Alexandria (Predictably) Declines to Charge Officer

Some of you might recall the shooting of teenager and Eagle Scout Aaron Brown by an off-duty Alexandria police officer, Carl Stowe, after an alleged incident of Dine-and-Ditch at an IHOP. Stowe claims that he fired into the SUV of the fleeing teenagers in self-defense as they veered toward him.

The Alexandria commonweath’s attorney, S. Randolph (Randy) Sengel, (who could be up for re-election in 2009, incidentally) has sided with Stowe’s account and decided against criminal charges after a report on the incident. Still undecided is whether Stowe violated police procedure by shooting an unarmed teenager after a $26 tab dispute. I say unarmed because Brown was neither armed, nor the driver of the vehicle, which Stowe claims tried to run him over. Stowe missed the actual driver of the car, Stephen Smith, another teenager. What other course of action officer Stowe could have taken to pursue an unpaid tab, the report does not say.

I don’t want to get into the whole thing, even though it boils my blood. But I have just a few questions:

1. Why does IHOP need an armed security guard?
2. How is it self-defense if one keeps firing into the side of the vehicle (that one has PLACED ONESELF IN FRONT OF) after it has veered away?
3. Why should petty theft EVER be worth this cost?
4. Shouldn’t the PASSENGERS of a hostile vehicle be presumed innocent?
5. How is (badly aimed) shots into a car EVER going to prevent momentum from carrying the car into a police officer?
6. Why are we letting armed police officers serve as security guards off-duty? What ever happened to the proverb that “no servant can serve two masters?” Shouldn’t we be paying these hard-working cops more so they don’t have to play rent-a-cop?

Maybe you have some questions of your own to email to Randy Sengel who is declining to prosecute? Or maybe you prefer paper?

Commonwealth’s Attorney
S. Randolph Sengel
520 King Street,
Room 301
Alexandria, VA 22314

If you think I’m way off base, or if you agree, you might consider making a donation to a police charity such as The Alexandria Police Foundation which helps support law enforcement efforts.

I’m not surprised Alexandria failed to charge the officer. Their “protect-their-own” attitude is second only to DC. Just look at the history.

I also understand split-second decisions. Stupid behavior, like dine-and-ditch, can sometimes have very grave consequences.

But mind you, this was suspected Petty Theft. Not assault. Not robbery. Not murder. Petty theft. This is not some suicide bomber running a checkpoint in Iraq. It’s a couple kids ditching a tab.

And I also understand “contempt of cop” and there is a sense of arrogance and entitlement in rotten cops, and you will be damned (or dead) if you ignore them. If my son was killed in this fashion, I would make sure no police officer like that ever served again, and I’d make sure any politician that failed to prosecute never served in public office again. I am an ardent Democrat, but I can’t conscience a decision like this, nor the politicians that support them.

At the same time, I can’t imagine what this officer is feeling. Maybe after 13 years, it doesn’t phase him. I’ve met a lot of great cops, and I’ve also met cops who’ve boasted about hypothetically blazing away into a crowd (that was a DC cop, fyi).

6 Comments so far

  1. Sans Blague (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 9:59 pm

    The IHOP is in the lobby of a motel. The police officer was providing security for the entire building, not just the IHOP.

  2. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 1:12 am

    Even so, does that make dine and dash a capital crime all of a sudden?

  3. Stop_smell_the_Potomac (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 1:16 pm

    I agree with all your points. I don’t believe Stowe should be absolved of this – this was not reasonable force – if anything, the motto, “to serve and protect”, seems not to apply to citizens but the cops themselves, one group of people allowed to carry weapons on- and off-duty, esp. trigger-happy ones.

    I also agree with Tom – too much effort chasing after $26 FOOD tab. Property over life.

    If the Browns decide to pursue a civil suit, let’s make sure to contribute to their cause. Hopefully, a fund will be set up for this possible avenue of justice.

  4. Eric (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

    One would wonder why even a Hotel needs an armed guard.

    But irrespective, it’s all about proportionality. You don’t throw yourself into a situation where your life will be in danger over $26 or any amount of petty property. You don’t run out in front of a car of fleeing petty thieves. It’s stupid, and people get killed.

    I’ve heard the “they tried to run me over” thing in so many incidents about why people emptied their guns into cars– like with the case of that dead Navy guy in Maryland. Every time, the shooter escalates the situation, the other guy tries to flee, and the shooter empties his gun saying he felt threatened.

    Who feels more threatened? An armed security guard who can just walk away or an unarmed kid who has got an armed security guard pissed at him?

  5. Tigger (unregistered) on June 22nd, 2006 @ 6:09 am

    Yes a human life was taken and what a traggic loss this is. I could only imagine what the Brown Family is going through and my prayers go out to them. We as a whole must stop and look at the whole picture as well. What Must Officer Stowe be feeling? He had to make a split second decision when he felt his life had been threatened. How can you all sit there and Judge Officer Stowe when none of you were there. You don’t know what had occurred you know only what the media has reported (and we know what you read and what you hear is always true!) Now why is the blame not being put where it should. Such as on the driver of the Jeep. But lets take a few steps back on poor “Judgement” teens jumping a bill this started the ball rolling. All the teens that were there made another poor “Judgement” call when they all chose to get into that jeep with a driver who was under the influence of both drugs and alcohol and decided to flee the area. Now back to the driver of the jeep from the start put all his friends lives at risk by being under the influence and deciding to drive poor “Judgement”. Now when he decided to flee the area due to his level of intoxication how can you all sit and judge officer Stowe reaction to the situation. The driver is impaired and can not control his driving behavior and is headed toward officer Stowe driving in an uncontrollable manner. I don’t know about you but I wonder what the reaction time would be for anyone to attempt to get out of the way would be…In a life or death situation. Think about the whole picture before judgement is passed. Also why were teens out at this time of night? Shouldn’t the parents also take some responsibility for this as well. Also they keep talking about Aaron being an eagle scout and how upstanding he was… hmmm if that was the case would he have not stood up and said “We can’t just leave without paying the tab”. or paid it himself. “People should not cast stones who live in glass houses”.

  6. Eric (unregistered) on June 23rd, 2006 @ 11:31 am

    Well, from a policy standpoint, I think it is stupid to shoot at a car with unarmed passengers, particularly on suspicion of petty theft. From that very fundamental perspective, what occured that night was a total embarassment to law enforcement (assuming Alexandria’s policy IS to shoot at unarmed suspected petty theives.)

    From the perspective of the officer, I don’t know what he was thinking and I never will. I do know that he pumped half his clip into a vehicle, missing the driver (presumedly who he was trying to hit) and instead hit an innocent passenger, who at BEST was only guilty of association with a petty theft. If I had it my way, that sort of petty theft would have been treated the way any other security guard treated it; he would have verbally tried to stop the teenagers and noted their license plate. I expect nothing more from an officer of the law working a second job– he’s not on the city clock then.

    This is not that I don’t sympathize with this officer. But my gut tells me what probably really happened. I can envision the officer being pissed at the suspected tab ditchers and wanting to “get those punks” and squarely placing himself in front of the car to stop them. Then he shot.

    As for the kids to be to blame, sure, they share part of the blame. I found it very interesting that the city didn’t charge the driver with more than a plea bargain offense. Seems like they knew they would lose that one and potentially expose the officer to his own legal problems, as he’d have to take the 5th.

    As for the kid who died, he was a victim of peer pressure, and yes, he acted stupidly by getting in the car. Should he have died for that?

    Alexandria needs to re-evaluate its procedures, or at the very least, give it’s cops some more target practice. If someone is going to wildly shoot into a car (which won’t prevent the laws of physics from carrying the car into the shooter) at least the cop should be able to shoot straight.

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