EPD’s Russell doesn’t speak for all officers

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Almost every day, we see another story about another law enforcement officer being shot during the line of duty. Too often, those with the badge are killed, and more often than not, they are young, with spouses and young children left behind … and over what? A productive, meaningful life shot down by one with no purpose who will be a burden on society and a painful footnote in a family’s history.

These stories of officers who sacrifice themselves for the cause of liberty get passed around on social media, but they usually don’t make the national news, for some reason. But let one officer shoot a suspect under questionable circumstances, and that becomes a full-blown story before there’s even time for a cursory investigation. 

The anti-cop crowd is organized, loud and ruthless, with a more-than-willing national media to push their narrative. We are defenders of peace officers because we know the high (often double) standard they’re held to, but we also know that they are human. We lean toward giving them the benefit of the doubt unless there is compelling evidence not to.

That’s why we were so disappointed to hear the testimony of Ellisville Police Chief Bruce Russell when he was called as a character witness for an accused child molester in a trial earlier this month.

Guilt or innocence of the defendant aside, the fact that Russell testified on behalf of someone accused of a crime — a crime that he has absolutely no way of knowing if occurred — shows questionable judgment in the first place. 

But what he said under oath caused a collective groan from his fellow law enforcement officers who were in the courtroom. In an effort to emphasize how unusual it was for him to be in court testifying on behalf of a defendant, Russell said, “I’m the police. We believe everyone’s guilty until proven innocent.”

That statement alone set off a series of nervous glances and gasps from fellow officers. But seemingly discontent with only one blunder, Russell kept digging himself into a hole. Prosecutor Kristen Martin asked him if he had ever been shocked by anyone he arrested for any crime, and he said, “No, ma’am.”

She challenged that by asking him if he said he was surprised at the arrest of then-73-year-old Jimmy Allen Hutto when he robbed a bank in Ellisville in January 2011.

“No, he was an arrogant, mean old man,” Russell said.

Martin asked, “If the court record indicated otherwise, would it be wrong?”

Russell replied, “Yes.” 

Everybody has misspoken at times, and we have grace for that, but police are usually at their most guarded in court. They should be. That’s why so many people were taken aback by what Russell said on the witness stand.

Several officers who were in the courtroom came to a reporter and said that Russell was not speaking for them with his assessment of how they view guilt and innocence. They were disturbed that he would say that, especially since they’re constantly under fire from people who accuse them of approaching certain segments of society with that mindset.

Russell’s testimony did the profession and his fellow officers no favors. We’re just glad to know that he doesn’t speak on behalf of most of the officers we know and deal with.