“This shooter fell off our radar,” said Drain.
How long is too long to keep someone on police rdar? Is there a statute of limitations? Authorities in Texas might be asking themselves that same question.
State and federal databases exist now. Did they in 2011? If so, were there any requirements for reporting?
The New York Post reports that police were warned that the gunman who killed seven people and wounded 25 in Texas last month was planning an attack eight years ago, according to newly revealed police reports.
Seth Ator’s mother reported to cops in February 2011 that her son was refusing to take his mental health medication and had threatened to kill himself in a shootout with police.
The worried mom shared a recording with cops, in which Ator declared “911 will bow down before me.”
When officers in Amarillo, Texas, arrived at the home in 2011, they found what they believed to be preparations for an attack, to include a machete hidden in his bed and an underground shelter he’d dug in the backyard.
“There seemed to be some indication of some planned stand-off with police,” one of the officers wrote in a report.
Another officer wrote he believed that Ator, then 28, was violent and would “attempt to harm the police and public” one day.
Eight years later, on Aug. 31, Ator opened fire on a Texas state trooper during a traffic stop and then continued on a rampage through the cities of Midland and Odessa, shooting people first from his car and then from a hijacked USPS truck.
Police eventually cornered and killed Ator in the parking lot of a Cinergy movie theater.
After inspecting the home in 2011, cops took Ator to a hospital and he was eventually admitted to The Pavilion, a mental health treatment facility.
While there, Ator told security: “The police can’t be everywhere,” according to one of the reports.
“I took this as a threat against the public,” an officer wrote.
Two days later, Ator’s mother told cops that he was released by The Pavilion.
Amarillo Police Department Chief Ed Drain said he didn’t know what more his officers could have done to prevent the shooting.
“It’s clear that the shooter had mental problems, but we have something called the Constitution, and that prohibits us from just locking people up,” said Drain, who joined the department as chief in 2016, after the Ator interaction. “Broad criteria like these threats are not enough to bring criminal charges.”
The department now uploads violent-person files to state and federal databases — but didn’t back in 2011, Drain said.
Records show that Ator suffered from mental health issues throughout his life and had been institutionalized in 2001 and 2006.
Despite failing a background check in 2014 for an attempted firearms purchase, Ator was able to buy the AR-15-style rifle he used in last month’s attack.
Because the sale was private, and not via a licensed gun seller, there was no legal requirement to conduct a background check.
Federal investigators searched the Lubbock, Texas, home of the alleged gun-seller earlier this month.
Investigators believe the suspect sold the rifle to Ator in a private sale that allowed him to purchase the weapon without undergoing a background check, according to the report.
Authorities believe the man was illegally buying parts for guns, assembling a single firearm and then reselling it, the Journal reported.
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Speaking of “tragedies that could have been prevented”… over the summer, a move was made that was a slap in the face to the families of all of those killed in the Parkland shooting.
The Broward school district has changed its description of the controversial “Promise” program that lead to the shooting.
Why? So they can sidestep a new state law requiring schools to share more information with law enforcement.
Florida passed a law last year after the mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It requires that students who go through pre-arrest diversion programs must be entered into a state database. That database is run by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The Broward school district doesn’t want to share that information.
So they’re now saying that Promise isn’t really a diversion program.
They’re now calling it an “alternative to external suspension” program, and say that means it doesn’t fall under the new law.
On February 6, the district initially decided its data must be shared and started doing so. They backtracked when they started worrying that doing so made some kids more prone to arrest, and they stopped doing it on March 4.
“I’m not in favor of giving data that’s going to accumulate and be used in a punitive way to levy points that could hurt students,’ said Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood.
The entire point of the law was to identify dangerous students like the Parkland killer before something like that shooting can happen.
The idea behind it is to give law enforcement access to a child’s full criminal history, including diversions, so police could decide if an arrest was necessary.
The school doesn’t want that. The district’s general counsel, Barbara Myrick, issued a memo on March to Superintendent Robert Runcie and Mickey Pope, an administrator who oversees the program.
That memo says that a diversion program has a specific definition under state law.
According to her, a police-issued civil citation is a type of state-defined diversion, as are programs requiring a student to surrender a driver’s license and “neighborhood restorative justice programs.”
“It is clear that the Promise Program does not meet the statutory definition of a diversion program and therefore, a student’s information/data regarding participation in the Promise Program should not be entered into the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Information System database,” she wrote.
But State Attorney Mike Satz couldn’t disagree more.
“We have always felt and we still feel that Promise is a diversion program,” Satz said in a statement. “We believe there is a requirement under the law to enter the information into the Department of Juvenile Justice database.”
The way the district is now describing the Promise program is a clear change from what it’s said in the past.
Pope, who has since retired, spoke about it to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission in June.
“It was modeled after Clayton County, Georgia’s diversion, pre-diversion program,” he said.
That commission has been investigating what lead to the massacre.
On January 17, the district again referred to Promise as a “pre-diversion” program. It came in a report that very specifically outlined how the district was responding to the recommendations of the commission.
In particular, the commission urged that school districts run pre-arrest diversion programs consistently with criteria established by their local state attorney.
In case you weren’t aware, here are the offenses that fall under the Promise Program:
- Alcohol – Possession / Use / Under the Influence
- Alcohol Sale / Attempted Sale / Transmittal
- Assault / Threat (no harm or injury)
- Disruption on Campus (Major)
- Drug – Use / Possession / Under the Influence
- Drug Paraphernalia – Possession
- False Accusation Against School Staff
- Fighting – Mutual Combat
- Theft- Petty <$300
- Vandalism/Damage to Property <$1,000
The school district issued a response. They said that its “pre-diversion program was created in 2011 to provide an alternative to external suspensions for students charged with non-violent disciplinary infractions.”
In a parent meeting on February 5, Runcie was asked about the Promise program. He said, “These pre-diversion programs are required by state laws to provide services to kids that are involved in nonviolent, nonthreatening misdemeanor situations.”
The school district started the Promise program with the support of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office and other agencies several years ago.
The idea behind it wasn’t to reduce violence – it was to drop the large number of arrests of black teens for minor offenses.
The Obama administration considered it a model for other school districts to follow after arrests dropped dramatically. But it was clearly just a numbers game.
The program came under attack after the Stoneman Douglas tragedy.
Critics argued it allowed the killer to stay off the radar of police while he committed multiple infractions.
The commission said that the program was flawed and recommended the district share information with other law enforcement agencies.
Commission member Ryan Petty’s daughter Alaina was killed at Stoneman Douglas. He said the district’s efforts appear to be an attempt to preserve its “ability to operate the Promise program outside the confines of state law and agreements with local law enforcement agencies and the state attorney.”
Broward school officials argue they want to share information with law enforcement.
According to them, they’re fine with it being used to provide additional resources, such as counseling, to students.
But they say sharing some information, such as non-criminal disciplinary measures, violates students’ privacy rights. They make sure to not say anything about protecting the rights of the students who were killed in the Parkland massacre.
The district spokesman Cathleen Brennan shared a canned response:
The school district is “committed to ensuring full collaboration with law enforcement in sharing appropriate disciplinary actions to ensure the community has both public safety and privacy rights respected,” she said.
She the district is awaiting guidance from the state on how to accomplish this, and argued that law enforcement has always been able to request student discipline data directly through the school administration.
The Broward County Chiefs of Police Association is not happen. It’s been one of the agencies critical of the district’s Promise program. The association is also upset with the lack of shared information among the association’s concerns.
Lauderhill Police Chief Constance Stanley leads the group.
She said the chiefs are trying to resolve differences with the school district, but wouldn’t specifically address the sharing-of-information issue.
“Until we meet with the School Board to further discuss, I will refrain from commenting,” she said. “We will continue to work towards addressing all concerns and hope that we come to a happy medium.”