'm not blaming your aunt at all. You're right she was doing her job. That's one reason why I supported HB 254 this year, though the bill finally died this week - if we can't afford to incarcerate the 55,000 pot smokers arrested in Texas each year, then the penalty should be a ticket, not jail. Each arrest is a potentially hazardous situation, which should be avoided if there's really no point to it. I truly mean no disrespect, and you have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

grits for breakfast:"That's right, she was killed trying to arrest a someone for sparking a joint."
She was trying to TALK to someone because she smelled pot...which the last time i checked whether you like it or not, agree with it or not it IS INFACT ILLEGAL. Somethings are left unsaid Grits... maybe when 4 children have lost a mom, the youngest being only 2 at the time, and a husband has lost his of his life..and soul mate... when a sister, a best friend, an aunt is gone forever...maybe just maybe you should forget about your political stance and keep your mouth shut. I appreciate your sympathy, but you ruined it by stating your opinion on something you really know nothing about. You only know what your have read and what you have heard.She was doing her job, she gave chase when a suspect...who obviously had something to hide ran like a coward. Whether YOU agree with it or not what Nicholas Jarmon was doing WAS illegal, and as a police officer it was her job to enforce the law.
It has been 2 years since the day since she passed away...about 2 years since i read your blog for the first time. I was filled with anger and disgust.
Do you have kids??? a family??? Who do you rely on to make sure the ones you love come home safe???I hope that it is not the officers that enfore this irrational system you blame.
Nicholas Jarmon may have spent 2-20 years of his life in jail (as you know he only got 4 and 1/2 because the DA failed to read the evading arrest charges) not because of the system, but because HE RAN...HE RAN AWAY!!!!!!! Your right, his decision to FLEA may have cost him 2-20 years..not the pot! Not the class B misdameanor! Are you also against the law that makes running from an officer of the law a crime??
Fact is if this was your mom, you wife, your friend, sister etc. You would have nothing to say.
Maybe you meant no harm in what you said, but the way you said it you sounded very critical of what she chose to do that night. There are plenty of other incidents and situations you could have chosen to make a point on, you should be more selective and considerate. Officer Donovan didn't die over something trivial, unless you consider evading a police officer trivial.
Grits, this is the world you live in, the country, the state, the city, the neighborhood, and everyone must abide by the same laws, no one is exempt, no one is special and every time you break the law if you are caught there are consequences.
Your blogs are not going to change the world, if you wish to change policies i suggest a career in politics. So on that note, be a little more cautious because your blog does seem like you are "blaming Officer Donovan" and "trying to score political point off of her tragedy". Yes i am aware of freedom of speech and you are entitled, but what goes around comes around.
It is 2 years and i came across your blog again, obviously it still hits a sour spot huh? Talk about an ever lasting impression.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I didn't accuse Officer Donovan of doing anything wrong at all. She did everything by the book. That's my point: I question the efficacy of laws and policies that directed her into a situation that caused her death.

If you're a relative or knew her, I'm sorry for your loss - I can only imagine how terrible it has been for you, and I'm sorry if this old blog post has caused you additional heartache. But that doesn't change the fact that the trigger for the situation was enforcing a law that the county can't afford to punish people for because the county jail is full, even if he hadn't run. That's not her fault, it's a systemic, institutional failure. And it cost her her life. It's a terrible tragedy and I wish they'd change the law so it won't happen to anyone else.

I wish you well.

Anonymous said...

I do not know the main details and have only read what has been posted on here, Please take this into account while reading.

I don't see what the law was broken here matters. The point in fact that should be more heavily looked upon is that one officers lack of experience caused another to loose her life. Its tragic yes, but shouldn't we look at the fact that Austin has a larger presence of cops(i know i have been caught)but that the cops in my own experince and this one have had a lack of experience. I think this should open the APD too look into a more regierus(sorry for spelling) and legnthy training too have more cops read for any kind of action.

Anonymous said...

I think it is so easy for people to say get these officers more training. I'm married to an officer and let me tell you, they go through some serious training. The Austin Police Academy isn't ranked amongst the top in the NATION because of the lack of training. Austin is one of the safest cities because you have officers out there protecting its citizens, regardless of the degree of the crime.

In regards to Officer Donovan being for "killed trying to arrest someone for sparking a joint," I think that's a stupid comment. I'm sure she had no idea why the suspect decided to run. For all she knew, he probably had a warrant out for his arrest for rape or murder. Has anyone ever thought about that? From the sounds of it, no. She obviously did take her job serious in that she was doing what she was sworn to do, and that was to keep her community safe!

All my respect and sympathy to her and her family...

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the fact that an Austin police officer killed another officer. I think that says it all...incompetent.

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