I didn’t have to look far to find today’s dreadful example of the media blaming anyone except criminals for criminal acts. In the St. Pete Times today, Howard Troxler, a normally reasonable man, wanders far down an ugly path by questioning the recent conviction of a knife-wielding repeat offender on two grounds: the purported reputation of the officer who confronted him, and some trumped-up technicality about types of knives that should be considered weapons.
Troxler apparently feels that police officer Joe Ardolino is permanently tarnished because, in 2003, he was involved in a car chase (of a violent, prolific offender) that ended in the suspect’s death. Never mind that Ardolino was cleared in the incident, as he should have been: once charged, always guilty, at least when it comes to the police. Troxler crosses a troubling line when he impugns the officer in the subsequent murder of a fellow officer:
Ardolino was the deputy who made news in 2003 for a chasing a traffic violator through the Lacoochee area of Pasco County until the driver crashed into a palm tree and died. The resulting racial tension contributed, a month later, to the mistaken-revenge murder of Sheriff’s Lt. Bo Harrison.
Joe Ardolino is in no way responsible for the murder of Lt. Bo Harrison. Ardolino was chasing a suspect; the suspect crashed his car and died; the suspect’s family swarmed the scene, practically started a riot, and accused the police of killing him. Later, Lt. Harrison was assassinated outside a nightclub. Calling it a “mistaken revenge murder” is unbelievably inappropriate. When someone aims a semi-automatic at an officer’s head and pulls the trigger, where does “mistake” enter in, no matter what the defense argues in court? The killer is responsible for murdering the officer. Full stop.
After Reed crashed his car, Ardolino tried to revive the suspect while being threatened by a hostile crowd; he was cleared of wrongdoing, and yet, in the eyes of the St. Pete Times, he still must be guilty of something. Here are some details from the 2003 incident:
[Michael] Reed’s family members said he leaves behind a girlfriend and a 11/2-year-old daughter, Mykeia. Friends said he was quiet and liked to visit Rumors nightclub.
The suspect’s family said he was “quiet.” His criminal record, of course, tells a different story:
Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Reed was arrested at least eight times since 1994 on charges ranging from vehicle theft to burglary to cocaine possession with intent to sell. In 1996, when he was 17, he was one of two men who took part in the early morning robbery of R & J Foods that left three people hospitalized with gunshot wounds. A judge sentenced him to 41/2 years in prison in connection with the incident.
[And, once again, we have a criminal who might still be alive if a judge had taken seriously an armed robbery that left three people shot.] Anyway, this is what Ardolino was doing as the suspect’s family threatened him:
The scene of the crash had turned tense as 75 to 100 people yelled threats, profanity, and racial insults at deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office. . .
Reed had been hurled through the front windshield of his white Chevrolet and was hanging off the car’s hood. His left ankle was hooked on the car’s antenna. Ardolino put a handcuff on Reed’s left hand. After checking Reed for breathing and pulse and finding none, Ardolino began giving Reed chest compressions. After several compressions, Reed began trying to breathe.
Ardolino checked again for a pulse and found one. He unhooked Reed’s leg and laid him on the ground beside the car.
“I then heard Mr. Reed’s breathing become labored,” Ardolino’s report said. “His teeth were tightly clenched together, and he was sucking air through his teeth.”
Ardolino pried Reed’s mouth open and tilted his head so that fluid could drain from his mouth.
“He then continued to breathe while I held his mouth open,” Ardolino wrote.
The crash happened at 6:22 p.m. Ardolino arrived at the scene one minute later, and the chief of Tri-Community Volunteer Fire, Mike Morgan, arrived at 6:27 p.m., according to sheriff’s spokesman Powers.
Ardolino reported that when fire rescue arrived, he briefed an unspecified paramedic on Reed’s condition.
“He took over administering aid,” Ardolino wrote.
This is called a police officer doing his job in the face of extreme danger. Witnesses said the officer was being intimidated and was outnumbered. This is called a sacrifice. Cops are put into dangerous situations all the time; they are forced to deal with dangerous people all of the time; they are investigated and accused and interrogated constantly, and yet they still show up and do their jobs: that’s the curiosity of it.
So, four years later, Ardolino gets called to a dangerous domestic violence scene. The offender, Steven Miholics, who had already been to prison for child abuse (as I’ve said, you have to do a lot to a child to end up in prison), kicked his way into a house. He armed himself with a knife. His terrorized family managed to call the police. Ardolino showed up and confronted the man, who lunged at him. Ardolino shot him. Miholics survived, was prosecuted, and was sentenced to 15 years. As he should have been. Now he wants that reduced to a one-year sentence because the knife he was holding was dull, and Troxler thinks he has a point.
Picture the scene of the domestic violence call, the knife, the split-second decision the officer must make. Here is what Troxler thinks of it:
On appeal, Miholics’ new lawyer raised the issues both of allowing the deputy’s testimony and whether Miholics could have been legally convicted of a “deadly weapon” assault in the first place. State law had been changed in 2006 to exempt a “blunt-bladed table knife” from the definition of a weapon. For Miholics, this could have meant the difference between a year in jail and 15 years in prison . . . This man Miholics has struck out in every way — his record, his choice to wield a knife and spatula as he met the Pasco deputies, his decision to fire his lawyer at a crucial juncture. I do not think many people will feel sympathy for him. And yet, as I said, these twists are worth noting.
“These twists are worth noting”? Oh, don’t be shy. By the lights of newspaper columnists, no offender should ever stop appealing any verdict, no matter the evidence, no matter the cost, no matter the ludicrousness of the grounds, no matter the disruption and danger and suffering of the victim.
Prisons should just be big bingo halls where every offender gets endless bites at the apple until they scamper out the door.
“Twists are worth noting”? Justice be damned, more like. Does Troxler believe that a police officer confronting a man with a violent record, at a very chaotic home invasion-domestic violence scene, should pause and say:
“Hey, wait a minute, that might be a blunt-bladed knife. If I shoot the guy trying to stab me with it, I could get into trouble because some defense attorneys convinced the State of Florida to exclude blunt-bladed knives from the legal category of “deadly weapons.” So since I can’t quite see from here how sharp that knife is in that crazed aggressor’s hand, I’ll just try to back out of the kitchen without getting killed so I can stay on the safe side with the courts.”
This is what we’re asking of officers, among a thousand other stupid, dangerous things.
Also stupid? Suggesting that somebody who terrorizes his family, invades a house, and lunges at a cop with a knife should only get one year in prison.
Troxler manages to squeeze an impressive amount of responsibility-deflection into one column:
- He brings up officially discredited claims against Officer Ardolino from 2003 to question his credibility in the 2007 case, rather than blaming Reed for his own criminal acts back then and the crowd for threatening the officer as he tried to save the offender’s life.
- He claims that the judge should not have let Miholic represent himself (something Miholic had a right to do, and chose freely), suggesting that Miholic was incapable of bringing the defense that the officer “overreacted” to Miholic’s knife because its blade was dull (Here Troxler chomps at the bit to re-try the case on grounds that don’t even apply because there was no question that the shooting was justified — does no condemnation of police ever satisfy the appetite to condemn police? Ever?). Amazing. And sloppy.
- He blames the prosecutor and judge for the “deadly weapons” charge, rather than blaming Miholic for lunging at an officer with a knife.
- He points a finger at Officer Ardolino for Lt. Bo Harrison’s murder, rather than blaming the murderer. That’s disgraceful.
Quite a list. Here are the people Troxler doesn’t hold accountable:
- criminals who shoot people in robberies and flee from police
- people who wrongfully accuse officers and threaten their safety
- people who kills cops
- people who lunge at cops with knives
Detect a pattern?
Tragically, the justice system reinforces this deflection of responsibility every time they permit defendants to make absurd arguments about things like the relative dullness of their knives. Every cop responding to a call for help has to remember that the courts are stacked against them in this way, and a thousand others.
Imagine a world where, instead of advocating for the release of people like Miholic, Howard Troxler writes columns advocating for the legislature to change that dangerous and wrong-headed “blunt-bladed table knife” law. No? I didn’t think so.