TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Better communicating tragic news to employees and offering support in the days, weeks and months that follow are among the top lessons learned from the December 2012 shootings deaths of two Topeka Police officers.
Police Chief Ron Miller issued those findings Tuesday in a report on his administrative investigation into the incident.
Corporal David Gogian and Officer Jeff Atherly were shot and killed December 16, 2012. Miller's report outlines the sequence of events, starting with a call to check on a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot of the Dillons store at SW Huntoon and Lane.
The report confirms previously released information that the initial call reported suspected drug activity in the suspect vehicle. It reiterates that the officers approaching the vehicle, suspect David Tiscareno shooting them and then being fired upon as he fled the scene all unfolded in less than a minute.
Miller's report does reveal a few additional details on what unfolded. A third officer who responded reports that, in addition to shooting Atherly, Tiscareno backed over him twice with his vehicle during his getaway. The third officer also made eye contact with Tiscareno and chased the vehicle on foot through the Dillons parking lot while relaying suspect information to dispatch.
The report then states the officer returned to the shooting scene, where he found Gogian breathing but unresponsive and witnessed Atherly stop breathing. The officer, according to Miller's report, began chest compressions on Atherly, continuing until another officer and ambulance personnel pulled him off.
Miller's report confirms an earlier incident investigation that found Gogian and Atherly had basically no time to react as David Tiscareno pulled a weapon and opened fire as he was exiting the suspect vehicle. A third responding officer who fired as Tiscareno got back in the vehicle and escaped had been cleared to return to duty.
"The circumstances described..preclude no other option except the use of deadly force to stop the threat posed by Tiscareno by the use of his firearm and the vehicle he was driving to cause further harm to the officers or others," Miller wrote.
Miller's report finds officers' actions at both the Dillons scene and at 306 SW Western, where law enforcement were involved in a standoff with Tiscareno which ended with law enforcement shooting and killing him, were "reasonable and within Topeka Police Department policy and training."
The report does include several recommendations, most dealing with communication and support. Miller notes that Command Staff sent no emails and made no phone calls to employees about the shootings or suspect search. Chief Miller also noted that the wrong names of officers were being used on social media by employees of T.P.D. Miller said, "The Problem was some of the information from the beginning was incorrect and when you have two police officers that have been killed who have family members in the police department, the wrong information is bad."
"Social media beats all other form of communications and organizations and their leaders have to be able to deal with this fact," Miller wrote.
Miller says all law enforcement agencies should adopt line-of-duty death response policies, establishing procedures to ensure technical and emotional support for family and coworkers. He also says peer support debriefing should occur within a few days, so employees are aware of circumstances surrounding the incident. He says this took place over a ten-week period beginning in late January 2013.
In response to the officers' deaths, Miller said TPD has established a Peer Support Team. Its 15 members received additional training in dealing with Critical Incident Stress Management. Miller said, "They have been sent to the Kansas City area to take specialized training in peer support for psychological issues that exist in an organization."
Miller says approximately 70 officers attended "Below 100" training, which is an initiative to reduce line-of-duty deaths to fewer than 100 per year. It emphasizes awareness and training.
In addition, Miller says the officers' deaths highlighted the financial implications for the families of fallen officers. He says, starting in January 2014, annual training will include a session on estate planning. The class also will be included in future academies for new recruits.
Chief Miller feels these steps will put the Topeka Police Department in a better place going forward, saying, "Leaders of organizations are obligated to evaluate how an organization responds to these kinds of tragedies to improve future response to these things."