Montgomery County, Tennessee- We’ve lost another brother.

On Friday, we sadly lost another deputy who was involved in a vehicular crash in Tennessee.

Deputy Stephen Reece, who had a law enforcement career that spanned 18 years between various departments, but had only been with the Cheatham County Sheriffs Office for only 7 months when he died as a result of the fatal crash.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol had taken point on the investigation into the events that unfolded leading to the death of the deputy.

The Cheatham County deputy was involved in what’s been described as a multi-vehicle crash in Montgomery County on Friday, November 15th during the afternoon. According to first responders that arrived at the wreckage, Deputy Stephen Reece died at the scene.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol had confirmed the results of the crash at a news conference Friday evening. Deputy Stephen Reece was 50-years-old at the time of his passing.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol had also confirmed that there were two vehicles that were involved in the crash that afternoon and that there were no passengers in either of the vehicles involved

At the time of the press conference that Friday evening, the Tennessee Highway Patrol PIO Bill Miller had delved into the current state of the investigation with regard to what they could detail happened.

They stated that Deputy Stephen Reece was attempting to cross 41A from Oak Plains Rd over to Carmel Rd when the crash happened.

According to Miller, when Deputy Reece entered the intersection, he was struck by another vehicle traveling South on Hwy 41A. The impact from the other vehicle had caused the Deputy’s vehicle to overturn, leaving Deputy Reece dead as a result.

The other vehicle that was involved in the crash was described as a Ford Econoline E-250 Van and, according to Miller, the driver, Jose Vilchiz, 38, from Madison, Tennessee was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Vilchiz’s injuries were not considered to be life-threatening when he arrived at the hospital.

However, after further investigation into the scene of the accident, the Tennessee Highway Patrol had discovered that Deputy Stephen Reece had failed to stop at a stop sign while driving his Cheatham County Sheriffs Office Ford Explorer while traveling eastbound that afternoon on Oak Plains Road. ​

Per the investigation, it was at that point that Vilchiz’s ​Ford Econoline E-250 Van had crashed directly into the driver’s side of the deputy’s vehicle while he was traveling South on Highway 41A.

Both vehicles came to a rest on the Southeast side of Highway 41A after the collision. While most of the pertinent information has been collected, the Tennessee Highway Patrol states that the investigation is still ongoing.

Reece had joined the CCSO back in April of this year, but had worked in law enforcement for at least 18 years between his works at other various departments according to Cheatham County Sheriff Mike Breedlove.

Reece previously worked for the Metro Nashville Police Department and also the City of Millersville Police Department.

Cheatham County Sheriff Mike Breedlove had the following to say about the loss of the deputy:

“This is probably the saddest day for Cheatham County, but it’s part of what we signed on for. He was a professional and one of the most amazing people we’ve ever had in our office.”

As of this time, and based upon the evidence gathered thus far, there are no formal charges being brought against the other driver involved, Jose Vilchiz.

The City of Millersville Police Department had released the following statement about the deputy, and also their former officer, on Facebook:

“Our deepest condolences go out to the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office and the family and friends of Deputy Stephen Reese. Deputy Reese was killed today after being involved in a traffic accident while in his patrol vehicle. Deputy Reese was previously employed with the Millersville Police Department and will be greatly missed.”

While the passing of the deputy serves as a cautionary tale for all drivers behind the wheel, law enforcement and citizens alike, the circumstances do not negate the work and impact that Deputy Stephen Reese brought to his community, nor the loss that said community bears from his passing.

We here at Law Enforcement Today also extends our prayers for those suffering from the loss of a man who dedicated nearly two decades to keeping his community safe.

Also this week, we lost an officer in Garysburg, North Carolina.

Whenever a law enforcement officer dies, especially in the line of duty, it’s always a difficult thing to understand “why”.

Many of us are fortunate enough to not have to seriously ponder the question of “will I die on the job today?” Yet, here we are again, visiting an all too frequent topic of another law enforcement officer down.

The most troubling aspect of this particular loss was how young this man was in his career and in life.

In Garysburg, North Carolina, a Northampton County deputy who had only been on the job for a mere six months was killed Wednesday.  

He died in a vehicular crash while he was responding to a call on Wednesday night, according to Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith.

 

Deputy Makeem Brooks was only 27-years-old at the time of his death. At the time of his death, Brooks was traveling in an unmarked car with blue lights flashing when he crashed on U.S. Route 158 outside of Garysburg.

According to the sheriff’s office, a call for service came in at roughly at 11:45 p.m. that night in which a woman claimed to have heard gunshots near Garysburg. Deputy Makeem Brooks was responding to the call when he was killed en route.

According to Sheriff Jack Smith, he stated that Brooks’ car had ran off the left side of the road while driving, which at that point the car had ran into a ditch embankment and overturned several times during the crash. Another deputy, who was driving behind Brooks, was the first person on the scene.

Sadly, when the other deputy had arrived, Brooks was already dead at the scene.

Sheriff Jack Smith had these words to say regarding the passing of the young deputy:

“We are holding our own. It is like losing a family member when one of your officers passes. [He was a] young man with a lot of life, but he died doing what he loved doing, serving the citizens of this county.”

The Greater Love Christian Community Church in Rocky Mount, which Brooks had reportedly attended, posted about his death Thursday on Facebook. Two of the pastors, Audrey McCarter Hedgepeth and Anthony Hedgepeth, had mentioned that Brooks was in touch with them just hours before the accident, saying:

“He missed being in worship with us and would be back with us soon.”

A portion of the post displayed on Facebook by the church stated:

“Our Keem was a dedicated man. He loved God, his family, his job and everyone he encountered. We thank God for the commitment Keem showed, and we pray that in his passing, his legacy of love and dedication will always be remembered.”

While we have a general idea as to what happened when the young deputy was in pursuit to that call that night, we may never know the entirety of what occurred or what might have caused the crash to happen. Unfortunately, the vehicle that the deputy was driving had no dash cam installed on it; likely due to it being an unmarked vehicle, but that is only speculation.

The sheriff’s office had also made an announcement online via Facebook, saying the kind words about the deputy:

“Deputy Makeem Brooks was a great deputy, who loved his job, was always eager to learn, always displayed a positive attitude, and very proactive.”

Not only was Deputy Makeem Brooks a respected member of his church and also had the admiration from his peers and supervisors within the sheriff’s office, but he was also a father. Deputy Makeem Brooks leaves behind his four children.

Those children will be in our prayers, and we hope they grow up knowing they’re father was a great man who, while taken too soon, followed his passion and served a higher calling.

This morning, we also reported on an officer killed in the line of duty in Fishers, IN.  This officer was a K9.

The beloved member of the Fishers Police Department was killed in the line of duty Wednesday morning while tracking an armed suspect.

It all started around 12 a.m. on Interstate 69.  That’s where police tried to pull over someone who they believed was drunk driving.

The man refused to stop, and officers ended up chasing him.

The chase ended on Olio Road.  When the car stopped, a female passenger stayed in the car.  She was taken into custody.

The driver, on the other hand, who police later identified as 19-year-old Richard Garrett, took off into the woods.

K9 Harlej was called to the scene to track him down.  After an officer spotted Garrett, and he refused to stop, K9 Harlej was released.

“Shortly after, the officer heard a gunshot and K9 Harlej went missing,” the department said.

Several hours later, Garrett was arrested.  He was transported to a local hospital with a leg injury and was later booked into the Hamilton County Jail.

“A short time later, officers found K9 Harlej in a wooded area,” the FPD said. “During his pursuit of the suspect, K9 Harlej was shot and succumbed to his injury.”

According to police, the five-year-old Belgian Malinois bit Garrett before the suspect fatally shot him.

Police said they’re still trying to find the weapon Garrett used to kill K9 Harlej.

Now both suspects are facing charges.

The woman, 19-year-old Rashaana Farrow, has been charged with false informing.  It turns out she was also wanted on warrants out of Marion County at the time of the incident.

As for Garret, he has been charged with 10 preliminary offenses.

That includes possession of a handgun without a license, unauthorized entry into a vehicle, possession of marijuana, resisting law enforcement, two counts of residential entry, theft/receiving stolen property, resisting law enforcement with a vehicle, criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon, and striking a law enforcement animal, according to the FPD.

“It is my belief that [K9 Harlej] saved lives last night, and we’re thankful for his sacrifice,” said FPD Chief Ed Gebhart.

He held a press conference later Wednesday morning.

“[He had a] very successful career.”

Back in 2015, K9 Harlej joined the FPD.  He served alongside his partner and handler, Fishers Police Officer Jarred Koopman, for his entire career.

This was the first line-of-duty death in the history of the FPD.

According to Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, the community will never be able to properly thank K9 Harlej for his years of devoted service.

“K9 Harlej answered his last call early this morning protecting his fellow officers and our community,” Fadness tweeted. “We owe him & our men and women in uniform a debt of gratitude.”

A memorial service for the fallen K9 will be announced at a later date, the department said.

In the meantime, in Columbus, Ohio, justice was doled out, but not everyone is convinced that justice was “served” in the recent suggested sentence for a convicted cop killer.

A jury recently recommended a life sentence with no chance of parole for an Ohio man, Quentin Smith, who was convicted earlier this month of killing two suburban police officers responding to a 911 hang-up call that occurred last year.

Quentin Smith was convicted on November 1st of two counts of aggravated murder for the fatal shooting Westerville Police Officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli on February 10th, 2018.

Franklin County prosecutors stated that Smith had killed the officers in an exchange of gunfire after opening his apartment door when the officers had responded to a 911 hang-up call that night. Smith was shot five times during the altercation, but ultimately survived.

Quentin Smith (Photo: city of Westerville)

Quentin Smith (Photo: city of Westerville)

The jury had recommended life in prison, without the possibility of parole on Wednesday instead of a death sentence; however, that judgement did not arrive with all on board, as many jurors were wanting to gear towards the death penality. Judge Richard Frye will formally sentence Smith in about two weeks and will not be able to overturn the life in prison sentence that the jury delivered.

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As mentioned earlier, not all were convinvced that life in prison was a suitable punishment for two dead police officers. Two of the jurors spoke to a local news crew after the sentence was determined, although they wished to remain anonymous, they had some interesting insight to what the jury room was like that day.

They both call the experience intense and emotional. Through teary eyes, a female juror had said:

“This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.” A male juror says he was firmly in favor of death for Smith, stating: “Killing two police officers, shooting one in the head. He had no regard for human life. So justice- the only way justice would be served- was the death penalty. It had to be.”

The female juror says she was leaning toward death, but not set on it, but also described the discussion with a stubborn person firmly against death in the deliberation room, paraphrasing some of the interactions:

“We all took an oath. They knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Can you sign pen to paper- can you sign to the death penalty? And everybody did- but when we got in that room, one just sat back and said, ‘Life – I can’t do it. And I’m done. I will not be changed; you cannot change my mind. Life.’You won’t even listen to us discuss this? ‘Life.’

The male juror added onto some of the interactions as well:

“People, when the rubber hit the road, they didn’t want to even be there. One guy was saying that he didn’t want to make a decision at all. He said I don’t know why we even have to be here.”

The female had described just how quickly people wanted to be out of that room:

“There were people who said ‘We’re deadlocked. Pass out those papers! We’ll be home tonight. We’ll be home tonight.’ It was like glee about passing out the verdict papers with the deadlock.”

When the female juror was asked what she felt about that, she answered:

“Disgust. And I feel like the family did not get justice. Those fathers, those husbands, they’re doing their job. Just doing their job.”

The male juror summarized it in the simplest of terms:

“He’s alive while these two police officers are dead. I just don’t think justice was served.”

Defense attorney Frederick Benton didn’t dispute that Smith shot the officers, but said everything had happened in “a moment of chaos, panic and crisis”, clearly these were not words that resonated during the trial considering the verdict that was reached earlier in the month.

Westerville Chief of Police Charles Chandler released the following statement Wednesday:

“The verdict in this phase of the trial is met with many mixed emotions.  The most important result of today is that the killer will not have the ability to harm anyone in society again.

We will continue to move on with the healing process and support the Morelli and Joering families. We will also ensure the lives of our fallen brothers are celebrated and never forgotten.

Tony and Eric’s actions embody the true heart of the American Police Officer; they made the ultimate sacrifice. There is no outcome that brings them back, so as a department and community, we move forward. Again, thank you for the love and support. Always #WestervilleStrong.”

While it’s comforting to know that Smith will never be on the streets again to hurt anyone else, the sentence does pose the question if justice was really served.

So apparently the fact that suspects are in custody make it okay for an investigation to be delayed because of how poorly written or convoluted a law is?  I can just hear the chants of those demanding due process now if it took investigators MORE than two weeks to find out this information. Law enforcement would be to blame for holding them and not giving them their right to a speedy and fair trial.

Of course, Kevin De León would stand up for the bill he is credited with authoring.

“Such brazen violence is shameful and horrific. But this has nothing to do with the California Values Act. To conflate the two issues is irresponsible,” he said.

It should also be noted that, “Kevin de León (Democrat) was a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. De León lost the general election on November 6, 2018. He was unable to run for re-election in 2018 to the California State Senate because of term limits,” as explained by Ballotpedia.

If you think that’s the end of it.  You’d be wrong.   The Sacramento Bee reporter also went on to further state their case on why the California Values Act had nothing to do with issues this current case is facing by bringing up Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh, who was killed last year by an undocumented immigrant.

Newman police

Newman Police Corporal Ronil Singh with K9 Sam. (Facebook)

 

At the time of Singh’s murder, the Values Act was brought up by high-ranking law enforcement officials as reasoning behind why these senseless murders of our law enforcement officers continue to happen.

This reporter has the audacity to write, “these cases are understandably emotional. It would be great if Becerra spoke directly to the public when law enforcement leaders attack the Values Act because they give the impression that the state is harboring criminals. It is not.”  

I’m sure Cpl. Singh’s widow, child and family as well as Deputy Ishmael’s widow, three children and family will love to read that statement.  I’m not really sure what that writer classifies as a criminal, but anyone that would take the life of a law enforcement officer, or anyone for that matter, certainly is one in my book.

The writer also further went on to state, “when law enforcement leaders in uniform speak, people listen. It cries out for California’s top cop to clear the air. Becerra is a real bulldog in going after President Donald Trump. But when it comes to speaking to complicated and emotional issues involving cops, he’s too often silent.”

Sitting in this chair writing this, I can attest that people aren’t listening close enough to what our uniformed officers are saying, because we wouldn’t be in the war we’re in if that was the truth. 

Perhaps Becerra falls silent because undocumented immigrants keep murdering law enforcement officers? 

The reporter closed their piece with this.

“It’s a shame he [Becerra] didn’t and it’s a shame that politics were wrongly inserted into a tragedy. Deputy Ishmael should not have lost his life on Oct 23. And the men linked to his crime should and will be prosecuted. But the rest? That’s just noise.”

To that writer, I say, how dare you! The mainstream media inserts politics when it fits their agenda wherever they see fit, but cries foul when others point out the hypocrisy. And, unless that “noise” (as you refer to it) is raised, the senseless killings of our men and women in uniform in your state, and and all across this country, will continue to happen.  So here we are at LET to make even more of that “noise”! 

That writers article begs these questions, why should any undocumented migrant criminal be afraid to go to California, they know they are protected, even when they take the lives of those that are there to protect the lives of the law-abiding citizens.  What stops them from taking anyone’s life at that point?

The writer of the Sacramento Bee piece has added on his bio that he is, “a son of Mexican immigrants.” I’ve added in my bio, that I am the granddaughter of a police officer. I guess we see the world from two very different ends of the spectrum.  

 


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