As the first anniversary of Law School shootings and Angie’s murder approached, the family decided to take the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Sheila Tolliver, up on her offer to meet with us. She agreed to help answer the Dales’ questions. Angie’s father was especially upset because no one had ever taken the time to tell him some of the particulars—details that mean so much to the family. Who took Angie to the hospital? Where did she die? No one told him then, and no one has told him in subsequent meetings.
But our expectations of getting long-sought answers to questions proved to be unfounded. We had in this instance—as in many others—allowed our hope to deceive us. Even allowing for the limitations of human mental processes and the problems inherent in a crime scene investigation, what took place during the meeting was not only disconcerting in a general sense, but also alarming in terms of uncovering significant shortcomings in the criminal investigative procedures associated with the law school shootings.
Arrogance and Blatant Disrespect
Ms. Tolliver did arrange a meeting with the state highway patrolmen who had responded to the shooting. In addition to Angie’s brother, the Dales wanted Janice and me to be present. We agreed to have the meeting when we would all be in Grundy for the first anniversary of the shooting.
Three state highway patrolmen were there, John Santolla, Walt Parker, and Ashley Hagy. What ensued was incredible and inexplicable. To this day I am not sure what was going on. The only explanation I have it that it was an example of “good cop, bad cop”—a game with the murder victim’s family. I am puzzled; I am amazed; I am astounded. I could kick myself for falling prey to such a cheap trick and for allowing the officers to get away with such disrespect for the family.
Officer Santolla came in with a box of files on the case and offered to answer anything he could. The numbers of clear and concise answers were, however, few and far between. Indeed, the meeting went from bad to worse. The three police officers were unable or unwilling to produce something as simple as a timeline. One of the basic tools used in crime analysis is the construction of the timeline that is basic to any criminal investigation—think “Law Enforcement 101.” The true horror of what we had gone through was now compounded by the lack of sound investigative practices of the crime scene.
Officer Parker appeared to take an instant dislike to me. He challenged why he was there, why any of them were there (I wondered that too, but he let the cat out of the bag. He had just met with local, powerful coal mining executives). From the moment he entered the room, it was apparent that Officer Parker’s idea of answering questions that he found distasteful, involved the use of verbal abuse or sarcasm. Any sort of discourse requiring logic, reason, and thoughtful response appeared to be totally alien to him. The Commonwealth’s Attorney was sitting there; therefore there was some limitation on his abusive behavior—at least brute force….
At one point in response to a point I made, officer Parker sarcastically said that if we knew so much why were the officers there? Then in what hinted of a man who had something to hide or one who had a complete lack of sympathy for crime victims—or maybe both—he lashed out at our “lawsuit.” That was an odd assertion because at that time there was no lawsuit. We had met with attorneys and discussed the possibility, but had gone no further than just that discussing it. We had not retained an attorney; we were in part on a fact-finding quest to determine if we needed legal counsel.
If an investigating police officer cannot get his facts straight in a relatively simple meeting with the family of a shooting victim, what must his “official” reports be like? At every turn, Officer Parker undercut his credentials: As a state highway patrolman, as a crime scene investigator, and as a human being. If any police officer is so emotionally strung out that he is unable to cope with a meeting with members of a murder victim’s family, how can we possibly believe anything he says about his investigation of the crime scene?
Officer Parker’s credibility went from bad to worse. It turns out that he did not arrive at the crime scene until approximately an hour after the shooting. Yet, he did not hesitate to say emphatically what happened—often being corrected by Officer Santolla who had arrived at the school four or five minutes after the shooting. I too began to wonder why Officer Parker was there at all.
The reality of what we faced began to sink in—and it was suffocating. Was Officer Parker a plant, what was his motive? He appeared to have one overriding motivation—to discourage the Dales from taking legal action. Angie had joked about incompetence and corruotion in Grundy. A chill went over me. We might be looking at the face of all she had talked about.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney just sat and looked as Officer Parker continued to run amuck. The expression on her face was like a deer caught in headlights. Throughout the meeting, Officer Parker’s actions were an unprecedented display of contempt—even hatred. The Commonwealth Attorney’s inability to take charge of the meeting and bring the errant officer back in line began to raise serious doubts in my mind not only about her sincerity, but also about her ability to prosecute a major murder trial. The third officer, Officer Hagy said nothing throughout the meeting—he simply sat and nervously tapped his feet. (To be continued)