Our View: Shooting death a tragedy for all
There are no winners in the officer-involved New Year’s Day shooting of Gabriel Strickland.
A man is dead, three officers are on administrative leave while an investigation is ongoing and our community is thrust into the spotlight for the worst of reasons.
This is a tragedy that’s changed the lives of the officers involved and Strickland’s family. It’s caused our county to scratch its collective head and question what led us to this point.
Strickland was troubled. Authorities say he talked to a relative on Dec. 24 about killing police officers, himself and other people. Police on Dec. 27 knew Strickland had made violent statements when they responded to reports of a man harassing customers at a Freeman Lane laundromat. At that laundromat Strickland is accused of fighting with officers, who later found a handgun and ammunition in his pockets.
Arrested that day, Strickland had a bail of $300,000. Three days later, on Dec. 30, a Nevada County Superior Court judge released him. Two days after that, on New Year’s Day, officers responded to reports of a man walking down the street with a weapon. Authorities say Strickland refused to drop the gun, and pointed it at officers. Minutes later Strickland was dead.
There are many questions that remain to be answered. Not least among them is why Strickland, who authorities have said made statements about killing law enforcement officers, became a free man two days before his death.
Our government has failed in the worst way. Our mental health system is lacking and our courts are overworked. Combine these two to get a broken system.
The question we should add to the others is, how do we fix this?
For starters, we must demand more of our top law enforcement officials. The lack of information coming from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and Grass Valley Police Department is appalling. A press release and video statement as the main method of communicating to the public in the hours following the shooting shows a lack of awareness about the seriousness of this situation.
Authorities have said that three officers fatally shot a man holding an Airsoft — a fake — gun. Law enforcement should have made a public announcement in person and fielded questions instead of merely releasing a video statement.
Our law enforcement leaders, appointed and elected, owe that to the people they’re sworn to protect.
Authorities should release as much information as they can, in as timely a manner as they can, because that’s how you reassure the public that law enforcement has the situation under control and ensure everyone feels safe.
This information — gathered from witnesses, court records and body cam footage — also serves as the foundation for determining where we went wrong, and how we can correct it.
It’s evident we need safeguards in place to ensure people don’t slip through the legal cracks and reappear on the street. This isn’t about keeping people incarcerated that should be freed. It’s about helping those who need it instead of releasing them without the necessary resources.
Patrick Dwyer, an attorney retained by Strickland’s family, summed it up well: The family wants to know what happened, the death is a tragedy, and let’s reserve judgment until we have all the facts.
Everyone in this community should want to know what happened. We shouldn’t allow the release of information to hurt the investigation, but it should occur as swiftly as possible to show transparency in our government and law enforcement agencies.
We hope the facts revealed will show us the path we must take to ensure this never happens again.
That doesn’t mean we’ll never see an officer-involved shooting here again, though we hope that’s not the case. What it means is that, with the facts, we’ll build a system that closes the gaps that led us to this point.
If we do it right, hopefully we’ll never again see someone fall through the cracks, and disappear.
The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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