My friend, Police Officer Jason Zangara, went on trial this week for his actions on September 9, 2012. The incident took place at 4:39 p.m. in West Palm Beach, Florida. Bruce St. Laurent was killed.
Probably many of are thinking that this is another defense of a cop who obviously broke some kind of law or code and is now on trial for that violation of trust. In a way you’d be right. Jason broke the unwritten code that a cop cannot fall apart emotionally. For that violation, Jason will be tried and denied his job, just compensation for his loss of job, ending of benefits, abandonment from the very department he served.
You see Bruce was a cop, too. He was part of the motorcycle escort for President Obama . He was to take a traffic post to stop traffic from entering the roadway the President was on. As Bruce took his traffic post he was hit by a pickup truck and dragged underneath. Jason was the first unit off at the scene and crawled under that truck to try to save Bruce. He was the only officer among many there who made that effort. Bruce died knowing that Jason was there for him.
Many people think that an LEO gets used to this kind of thing, that death doesn’t shake him, that taking a life or losing a life is just in a day’s work. Many think that the police are uncaring or worse, violent and sadistic and take pleasure out of seeing a perpetrator die.
I have handled many officer-involved shootings as the first supervisor on the scene. I have seen officers, battle hardened and always appearing capable of anything, break down and cry, completely unable to answer the simplest questions.
Cops hurt and die a little when a life is lost. Dirty Harry’s don’t exist on the force anywhere. Jason was a prime example of this. A tough, capable street cop, he was unable to continue as an LEO after he saw Bruce’s life slip away from him.
He was unable to sleep. That horrible scene, the smells, sounds and sights were as real as the day they happened. He woke up terrified he was back there. He would be too scared to go back to sleep. His emotions and health deteriorated.
He had flashbacks in which certain things or sounds would trigger a sensation of being back at that scene again and again. Crying was uncontrollable, emotions never in check, difficulty in concentrating and completing small tasks. He was diagnosed by 6 separate psychiatrists as having PTSD.
After a year of not being able to resume normal police duties, instead of treatment for Jason, he was terminated from the West Palm Beach Police Department.
Where does the trial come in? He has petitioned for disability pension as he suffered line of duty PTSD. They have thrown a psychiatrist into the mix and he countermanded what 6 other psychiatrists have found.
The West Palm Beach Police Department accused Jason of lying and making up the incident and his symptoms. They have brought in high-powered attorneys to summarily deny Jason his justice. He is on trial for his very existence. For doing nothing more than his job as he saw it needed to be done. In retrospect, he wishes, to this day, he didn’t respond to that scene or go under that truck.
Is this the aftermath we want for law enforcement, avoiding those incidents where they will be judged harshly for doing what they thought needed to be done? I pray not.
Captain Robert Cubby served for 38 years with the Jersey City (NJ) Police Department, now retired. A PTSD survivor, he has been involved in PTSD issues with the CISM team. A prolific author, Captain Cubby focuses on writing about his experiences and solving police problems. He is a National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) instructor about police matters and a frequent conference speaker.