News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who killed Bradley Odens?

According to various news reports, Bradley Odens, 23, got drunk in a Brookings bar and when he went home at 2 a.m., he tried to get into a house two doors from where he lived. The occupant of the house heard him trying to force the door open and warned Odens that he would shoot if he persisted in trying to gain entry. Odens persisted and was fatally shot in the chest.

The Brookings County state's attorney, Clyde Calhoon, decided that it was a justifiable homicide: "Based on the facts as developed by the police department in their investigation, applying those facts to the law, I have concluded that although this was a terrible tragedy, under the laws of South Dakota, the shooting was justified."

South Dakota law* states that a homicide is justified in defending his person or household " if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished."

The matter is seamy. It involves the two ingredients most common to the violence in American culture: mind altering substance, usually alcohol, and firearms.

Although I have been associated with college students most of my life, I don't pretend to understand the custom of drinking to insensibility. While I was an undergraduate, my generation maintained the ages-old collegiate custom of collegial imbibing. However, people whose behavior showed that they could not hold their liquor well were regarded as violating expected courtesies toward others and were stigmatized as problem drinkers.

That rule of conduct has changed drastically. In my time at NSU, there were a number of student deaths that resulted from alcoholic excesses, and many more incidents that ended up in court. We expect that young people will push the limits. The purpose of education is to channel those energies and to teach how to think about consequences. Cultural pressures of our time have reduced--in many cases nullified--the influence of parents, churches, and schools on young people. The effects of drinking to excess are accepted as a social norm.

I live a matter of blocks away from the favorite hangout for college-age students. One homecoming Saturday night we heard the front door open and close and assumed it was our son returning from a band gig he and his friends went to. A while later, the door opened again, and my son came to our room and asked, "Who is the guy sleeping on the couch?"

When we went down stairs, we found this young man passed out on the couch and we were unable to awaken him. I was afraid of death by alcoholic poisoning. My wife was afraid he'd pee on the couch. We called the police, who had one hell of a time awakening the chap. They hauled him off and we did not file charges, but were glad they would dispose of the matter. I did not want to know his name.

I have little patience with students or anyone else who drinks to insensibility. So the next time we had an incident, my spouse did not tell about it until it was over. One morning my spouse picked up the morning paper off the porch and noticed someone was in my car.
My wife was able to arouse him, although he was befuddled and groggy. His friends gave him a pre-wedding bachelor party at that bar down the street. They left him to find his way home, and my car was where he ended up. Mrs. N. got his name and address and drove him home. Then she told me.

I appreciate not having to deal with drunks. As a young man I played in a big band, and learned to loathe New Year's Eve. We called in amateur night. I detest drunks. So my wife spared the young man my ire, but the whole world heard about the reek of stale booze breath the young man left in my car.

Some young people do really stupid and repulsive things while under the influence. They should probably not have to be exposed to my contemptuous ire for it. And they probably should not be shot.

But transgressions against sobriety and punishment is not the issue here. Open records is.

More than likely the Brookings County state's attorney is right. The circumstances of the incident may well fit the terms of the law* that justify homicide.

But nobody beside the police investigators and the state's attorney know.

What is puzzling is that authorities have never released the name of the shooter in their reports. That makes the lack of supporting information and explanation in the information they have released unsatisfactory.

Citizens have a right to know how their law enforcement agencies make their decisions. And when there is a fatal act of violence, the taxpayers have a right to know. There would be no question about naming the driver of a car that resulted in an unavoidable death. Why is the identity of a bearer and user of firearms protected? A matter involving public safety is at issue.

So is the matter of legitimate public information.



*
22-16-1. Homicide defined. Homicide is the killing of one human being, including an unborn child, by another. Homicide is either:
(1) Murder;
(2) Manslaughter;
(3) Excusable homicide;
(4) Justifiable homicide; or
(5) Vehicular homicide.

22-16-34. Justifiable homicide--Resisting attempted murder--Resisting felony on person or in dwelling house. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

22-16-35. Justifiable homicide--Defense of person--Defense of other persons in household. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

2 comments:

caheidelberger said...

Well, the Brookings Register said the shooting was committed by a 28-year-old man residing at 129 Main Ave S. We could always knock on the door and ask. Of course, there's less chance we'll be shot if we just Google....

Douglas said...

I doubt there is any conspiracy here. The ARGUS had photos of both houses. The drunk student had smashed his hand through the glass of the door. There was nothing remotely comparable between the houses if the photos were correct. One house was nearly level with the street and the other had about 5 wide wooden or concrete steps up to the front door.

SD needs a Dram Shop act to make the liquor industry just a bit more responsible for the devastation their greed generates in society. Taxes on alcohol need to be tripled or more to cover even a part of the unnecessary social costs alcohol generates as well as the economic waste of vehicle crashes related to alcohol driving impairment.

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