Next weekend I’ll be facilitating a discussion about Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping for The Big Read. (Details here, thanks to Lighthouse, which is coordinating all the events.) Housekeeping is one of my favorite books, bar none, and I think Marilynne Robinson’s one of the best who ever put words on paper.

Anyway, the last few days I’ve been reading through interviews with her, getting to know her process a little better. And getting awestruck by the depth of her compassion and intelligence. The following are just a few quotes about character (and one about solitude) from an interview she did with the The Paris Review. I think I’m going to be spending a long time chewing on them.

I feel strongly that action is generated out of character. And I don’t give anything a higher priority than character. The one consistent thing among my novels is that there’s a character who stays in my mind. It’s a character with complexity that I want to know better.

. . .

Calvin says that God takes an aesthetic pleasure in people. There’s no reason to imagine that God would choose to surround himself into infinite time with people whose only distinction is that they fail to transgress. King David, for example, was up to a lot of no good. To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga. Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.

. . .

People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.

. . .

I don’t think I could want something else. For instance, I’m kind of a solitary. This would not satisfy everyone’s hopes, but for me it’s a lovely thing. I recognize the satisfactions of a more socially enmeshed existence than I cultivate, but I go days without hearing another human voice and never notice it. I never fear it. The only thing I fear is the intensity of my attachment to it. It’s a predisposition in my family. My brother is a solitary. My mother is a solitary. I grew up with the confidence that the greatest privilege was to be alone and have all the time you wanted. That was the cream of existence. I owe everything that I have done to the fact that I am very much at ease being alone. It’s a good predisposition in a writer. And books are good company. Nothing is more human than a book.

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Survival is Triumph Enough

For this session at Lighthouse we’re reading Harry Crews. So I’m watching Harry Crews documentaries, listening to Harry Crews speak, reading Harry Crews interviews, making my life Harry Crews. Which is good for me in some of the same ways that Larry Brown, Jim Harrison and Ed Abbey are good for me.

Their books may be uneven at times, overdone at others, but you know when they put pen to paper they let it all hang out. They left hair on the walls, to quote James Lee Burke. The older I get, the less interest I have in the mannered and the delicate. I want my artists standing in the middle of the street with a can of gasoline and a match, willing to burn down their fucking lives for what’s important.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to stumble on full video of a Harry Crews documentary that I had yet to see. It’s called Survival is Triumph Enough, and you should watch it.

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My Summary of True Detective

Rust Cohle, first seven hours and fifty-five minutes: “Pleasure is never as pleasant as we expected it to be and pain is always more painful. The pain in the world always outweighs the pleasure. If you don’t believe it, compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is eating the other.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Rust Cohle, last five minutes: “Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou

Update: I got the last five minutes wrong. Turns out it was lifted from a comic book. I’m done.

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Eric Spicer

Early last week I posted about a friend of mine, Paul Schenck, who was killed by the police over the summer. Later in the week it was announced that Greene Sheriff Major Eric Spicer was being fired as a result of the incident.

Well, over the weekend somebody left a comment on my blog claiming that they had inside information that Eric Spicer was being set up as a fall guy. I emailed the person who left the comment and here’s the bullet points of what they told me:

  • That contrary to what has been reported, Eric Spicer was not in command. His only command decisions were to call for a SWAT negotiator and a helicopter.
  • That Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer and Chief Deputy Mike Brown were on hand. They were the ones in command.
  • That Eric Spicer was trying to remove neighbors to safety in order to eliminate the sense of urgency to kill Paul. With nobody in danger, Spicer hoped that SWAT and the other agencies would cease antagonizing Paul, allow the sun to come up, and let the professional negotiator talk him out.
  • That if that plan had been allowed to proceed, Paul would be alive.
  • But instead of allowing that plan to work, that SWAT was using armored vehicles to deliberately provoke Paul into firing.
  • That Paul was only firing when he was provoked.
  • That one of the two men in charge, Chief Deputy Mike Brown, smelled of alcohol.
  • That there had been complaints about Brown’s drinking in the weeks and months leading up to this incident.

Obviously, I can’t verify any of this. I’m in Colorado, and I’m not a journalist. But if it’s true, what it means is that Sheriff Fischer and Chief Deputy Brown had no interest in getting Paul out alive; their goal was to kill him, and they were just looking for the right shot.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have had a short exchange with Eric Spicer. He made it clear that he cannot address any of this in private, but he will be doing so in public.

Here’s hoping he’s a man of his word. If it is true, this looks less like the clusterfuck I assumed it was, and more like murder.

Posted in Miscellany | 1 Comment

Officer in Charge of Paul Schenck’s Killing Relieved of Duty

Earlier this week, I wrote about a friend of mine who was killed by the police this summer. Well, last night, the officer in charge was fired. This from a local news channel, WHIO:

A Greene County sheriff’s major is no longer with the department.

Maj. Eric Spicer has been on paid leave since an officer-involved shooting in Yellow Springs in July of last year. Sheriff Gene Fischer on Thursday would not confirm whether that incident led to Spicer’s release from the sheriff’s office.

Spicer was involved in the July 30 standoff in the 300 block of North Main Street that ended six hours later with the death of Paul E. Schenck Jr., a mentally ill man who had fired more than 100 shots at responding officers.

A Greene County grand jury cleared Deputy James Hughes and determined his use of force was appropriate. Hughes, who also was placed on paid leave following the incident, has since returned to duty.

A Bureau of Criminal Investigation report — presented Nov. 12 by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine — also concluded that Schenck’s death was unavoidable.

During the incident, Spicer assumed command of SWAT units, the Dayton and Fairborn armored vehicles, and the Ohio Highway Patrol’s aviation unit, according to the report. At one point, Spicer fired one round in return at Schenck, whose fire then stopped temporarily. The report did not indicate whether Spicer’s bullet struck the suspect.

The rest.

That’s good news, of course. Everything I’ve heard indicates he deserved to get fired. But it doesn’t answer any of my questions about what happened at Paul’s door. Nor why the Yellow Springs Police Department was lying about the training their officers received. Nor why they’ve refused to even analyze their own actions.

Greene County took it upon themselves to mount their own investigation, as they should have, to assign responsibility, as they should have, and to hold someone accountable, as they should have.

But the officers who need to be held accountable are the ones who made initial contact with Paul: Officers Knapp and Roegner from the Yellow Springs Police Department.

I’m more and more convinced that had anyone else showed up at Paul’s door, he would still be alive. They created the clusterfuck that Spicer inherited. And no matter how much Spicer deserved to be held accountable, it’s that much more deserved for them.

Posted in Miscellany | 11 Comments

Guns, Books, Etc.

Posted in Books, Guns, Miscellany | Leave a comment

Paul Schenck

About seven months ago one of my best and oldest friends was killed by the police in my hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio. His name was Paul Schenck. I haven’t written much about it for a couple of reasons. One of them is that I just haven’t been able to deal with it. Paul and I have been friends since we were teenagers, and I’m still stunned. The other part is: who gives a shit what I think? It seems ridiculous and presumptuous to even have an opinion.

For those who haven’t heard the story, Paul called 911 after he’d been an altercation with his son. Two cops showed up, and after an exchange, they tried to force their way into his house. Paul, who’d been drinking and has a history of mental illness, fired off one of his guns. Before long there were 80 law enforcement officers and three SWAT vehicles on the scene, and Paul was banging off rounds to keep them back. The standoff lasted until about 1:30 in the morning when a sniper shot Paul in the head.

Those are the facts, at least as I understand them. But the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. For one thing, they’ve made much of the fact that Paul fired somewhere around 200 rounds. Which may be true, but I was in Paul’s apartment after he was killed, and it looked like he was mainly shooting into the walls and the like. Just making noise and trying to keep them back. There was no hostage, and no reason I can think of not to just let him sit until they could talk him out.

Which is the second problem I have. They’ve said multiple times that they tried to establish contact with Paul to end the standoff, but as far as I can tell that’s horseshit. Thanks to a friend of mine across the street with a cell phone, I got to hear some of the exchanges being yelled back and forth between Paul and the police. The idiot in command kept yelling to Paul to pick up the phone so they could talk. And Paul kept yelling back that he didn’t have a working phone. Those were actually his last words: “I don’t have a working phone. Y’all fuckers are trying to kill me.”

And they did. In fact, they killed him while his daughter and mother, among others, were begging for a chance to talk to him and get him out of there. The way it looks to me, not only were they not trying to establish contact, they were doing everything they could to prohibit contact with the only folks who would have been able to end the situation. Anybody who knows Paul knows he would’ve walked out the minute he heard either of their voices. But they never got the chance.

That’s not even where my problem with this begins, however. The real problem begins with the two officers who showed up at Paul’s door. I was hoping to get a clearer sense of what exactly went down when the Ohio Attorney General’s report on the incident was completed, but that hasn’t happened. I still haven’t been able to get my hands on the complete report, which is another thing I’m not real happy about. All I’ve been able to find is Mike DeWine’s press statement which is a kind of miracle of obfuscation:

Yellow Springs Police Officer Pat Roegner was the first to arrive on-scene at 310 North High Street. He arrived alone in a marked cruiser. He was immediately followed in a marked cruiser by Yellow Springs Police Officer Joshua Knapp and Officer-in-Training Luciana Lieff. Miami Township Fire-Rescue Lieutenant Lee Gillespie also arrived around the same time. Lieutenant Gillespie parked a first responder truck (Squad 81) on the street and waited for the officers to provide direction.

Officers Roegner, Knapp, and Lieff approached the home at 310 North High Street from the back. Officer Roegner was familiar with the home’s residents, Paul D. Schenck and his wife Uta, and knew that they typically answered the back door. Mr. Schenck and his grandson Max Schenck met the officers at the door. Mr. Schecnk told the officers that his son, Paulie, had just had a domestic dispute with Max, Paulie’s son. The officers observed that Max had a visible shoulder injury. They asked where Paulie was at that time and were told that Paulie was next door in his residence located at 280 North High Street.

While Officers Roegner and Lieff were gathering information from Paulie’s father and son, Officer Knapp went to Paulie’s front door. Before going to the door, Officer Knapp heard Officer Roegner ask Paulie’s father if Paulie had gotten his firearms back from an incident in 2009, when authorities removed numerous firearms and ammunition from Paulie’s home. Paulie’s father indicated that the weapons had, in fact, been returned and that they were in Paulie’s residence.

Officer Knapp knocked on Paulie’s door. Paulie came to the door, moved the curtain aside so that he could see Officer Knapp, but did not open the door. Paulie talked through the screen door. Officer Knapp described Paulie as being obviously distraught and highly emotional. He said that Paulie was upset and crying. Officer Knapp noticed that Paulie’s face was injured – that there was blood around his mouth and lower nose area. Paulie’s right hand also appeared to be injured, as it was swollen and bleeding heavily.

Officer Knapp identified himself as a Yellow Springs Police Officer and asked Paulie to open the door. Paulie told him that he wouldn’t open the door because he didn’t want to get hurt. Officer Knapp said that Paulie appeared to be intoxicated — that some of his statements were not coherent and that his speech was slurred. Officer Knapp told Paulie that he wouldn’t get hurt and that the officers just wanted to help him. Paulie said that he didn’t want to get in trouble. Officer Knapp told Paulie that he wasn’t in trouble and again asked him to open the door. Paulie also said that he didn’t want his son to get hurt or to get in trouble. Officer Knapp again told Paulie that no one was in trouble and that officers just wanted to help, but they needed him to open the door.

According to Officer Knapp, Paulie said that his son had stabbed him in the hand. Officer Knapp said that he saw an injury and told Paulie that they needed him to open the door so the paramedics could look at his hand. Paulie again stated that he wasn’t going to open the door. He said that he did not want to hurt anybody and did not mean to hurt anybody. Once more, Officer Knapp asked Paulie to open the door so the officers could help him. At that point, Officer Knapp said that Paulie became belligerent and said that he was not going to open “the fucking door.” Officer Roegner noticed that the exchange between Officer Knapp and Paulie had escalated and moved to assist Officer Knapp. Before doing so, he instructed Officer Lieff to leave the doorway of Paulie’s parents’ house where they had been talking and take the family into the 310 North High Street residence. Once inside the residence, Officer Lieff interviewed Paulie’s father, his son Max, and his mother about the events prompting the 9-1-1 call, which presumably Paulie had placed.

Paulie’s mother informed Officer Lieff that Paulie had been diagnosed at age 16 as having bipolar disorder and that he was taking Prozac.4 She also told Officer Lieff that Paulie’s favorite cat, “Mouser, had been struck by a car and killed earlier that day. She said that Paulie was particularly sensitive and was upset about the cat — a cat they had found several years earlier as an injured kitten and had nursed back to health.

According to Officer Lieff, Paulie’s son, Max, provided few details at that time as to what had occurred. However, he did tell Officer Lieff that he and Paulie had been watching television that evening and had gotten into an argument. Max told her that his father started “acting crazy” and started hitting him.

In a later interview with investigators, Max said that when he arrived at Paulie’s house that night, his dad had been drinking liquor and was sad because of the cat. While they were on the couch watching television, Max said that he looked over at one point and saw that Paulie had a handgun to his head. Max stood up, and with a pop can in his hand, told Paulie: “I’m gonna fuckin’ throw this at you if you don’t stop this!” Paulie dropped the magazine from the gun and then emptied the gun of any bullets.

As Max sat back down on the couch, he said that Paulie jumped on him, punched him, and beat him in the head with the gun. He said that Paulie shoved his thumbs into his eye sockets and pushed on them and that Paulie broke his own cane over him and beat his arms with it. Max told investigators that once he was able, he ran out of the house to the back door of his grandparents’ adjacent home and told them that his dad was beating him. He said that Paulie came after him and tried to enter his grandparents’ house. Max said that his grandfather pushed Paulie out of the doorway and kept him from entering the house.

As Officer Lieff was gathering information from Max and his grandparents, Officer Roegner joined Officer Knapp, who continued to ask Paulie to open the door. Paulie replied, “Fuck you!” and said that he was going to kill himself. According to Officer Knapp, Paulie then dropped the curtain so that the officers could no longer see into the residence.

At that point, Officers Knapp and Roegner attempted to enter the residence to keep Paulie from harming himself. The locking mechanism on the screen door, however, prevented them from opening it. Officer Knapp said that he struggled with the latch and pushed in the screen. He continued to struggle with the latch, so both Officers Knapp and Roegner then attempted to break the door open. Sometime between 10:50 p.m. and 10:55 p.m. the officers heard approximately two to five shots fired from inside the residence. Neither officer saw muzzle flash, nor could they tell the trajectory of the bullets. Both officers quickly retreated from the 280 North High Street residence to take cover behind vehicles parked in the driveway.

It’s hard not to notice how deliberately the press statement avoids any direct quotes from the officers. And that, to me, is critical. I need to know what they said that escalated the situation. I’d also like to know why they tried break in his door. I have trouble believing they were acting out of concern for his life. That would make them bigger idiots than I can really conceive of, as I can’t imagine anything more counter-productive.

But also, one of those two cops, Roegner, knew Paul. Knew he’d battled mental illness most of his life, and knew that he wasn’t real fond of the police. Without going into too much detail, Paul had good reason to distrust the police. He sure as hell wouldn’t want them in his house. Which I can understand. I am not mentally ill, drunk, and agitated, but I can guarantee you I would not behave well if the cops started trying to kick in my door.

And now there are new questions.  See, the police are getting caught in lies. After Paul was killed, everyone was assured that the officers on the scene had the training necessary to deal with mentally ill folks, and had handled the situation accordingly. Which, according to the local newspaper, The Yellow Springs News, is a flat lie.

Although both the BCI report and Chief Pettiford initially stated that both local officers who first interacted with Schenck had the CIT training, only one did. Joshua Knapp, the officer who made initial contact with Schenck on July 30, had not had the 40-hour CIT training, according to NAMI, which keeps records on those who have completed the program. However, Knapp had completed a condensed (16-hour) training sponsored by Fairborn police, where he previously worked.

And worse, there seems to be no effort going towards figuring out what actually happened at Paul’s door. This from the same article:

Aside from the BCI report, the details of what happened during the initial interaction between Schenck and local officers are not known. According to Village Solicitor Chris Conard and Chief Pettiford, the officers involved in the Schenck incident are not available for interviews. Officer Knapp had been on the local force less than a year and it’s not clear if he had previous encounters with Schenck, although he would likely be aware of him as someone who in the past had a large number of guns removed from his home, according to interim Village Manager Kent Bristol. Chief Pettiford was out of town on the night of the shootout, and was debriefed on what happened when he returned. According to Pettiford, he left the investigation of the incident up to the BCI rather than doing an in-house investigation because the BCI could provide an objective report. He said he did not ask the officers who initially responded to Schenck to analyze their actions, including what caused the escalation of tension during the initial encounter, because such an analysis was unlikely to be helpful.

I don’t know what to do with that. The officers aren’t available for interviews, have never been asked to analyze their actions, and the local police department has already been caught in one lie about their training? That reeks of cops scrambling to cover their asses. And the fact that these two aren’t even being asked to review their actions, is just amazing to me.

There’s another great quote in the article which speaks volumes to Paul’s state of mind. And to exactly why I think the cops are lying:

“Look at the uniform and think about why it looks the way it does,” said Michael Woody, a retired officer from Akron who is the president of CIT International, in an interview last week. “It’s designed to intimidate most people. But for the mentally ill person, the presence of the police officer in that uniform right away amps them up. It doesn’t calm them down.”

That was exactly how Paul perceived that uniform. Which they should have known. I’ll be honest, it’s exactly how I perceive that uniform. And it’s not because of mental illness on my part, it’s because of shit like this. It’s because I see them getting away with murder time and time again.

I don’t know. I’m an infinitesimally small-time writer. Nobody gives a shit what I have to say, and I haven’t lived in the village of Yellow Springs for more than twenty years. But I hope to God people push on the police for real answers, and don’t let them get away with lying. If nothing else, I’m really glad the Yellow Springs News is staying on top of things.

But mostly I’m just fucking disgusted. Paul deserved a hell of a lot better.

Posted in Miscellany | 5 Comments