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Commentary: Police not above law; they are law

In our unpredictable world, no one is ever guaranteed tomorrow. The most we can do is hope for a long, purposeful life and a peaceful death – or at least hope to die for a worthy cause.

After risking his life for our country in World War II, Jacksonville native Matthew Brice Ogden Jr. recently lost his life by the hands of one whose duty it is to protect our citizens.

April 14 marks three months since Ogden, 86, was killed when a police cruiser driving 98 mph in a 40-mph zone on Merrill Road struck his vehicle. The driver, Officer Marcus Kilpatrick, was supposedly trying to catch a vehicle with excessive window tint, a minor civil infraction.

According to multiple witnesses’ reports, the officer did not have his police lights or siren on while going 58 miles over the speed limit in the middle of the afternoon. As for the vehicle with the alleged excessive tint: The car was never caught or identified.

Immediately following the accident, Kilpatrick drove into the driver’s side of a stopped vehicle, injuring the driver. Similarly in 2006, Kilpatrick backed his car into a parked vehicle. He has received citations for speeding at least three times, failing to observe a stop sign and operating a vehicle with defective equipment in the past 11 years.

Ogden received one speeding and one seat belt citation in the past decade.

Ogden’s 22 grandchildren, six children and surviving widow never even got so much as an apology from the JSO until Sheriff John Rutherford offered his condolences almost two months after the accident.

Perhaps Kilpatrick should feel lucky he didn’t also harm anyone in the elementary school or residential areas he sped past before the accident. But how has Kilpatrick been handled thus far? Nine days after the accident he was assigned desk duty.

In St. Johns County, police officers are not allowed to chase after a vehicle for a mere traffic violation, yet in Duval County, that decision is left up to the officer.

It is an officer’s duty to protect his or her citizens while utilizing sound judgment in all circumstances. Of course no one is perfect, but when a police officer makes a mistake, he or she needs to apologize.

We have all heard of things like this happening before: citizens killed just for being somewhere at the wrong time or for matching the description of a suspect.

We have all seen it before: police officers, when their seemingly absolute power goes to their head, causes them to bully us common folk.

Does a shiny, silver badge truly make one invincible, reducing the punishment of vehicular manslaughter to merely a few months of desk duty?

As protectors and law enforcers, police officers are given more privileges than citizens, but they should not be considered above the law.

E-mail April Schulhauser at [email protected].

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