Investigators: Judge shooting preventable?

Editor’s Note: Here is the text of an executive summary prepared by Richard P. Robertson of his company’s investigation of the Michael Judge shooting:

We investigated the Oct. 25, 2005 shooting of Michael Judge by the Lake Havasu Police Department.

I assigned Anthony Britnell as the lead investigator, assisted by investigator Don Keenom, and forensic criminalist Joe Collier.

Britnell was a 27-year Phoenix police officer, retiring as field training officer/supervisor; Keenom was with the Scottsdale police for 25 years and handled homicides and internal investigations. Collier was a 30-year criminalist with the Phoenix Police Department.

Our review of the case involved compiling written reports from the Havasu and Kingman PDs; investigative photos; autopsy and photos; and audio of 9-1-1 and radio traffic.

We conducted on-the-ground interviews in which we located witnesses who were never interviewed by authorities.

We also obtained Mike Judge’s gun and clothing. All of this was used to attempt to reconstruct the final moments of Judge’s life and compare it to witness statements.

We concluded that when Mike Judge pulled out his gun and raised it toward the Havasu police officers, he forced them to act with lethal force.

We don’t believe, however, the shooting had to happen.

We have some concerns that these untrained, unsupervised officers created the situation by confronting Judge – a mentally challenged soul – in the manner they did.

And, in clearing themselves so thoroughly and refusing to critique their own actions, the police department didn’t even take the opportunity to possibly prevent future killings by reviewing how it handles the mentally challenged.

We believe the Havasu PD owes it to its entire community, particularly the mental health community, to evaluate how this situation developed and how their officers responded to it.

They need to ask themselves: could this shooting have been prevented?

We think so.

At the point three Lake Havasu officers confronted Mike Judge at gunpoint on that remote stretch of highway near the airport, Judge had committed no crime.

He had made no threats nor acted in a threatening manner toward anyone.

He was within his rights to be carrying a gun and walking along the highway leading out of town.

But, when the officers – who had virtually no training in dealing with the mentally disabled – initiated their aggressive containment, they set the stage for a confrontation. We conclude that given the location and circumstances, they could have implemented a containment strategy that would have given them and Mike Judge more time to end this matter without bloodshed.

Had these young, untrained officers summoned a more experienced supervisor, they might have to set up farther away and been able to “negotiate” with Judge.

We acknowledge that it’s possible that even with more time, Judge may well have continued his march toward the officers and pulled his gun. If so, the outcome would have been the same.

But, it’s also entirely possible that Judge – who is a slow thinker – would have given more time to consider his options and choose, instead, to drop is weapon.

Had this situation taken place near a school or the London Bridge, we would have no quarrel with the strategy that was implemented.

We also have serious concerns about the internal investigation and the Kingman PD’s criminal investigation.

In their zeal to make this a suicide-by-cop, they inaccurately characterized the nature of a tape recording left by Mike Judge for his mother. The police called it a recorded suicide note.

Far from it. Mike was telling his mother, in a child-like way, that he was running away from home and starting his life over again someplace else. To mischaracterize it as a suicide plan, in our opinion, changes the interpretation of the events that followed.

We concluded that Lake Havasu’s procedures are well below professional law enforcement standards. If this is the way they handle all crime scenes, they are jeopardizing successful prosecutions.

Finally, we found problems with the department’s written policies and procedures. They are out-of-date for a modern police department. And to illustrate that they don’t reflect the department’s own practices, we noted that their use of force guidelines include use of non-lethal bean bag weapons – a weapon the Havasu PD apparently does not routinely issue to its patrol officers.

In conclusion, if not for lack of training, supervision, policies and practices, Mike Judge might be alive today.