This editorial is brought to you by Mike Simonelli is a retired US Army officer with 30 years of military service who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; an active police officer in New York for 22 years; the Suffolk County PBA Sgt-at-Arms and holds a master’s degree in National Security Studies from American Military University. His book in policing can be found at www.jdfinformation.com.
A troubled man uses deputies to end his painful addiction, ruining their lives in the process
Normal behavior when the police order someone to keep their hands up or exit a vehicle is for that person to do so. Rational behavior when the police point their guns at someone is for that that person to do whatever the officers tell him to.
Earlier this year an unarmed man was killed, shot multiple times by two Jefferson Parish, Louisiana deputies as he sat in a SUV.
That man’s tragic death could have been avoided had he simply complied with their commands. Considering his abnormal and irrational behavior, the deputies acted reasonably and yet they have been fired, arrested, and charged with manslaughter.
According to Jefferson Parish Sheriff, Joseph Lopinto, “Their perception was that their life was in danger. At that point in time, unfortunately, the use of force in this situation was unjustified.”
While seemingly sympathetic to the deputies, the sheriff’s statement is gravely flawed. At the heart of the issue is whether given the totality of the circumstances at that point in time, was it reasonable for the deputies to fear for their lives – not whether their lives were actually in danger.
As it turns out, the deputies’ lives were in danger, their fears were reasonable, and their actions were justified. Here’s why:
At around 2:15 a.m. on February 16, 2022, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call of a noise complaint from a known drug house. Upon arriving at the scene, the deputies observed a vehicle with illegally switched plates parked in front, occupied by Daniel Vallee.
For over 12 minutes the five deputies repeatedly ordered Vallee to exit the SUV, even “begging, pleading, and threatening” him to do so. The typical, law-abiding citizen would have immediately complied and exited the vehicle.
Vallee was neither typical nor law-abiding, he was a homeless drug addict who “spent more than half of his life in jail.” The toxicology report showed Vallee had several drugs in his system which may further explain why he refused to comply.
While he initially turned the vehicle off and locked the doors upon the deputies’ arrival, after around 12 minutes of ignoring their lawful orders, Vallee turned the ignition back on. In doing so, Vallee turned the inanimate driving instrument into a deadly two-ton weapon.
During 2019-2021, 20 law enforcement officers (LEOs) across America were murdered in the line of duty by such deadly weapons – either run over, dragged to their deaths, or crushed when their patrol vehicles were purposely rammed.
One such officer was Newport News Police Officer (PO) Katherine Thyne on January 23, 2020. While questioning the occupants of a vehicle related to a 911 call of possible drug activity, the driver refused to comply with PO Thyne’s lawful orders. Instead, he turned the car on and sped off, dragging PO Thyne along for a block before crushing her against a tree.
Similarly, on June 26, 2021, Holly Springs PO Joseph Burson was dragged to his death when the subject of a vehicle stop became uncooperative and drove away.
Fearful that Vallee turned the car on to bring that same deadly fate upon them, the deputies pointed their duty guns at him, prompting Vallee to raise his hands in the air. When Vallee swiftly dropped his hands and hit the horn, one of the deputies fired his weapon, which then caused another deputy to reflexively fire his weapon. Both Deputies Johnathon Louis and Isaac Hughes fired multiple times, killing Vallee.
The moment Vallee made the furtive movement dropping his raised hands down to the steering wheel against the deputies’ commands, deadly force was justified to be used against him. Such force was justified because of the possibility that his movement was made to access a hidden weapon.
From 2019-2021, 27 LEOs across America were murdered in the line of duty by subjects who made that possibility a reality when their furtive movements accessed a weapon that was hidden upon their person or within the vehicle they were in.
Officers like Tulsa Police Department, Sergeant Craig Johnson who on June 30, 2020, was murdered while assisting another officer on a traffic stop. For nearly ten minutes the driver refused to exit his vehicle, prompting the officers to tase him and then physically remove him. As the officers were pulling the subject out of the driver’s seat, he grabbed a gun from under the steering wheel and fatally shot Sgt. Johnson point blank.
In another incident arising from a 911 call of a vehicle break-in on September 10, 2020, Henderson County Deputy Sheriff Ryan Hendrix confronted a male suspect.
As Deputy Hendrix approached the man who was sitting behind the wheel of a pick-up truck, in one rapid movement the man retrieved a gun, fired one round and killed the deputy.
It is a demonstrable fact that people with evil intentions use vehicles and make furtive movements to murder law enforcement officers. Deputies Louis and Hughes had every reason to believe the uncooperative Vallee meant to kill them when he abruptly lowered his hands to the steering wheel.
How were the deputies supposed to know that rather than homicidal, Vallee’s intentions were to provoke them to end his painful life? There is no other logical explanation for someone to act as Vallee did while staring down the barrels of their guns.
The tragic shooting of the unarmed Daniel Vallee was not manslaughter by two deputies, it was a suicide by cop committed by a troubled man. This tragedy should not be compounded by prosecuting two deputies whose only guilt was believing his hoax and reacting to it.