Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Jeremy Joseph Christian murders two men and injures one on a MAX Train in Portland, Oregon.
Much has been written and reported about the Friday murders on a Portland MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) commuter train. I have some thoughts from a law enforcement perspective.
Let’s be clear, I was not on the train. I have no firsthand knowledge of how the incident evolved. As I understand it…
It was a busy commuter train loaded with passengers – about 4:30PM. Jeremy Christian was causing a disturbance. He was loud and erratic – screaming abusive language like: “colored people are ruining the city.” He then seemed to turn his wrath on two young women, who he perceived to be Muslim.
Passengers, three men, attempted to intervene, trying to calm Christian down, stating that he should sit down and leave the train at the next stop. The situation escalated quickly. Christian pulled a knife, slashing out, ultimately killing two of the men and injuring another. Christian then jumped off the train at the next station. He was quickly apprehended by law enforcement.
The citizens who confronted Christian are praised as heroes. And without doubt, their efforts to neutralize a bad situation were heroic. However, from a perspective of a former FBI Firearms and police instructor, their actions were perhaps ill-advised. This is not meant as criticism. The men showed bravery. Their intentions were noble. I will explain my reservations.
The men, probably due to the noise and confined space on the train, approached Christian too closely and attempted to reason with him. Christian was manic, apparently deranged and possibly under the influence of drugs. The men’s approach made him feel diminished and ‘trapped.’
Experienced law enforcement officers know that people like Christian are not easily ‘talked down,’ especially when they have an audience. Police recognize that someone like Christian is extremely dangerous, and they would give themselves space to maneuver – unless a situation demands otherwise. A uniformed officer probably would have talked to Christian from five to ten feet and encouraged him to step off the train at the next stop so that they could discuss it; being careful that Christian would not perceive the situation as ‘losing face.’ At that point, an arrest could be made without endangering other passengers.
As an FBI Agent, I carried a gun on duty and off duty for several years. If I had been on the MAX train during this incident, I would not have approached Christian. As any citizen should, I would have called 911 advised them of the situation, asked the police to meet us at the next stop.
What would Christian have done if I had approached him, showed my FBI credentials, and told him to sit down and be quiet? Probably, the situation would have gone from bad to worse. Now, if he had been brandishing a knife and threatening to harm other passengers that would be a very different situation and could have, probably would have, warranted lethal force.