July 24, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Suspect owes her life to Saco officers' restraint

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

Listen to the police radio

Click on the icon for edited audio of the exchanges between the dispatcher and the officers involved in the Saco chase.

Saco police have released this recording of the exchanges between Saco dispatchers and the city’s officers chasing – and sometimes dodging – Monique Vallee, 43, of Andover, Mass., who is charged with ramming three cruisers early Monday morning.

Vallee, who declined a request for an interview, is scheduled to be arraigned by video Wednesday. The call signs for the officers used during the radio traffic are: Sgt. Daniel Beaulieu, 14; Officer Donald Fiske, 50; Officer Nicholas Stankevitz, 41; and Officer Matthew Roberts, 51. The dispatcher was Aaron Hatch.

Time out for a second: Imagine you're one of those three officers getting out of your cruiser with your gun drawn.

Your heart is pounding.

Vallee, rather than give up, is still revving her engine and ignoring your orders to exit the vehicle.

Inexplicably, according to Chief Paul, she repeatedly tries to ignite a cigarette lighter as she sits in the driver's seat.

What would you do?

Noted Paul, "It takes a lot longer to say what happened than it does for it to occur."

In the end, the officers twice hit Vallee with a Taser -- once to get her out of the vehicle and again to get her into handcuffs -- before carting her off to the slammer.

Beyond the bumps and bruises that often occur when two vehicles collide, no one was seriously hurt. While Vallee's use of her car undoubtedly constituted "deadly force" under Maine law -- meaning it could cause "death or serious bodily injury" -- not one of the officers involved chose to respond in kind.

Big deal?

It was to Vallee's father, himself a retired Massachusetts police officer, who showed up at the Saco Police Department Monday morning to apologize on his daughter's behalf and thank Paul and his officers for their restraint.

"Apparently she has been through some very difficult (child) custodial issues that didn't go well for her," said Paul, adding that there was no evidence that Vallee was intoxicated or otherwise impaired.

Time will tell exactly what was going through Vallee's mind as she turned three perfectly good Saco police cruisers into so many insurance settlements.

Meanwhile, at a time when many equate the phrase "stand your ground" with "shoot now and ask questions later," Vallee's apprehension offers a few valuable lessons for law enforcement officers and civilians alike.

One is that there's a big difference -- and a world of discretion -- between situations where deadly force is "legally justified" and those where it's "absolutely necessary."

Another is that when someone's trying to hurt or even kill you, training trumps reflex every time. Beyond that initial "Whoa!" from an understandably surprised Officer Fiske, the Saco police tape is as noteworthy for what isn't said as it is for the professional, deliberate demeanor exhibited by the dispatcher and officers involved.

But here's the real takeaway from this tragedy averted: Compelled as we must be to scrutinize police officers whenever they discharge their weapons in the line of duty, who keeps tabs on the countless other times when police could have, maybe should have, pulled the trigger -- but in the end held their fire? If there isn't a medal for that, there darned well should be.

"Sometimes deadly force is used (against an officer)," said Chief Paul. "And you're sucked into a kind of vortex where things seem ordained and difficult to veer away from."

Monday morning, much to Monique Vallee's good fortune, Saco police veered away.

 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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