The investigation

Mar 11, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

An element of shock accompanied the news last week that a Fremont County Sheriff's deputy had, during a confrontation with a man wielding a knife, shot and killed that man.

It is almost routine nowadays to remind ourselves from time to time that our small cities and sparsely populated rural regions in Fremont County are not immune to the turmoil of larger cities and more urban areas.

It's true, we aren't. Even so, an incident such as the one that ended the life of Micheal E. Huff on Feb. 29 is extraordinarily rare in Fremont County. Sheriff Skip Hornecker, who has been with the department all of his adult life, say he doesn't remember it ever happening before. Nor does such a death kindle the combined memories of our longest-tenured newspaper workers. The last time it happened must have been a very long time ago.

We arm our law enforcement officers so that they can defend the civilian population, but also to defend themselves if it becomes necessary during the course of their work. Most of the time the force required to perform the duties of law enforcement falls far short of the injurious threshold, much less the lethal. But this time was different. This time, the weapon, the officer, the training, the procedure and the events combined to bring a different outcome.

An investigation of the incident is under way. The accounts of the deputy and any witnesses to the shooting will be recorded carefully. Other evidence will be examined, perhaps with the help of outside agencies. The legal ramifications of the events of that day will be considered as well. The actions of the deputy will be measured against his training, past events and departmental protocol.

The idea will be to arrive at the most accurate, informed and conclusive determination as possible of what happened, how and why. Fremont County can have confidence in the officials of our sheriff's department and wider county government to conduct an appropriate investigation and to arrive at a proper conclusion.

And then, they ought to tell the public what they found.

This was an all but unprecedented event in modern times here, and people are talking about it. Talk is still cheap, but not quite so cheap as it used to be. Everyone with an opinion and an e-mail account or a text-messaging feature on a cell phone is capable of disseminating his or her own "information" about this incident to a wide circle of contacts.

Many people are doing just that. Virtually all of them are misinformed, most have incomplete understanding of what happened, and many are saying things that are simply and unequivocally wrong.

This is why full disclosure is needed and expected.

If we've written it here once, we've written three dozen times. There is no substitute for accurate, reliable, authoritative information.

A full, open-eyed investigation of how this happened, complete with a public accounting of it afterward from official sources, not only will inform an interested public about what happened, but also assure those same citizens of what did not happen.

Every indication so far points to appropriate conduct by the deputy. There is no rush here but, rather, a need. Take your time, get it right, and then let the citizens of Fremont County know. They will be waiting.

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