On a typical night at the Orlando International Airport, Michael Pettigrew walked inside, showed a female transportation employee a gun and ordered her to call 911 on his cell phone. She was horrified. In an era of panic, terrorism concerns and mass shootings, Orlando PD responded to the scene and saw Mr. Pettigrew behaving in a strange manner. Mr. Pettigrew allegedly pointed his pistol at the officers, but they did not shoot because they were able to establish adequate cover and because they were concerned about other people potentially being shot during the confusion. Unaware of Mr. Pettigrew’s intentions, the officers were able to negotiate with him even though he continued to wave the gun around and pointed it at his own head. He kept telling the officers to “kill him!” The officers were concerned because all officers know that there is an extremely thin line between homicidal and suicidal.
The officers were finally able to get Mr. Pettigrew to surrender and they took him into custody. This story didn’t receive much attention because the incident didn’t end in death. This situation showed what happens more times than not. The officers had the legal right to shoot him, but they were comfortable enough in their cover positions that they were able to save his life. Mr. Pettigrew was trying to attempt suicide by cop while the cops were trying to save his life.
He was an ex-marine who was discharged for stabbing a fellow marine. It seems clear that he has severe mental issues. Was he affected by his service to our great country? Has he been receiving the necessary care that he needs as a result of his trauma? Do we take care of our veterans the way that we should? When we scream about patriotism, does that include taking care of those who helped to protect us after they lose their minds?
Those officers were prepared to kill him. If the circumstances would have been slightly different, Mr. Pettigrew might not be here. Officers do not have to wait until they are fired at before they shoot someone. If 10 other officers would have been in that same situation, they might have shot him and they would have been completely justified. No one can give a black and white definition for when an officer should fear for their life. The officers had no idea that his weapon was fake and should not have treated it as such. All guns are real until an officer can inspect it for himself or herself. If a citizen calls and says that a gun is fake, that isn’t good enough. If a citizen says that a gun might be fake, that isn’t good enough either. If a person in crisis says that they have a fake gun, that isn’t good enough.
People often tell me that they never hear stories about black men taken into custody while in possession of a gun. This man actually pointed a gun at the officers and they were still able to apprehend him without killing him. Here is one of many stories in which the officers avoided killing a man with a weapon. Sometimes it doesn’t work out this well. I hope Mr. Pettigrew gets the help he needs, but more importantly, I am glad those officers were able to return home to their families safely.
Chelsea Whitaker is a Dallas Area Police Officer and member of the 2005 Baylor Bear Basketball Team that won the National Championship. Her desire is to give others #perspective in order to #bridgethegap. She is a frequent contributor to Law Officer.