Highland Park Police Shooting a Weird One. Weird Ones Need Investigation.

Highland Park police say they shot and killed a man Tuesday after he escaped from handcuffs while locked inside a patrol car, shot out the back window of the car, attempted to escape and got into a gun battle with them on a crowded shopping center parking lot where other cars were hit by cross-fire. That's probably what happened. But it's a damned weird story.

First of all, why was the guy arrested? HPPD says it got a complaint from a woman who said he was following her on a motorcycle. Does Highland Park have a law against riding a motorcycle behind a car? And anyway, when police found it the motorcycle was parked in front of a shoe store.

The guy killed, David Hartman, 32, sounds like he may have been nuts. Channel 5 NBC News had a story saying he was behaving bizarrely inside the shoe store just before the shootout. It turned out later there were warrants out for him from previous arrests, and he had multiple drug charges in the past. But police apparently knew none of that until after the man's death.

HPPD says he fought them pretty much from the moment they confronted him in front of the store. So now we have a possibly crazy combative guy with some kind of complaint against him from a motorist. And maybe it wasn't only because he followed her: Maybe he was back there making faces or giving her the finger or something. I might have called about a guy like that, too.

Scott Goldstein has a piece on The Dallas Morning News crime blog in which he says the man was searched and then handcuffed behind his back before he was placed in the back of the patrol car. But he managed to get out of the handcuffs and produce a gun not found during the search.

Goldstein quotes an expert who says police can miss guns in body searches. OK, maybe. But I haven't seen a discussion of the handcuffs. Mechanical handcuffs? Zip ties?

The modern mechanical cuffs are usually fairly foolproof. Most cops pull zip ties down so tight it's not uncommon for arrestees to have a loss of sensation in their fingers for weeks or months afterward.

So the police fight with this guy. He's nuts. They search him badly. Then they put the cuffs on him too loose. Then they put him in the back of the patrol car where apparently they can't see him or they're not keeping an eye on him. He defeats the cuffs. He gets his gun out of his boot or wherever. Then he shoots out the back window of the car he's sitting in.

Well, OK, fine, because the guy's nuts, right? But I'm just saying an awful lot of bizarre linkages have to work together in this story for it to come out as the official version.

Next, what? He climbs out the back window and runs off? Really? Did he do that? And then the police engage him in a gunfight on a crowded parking lot where apparently bullets hit one or more automobiles belonging to innocent passersby.

On the one hand, that sounds awfully Wild West. On the other, if the guy was shooting, the police had to shoot back to stop him, and the firing of handguns in a fight like that is never going to be surgical. Even in trained hands, a handgun is a blunt force broad-side-of-a-barn weapon with a very high risk of collateral damage, which is why we always hope no one will be firing one whenever we leave a shoe store.

So if there are all these fairly plausible reasons why the police version of this incident might be totally accurate, why do I think it needs to be closely investigated? It's not fair to postulate about specific things that might be wrong with the story when there is no evidence that anything is wrong.

I'm glad the cops didn't get shot. I'm glad the passersby didn't get shot. The motorcyclist is not my hero. But I will say this: This is one weird story. And the thing about weird stories? Everything can be wrong.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze