Friday, January 06, 2006
The strange case of Howard Morgan
Police work is dangerous. Life and death decisions must be made in split seconds. Survival dictates that if cops error they do so on the side of self-protection at the expense of suspected offenders. There are no second place winners in gunfights.
We are an unforgiving society when our cops make mistakes involving their own survival. An error on the side of survival can sometimes cause a good cop to be disgraced, fired and even imprisoned. Political or racial overtones sometimes can set justice aside and destroy the lives of honorable cops.
Cops by their basic nature are the good guys. They chose a life where they can protect their friends and neighbors from harm. Background checks before hiring and a strict program of observation during training and a probationary period work to insure only the good guys can wear the police star.
No matter what view you take of this case, it’s as ugly as ugly can get. It’s a story about a deadly battle between who we like to call, the good guys.
It all happened on February 21, 2005, on a near, South side Chicago Street. Beat officers on routine patrol observed a moving vehicle with its headlights off just before 1:00 a.m. This is an area where whores and drugs can be found. Officers are rightly on their toes when making stops of anyone in this neighborhood at night.
What happens next is anyone’s guess if you choose to believe the good guys. The problem is they’re all good guys here. The patrol officers pull over the offending driver, Howard Morgan. In a flash Morgan is shot 25 times by the patrol officers. Two patrol officers are also shot. Presumably, Howard Morgan shot them.
Howard Morgan, 51, is also a cop. Morgan was a Chicago police officer who after eight years abandoned that position over a requirement that all Chicago police officers live within that city’s boundaries. Morgan secured a well paying position as a railroad cop that would let him live wherever he wanted. Morgan has no known criminal history.
One of the unspoken but real perks of being a cop is an end to receiving citations for traffic infractions. Traffic stops between cops are really more like a social visit. Unless the offending cops is drunk, combative or involved in other criminal activity such a stop would never make the Six O’clock News.
The official police version came from Pat Camden the Chicago police spokesman. The mêlée began when Morgan identified himself as a cop as he was being frisked. Camden said, Morgan pulled his semi-automatic pistol and fired it at the officers and the officers returned fire.
The officers returned a lot of fire. 25 rounds struck Howard Morgan. This is not surprising considering the Chicago Police Department insisted their officers carry a really weak choice of a nine millimeter service round. These bullets are incredibly ineffective for police work.
What’s missing from this story? Let’s begin with a motive. Try as I might I can’t think of one here. Did Morgan simply snap without reason? That’s just not likely. No drugs, whores or other criminal evidence has ever surfaced in this mix.
What about intoxication? Were drugs or alcohol is Morgan’s bloodstream? Yes they did examine Morgan’s blood for these things. The results of such testing have not yet surfaced. I would expect that if the tests were positive that information would have made the news for sure.
Howard spent nearly a year in the Cook County jail unable to post the 10% requirement of his $2 million-dollar bond. That all changed when an anonymous donor provided nearly the entire bail amount. Emotions ran high on both side of this mess as Morgan was allowed to wait for his day in court at home. I don’t think Morgan who is still recovering from his injuries is a flight risk.
This case may seem to be fueled by race issues, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Only the participants of this encounter know whatever really happened. No matter who was right, or wrong, everyone involved regrets the result.
Crimefile will be watching these case and reporting new developments.
WMAQ-TV report: http://www.nbc5.com/news/5840876/detail.html?z=dp&dpswid=2265994&dppid=65193
Update: 1/27/12 Seven years after the shooting a retrial ended convicting Morgan. I don't think he will live to see freedom again. From the FOP Lodge 7 Website: For a second day in a row, in separate cases, a Cook County Jury listened to the evidence presented by ASAs Dan Groth and Phyllis Warren and delivered justice for our own. Howard Morgan was found guilty this evening on all counts for the attempted murders of Officers John Wrigley, Tim Finley, Eric White and Nick Olsen.