Analysis: Recent Lexington police shooting exposes gaps in policy

A 40 year old Lexington man was likely struggling mentally and emotionally when he was shot and killed by police on September 8. According to a WLEX report, the man, who was identified by the Fayette County Coroner as Joshua Hagans, had recently been charged with a crime that allegedly occurred almost twenty years ago.

Any reasonable person would be distraught under these circumstances, and it would appear Mr. Hagans was no exception. According to multiple reports, he had been staying at the Extended Stay on Tates Creek, but police were called to the hotel about him on a report of trespassing and delayed assault. If you read between the lines a bit here, it seems like a reasonable assumption that he was evicted from the hotel by management and refused to leave his room–but because of the nature of this case, few details will be confirmed for a while.

Now, if we all just try and set aside our own biases for a second, there are a couple things I think all sides can agree on:

  • As we walk through life every day, we have no idea what the people we encounter are going through in terms of mental health. The person who flips you off on New Circle? Maybe they just found out their mom has cancer and are in a really bad place right now. And maybe the waiter you were just incredibly rude to out of anger just shrugged it off because he just found out he is going to be a father. Without, you know, asking, there is no way to know for certain, so it’s a good idea to treat strangers with a baseline level of respect when you encounter them.
  • Law enforcement is in the media spotlight now more than ever before. Whether you’re mad over police killings or the FBI raiding Mar-a-Lago, average people are beginning to demand accountability from law enforcement more than ever before. Due to this new demand for accountability, police work now needs to be done by the book, with good documentation so the public can conduct their own audits.

If you ask me, the Lexington Police Department missed the mark big time with their response to Mr. Hagans’ refusal to leave the hotel. When he wouldn’t answer the door, they should have made an effort to reach out to Mr. Hagans’ friends and family to see what was going on with him and whether or not he was experiencing any mental health concerns at the time.

If they were not unable to reach his loved ones after making an earnest effort, someone with LFUCG’s social services should have been brought in. Maybe he simply didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have money for another room? There does not appear to have been any real effort made to try and find a non-violent solution to the initial standoff.

Instead of acting compassionately, the LPD officers on the scene presumably followed department policy and “gained entry” to the room through unknown means. One can imagine they had announced themselves as police already–body cameras can verify that if/when the footage is finally released–and when they did enter the room, a series of events unfolded that led to both an LPD officer and Mr. Hagans being struck by gunfire.

The official LPD story is that Mr. Hagans allegedly opened fire on officers as they entered–one officer was wounded in the incident and released from the hospital the next day. Again, if the allegations are true, these are not the actions of a reasonable individual. Firing a gun at police has dire consequences, and everyone knows that. Only a person under extreme mental and emotional stress would do such a thing. So why did officers just bust in without learning all the circumstances, putting their own in harm’s way?

Finally, why did it take them almost six hours to provide medical attention to Mr. Hagans? Reports say a negotiator was brought in, but did anyone ever bother to call his family? If I was in that situation I would be a lot more likely to listen to a family member than some random cop I likely don’t relate to. Would he have survived if they’d gotten him to the hospital quicker?

While I’m not apologizing for his alleged actions, Mr. Hagans’ situation does reveal some holes in LPD policy. Had they taken a more compassionate approach to policing in this case, maybe he would still be alive, and the LPD officer would not have been shot. People melt down when you suggest something that might help out “the criminals,” as they say, but the reality is that this approach is actually safer for the police, too! It does not appear there was an emergent situation where Mr. Hagans needed to be removed from the premises by a certain time, so what would’ve been the downside of showing him a basic level of respect and taking a couple hours to learn about what was going on before just busting down the door?

Read more: Yahoo! News: Police: Kentucky officer wounded, suspect killed in shooting