Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 30, 2004

Cops need common sense, too

News that a Live Oak High School special education student was arrested on a battery charge after he tossed a racquet ball at a costumed grim reaper exemplifies the extremism rampant in our society, where we have a difficult time finding our way to the middle ground.

Everywhere I look, moderation and common sense seem to be in short supply.

The racquet ball incident occurred during a program called “Every 15 Minutes” that attempts to dramatize for high school students the toll of drinking and driving. Its name comes from a statistic that in the United States someone is killed by a drunk driver every 15 minutes.

Christopher Smith, 18, admitted he threw a racquet ball on Oct. 20 at a man dressed in a grim reaper costume who came to his geometry classroom to collect mock victims of drunk driving accidents. Smith said he thought the costumed man was his physical education teacher, Lloyd Webb. Smith said he frequently jokes with Webb.

Instead, as the paper reported, it turned out to be Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Bruess inside the grim reaper costume. Sadly, Bruess apparently left his common sense home that day.

I would understand if Bruess, who was trying to conduct a serious program about an important topic, was frustrated by Smith’s impulsive, but ultimately harmless, action.

I would understand if Bruess had scolded Smith in class in front of his peers.

I would understand if Bruess had hauled Smith to the principal’s office for a serious heart-to-heart.

I do not understand how Bruess concluded that a knock on the shoulder from a racquet ball merits a battery charge, an arrest, a ride in the back of a cruiser to the police station, and a fingerprinting and mug shot photo session for Smith.

I do not understand how Bruess concluded that this incident merits spending the time and resources of the Morgan Hill Police Department (therefore spending the money of Morgan Hill taxpayers) by insisting on filing this charge.

I do not understand how Bruess concluded that this incident merits the disruption to the students, teachers and administrators at Live Oak High School his decision to file charges has brought to the campus.

And given that Bruess is said to be a longtime participant in the Every 15 Minutes campaign, I wonder if he thinks his handling of this incident is worth the negative publicity his decision to press charges has brought to the program he apparently supports.

When you consider the extenuating circumstances – that Smith is a special ed student with a condition that is marked by difficulty with impulse control, who said he stood up immediately when Bruess asked who threw the ball, took responsibility and apologized – Bruess’ decision to have Smith arrested becomes mind-boggling.

I do understand why Smith’s father, Emmett Smith, called Bruess “an ego with a badge.”

In defending his colleague, Sheriff’s Deputy Terrance Helm said that Bruess told Smith, “For every positive action, there are positive consequences, just as for every negative action, there are negative consequences. That is how we learn.”

It’s apparently a lesson Deputy Bruess needs to learn.

Bruess also needs to remember that he’s a role model, and the behavior he’s modeling – overreacting to a minor incident – is not what our young people need to see. They need to see adults in positions of power using that authority responsibly, with compassion and common sense.

It’s too bad that Live Oak students didn’t see that behavior after the racquet ball incident.

I’m somewhat mollified that Morgan Hill Police Lt. Joe Sampson believes that the district attorney’s office will decline to carry the case forward. Let’s hope he’s right.

And I’m very pleased that Live Oak High School officials have not suspended Smith; suspension is a common practice after a violent incident. At least they seem to understand that an ill-timed lob of a racquet ball isn’t battery, and isn’t worth all this fuss.

Now if only we could inject a modicum of moderation and a dose of common sense in our political process, candidates might not be repelling new voters from the polls with poisonous rhetoric. We might not have a political climate where the Vice President drops the f-bomb in response a colleague on the Senate floor, or where we smear heroes to score political points.

That’s asking an awful lot, but a little more common sense right here in our little South Valley corner of the world would be a good start.



  1. […] topics – from same-sex marriage to stem cell research to police station price tags to an overreacting sheriff’s deputy – I’ve often felt that I’m preaching to the choir and railing against the peanut gallery. In […]

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