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'I have every confidence the deputy did what he had to do,' Harford sheriff says

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In his 41-years as a lawman, Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane has never fired his gun at anyone. He's come close a few times, he said, but for some reason didn't pull the trigger.

Bane said he knows what it's like to be confronted with the situation where he may have to use deadly force. And, that's why he's confident his deputy was justified when he fatally shot a 19-year-old Saturday night when responding to a break-in at a snowball stand in the Rock Spring area just north of Bel Air.

"I have every confidence the deputy did what he had to do when he rolled in on that scene," Bane said during an interview at the Sheriff's Office headquarters on Main Street in Bel Air Monday afternoon.

Deputy David Feeney, 43, was responding to a call for a violent person who police have said was acting "overt and aggressive," when he encountered and shot Seth Jacob Beckman.

From the time he got the first phone call, around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, informing him of the shooting, Bane said he has been worrying.

"I've not really been able to sleep since then," he said. "Because [it's] the loss of a life. It's an unfortunate situation where the deputy had to take a life and I'm concerned about that deputy. It's not something you want to handle every day."

The deputy has been "trying to deal with the situation," said Bane, who planned to either call or stop by Feeney's house to "make sure he was doing OK."

"I'm very concerned for the deputy and his family. He's an exceptional deputy, I don't want to lose him, but I'm certain the thought has come up, 'Is [this job] worth it?' " Bane said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office's investigation of the shooting was continuing.

Quick decisions, difficult situations

The deputy had to make a quick decision whether to pull the trigger. Every officer has to make that decision when he fears for his life or someone else's, the sheriff said.

"You have a split second, sometimes not even, sometimes it's less, to react. I've told my deputies since I've been sheriff, 'I want you to go home at the end of your shift to your families,'" Bane said. "He [Feeney] made a decision on what he was able to evaluate at the time."

Today's police officers are working in a more dangerous world than when he began his law enforcement career, Bane said.

"It's more dangerous today than it's ever been. We're making demands on the people protecting us that would be unacceptable in any other profession except the military," he said. "We expect them to be right, society expects them to be right in everything they do."

Society today is very violent, with a proliferation of weapons on the street along with people who don't like law enforcement, he continued. When you add those factors with someone who has mental health issues or is under the influence of narcotics or another drug, it makes the job very difficult for deputies, Bane said.

Mr. Beckman's father, Glenn Beckman, has said he believes his son, who was taking a depression medication, acted out of character because he was under the influence of drugs when he was killed. Toxicology reports are pending, according to police.

Shoot to kill

Public reaction to the fatal shooting has been mixed.

Bane, however, is steadfast.

"When you handle these things, you have to let people know you support their decisions, because if you don't, if you start to hesitate, if they see that, it's going to get a cop killed," he said.

In situations such as the one Saturday night, sheriff's deputies have to rely on their training and make decisions in an instant, he added.

"You lose track of time, you become very focused, your vision narrows, what kicks in is fight or flight," Bane said. While a person can choose flight, "the deputy's job is to stay there and fight. It's their job, we train them to do that."

Deputies are not trained to "shoot to wound," Bane said.

"When we discharge a firearm, we make the decision that we're going to take a life to save our own life or the life of an innocent person," Bane said. "A wounded person still has the opportunity to kill you because it hasn't stopped him."

Bane said he has been scared for his own life before.

"I know what the thought process is. I know I've been scared for my life and I know what went through my mind," he said, recalling the last time he drew his service weapon on someone.

He was a major, during Joe Meadows' tenure as sheriff, and working weekend duty.

"I almost shot an 18-year-old kid," Bane said. "I went back to my vehicle after it was over and I was literally shaking from running the scenario over in my mind."

"In a situation where you fear for your safety and your life, you rely on your training. If you believe a person is out to kill you, he's out to kill," he said.

Besides extensive use of force training in the training academy, deputies have to qualify on the range to use their firearms.

"There is so much training on the use of force, both classroom and scenario, and on protecting themselves and others," Bane said. "It's not just someone out there with a gun in his hand, shooting willy-nilly."

This deputy made the decision based on his training and assessment at the time that "I have to discharge my firearm," Bane said.

"I don't think anyone takes this job because they want to shoot someone," he said, adding that right down to a person the belief is "because I want to help people."

Rush to judgment

Regarding some criticism expressed on social media that the deputy should have tried to injure Mr. Beckman not kill him, Bane gets frustrated.

"You really can't comment on what happened unless you've been there and done that," he said. "People have rushed to judgment. They don't know the details of the investigation, they've already condemned the deputy."

Ideally, the sheriff said he would like everyone sit back and let the investigation play out and make a judgment once all the facts are available.

"It's not easy to do a job when people judge and there's not justification for that judgment," Bane said.

"Society wants police armed to protect us, that's what we do, we protect and train," he said.

What's next?

As per Sheriff's Office protocol, Feeney is on administrative leave.

"He's not allowed to come back unless he can handle it," Bane said, but speculated "he's probably looking to come back as soon as he can."

Internal affairs will conduct an investigation, assisted by the criminal investigation division, which when finished will be turned over to Harford County State's Attorney Joe Cassilly, who will determine if the deputy acted appropriately and decide if charges should be filed.

"In our minds we may feel it was a good shooting, but we can't bring it to a conclusion until Mr. Cassilly reviews the files," Bane said.

He hopes to wrap up the investigation as quickly as possibly, "so we can get things back to where we need to be within the agency and with the deputies."

When deputies go on the road, their minds need to be in the game, and these things interfere with that, he said.

Bane also wants to be able to inform the public as soon as possible so questions can be answered and to "bring everything to a conclusion particularly as it relates to Mr. Cassilly's review."

Bane also is confident the investigation can be done by the sheriff's office rather than turning it over to an outside agencies.

"There may be a time to go outside, depending on the circumstances ... if it were a member of the command staff I'd probably go outside, or a possible conflict of interest," Bane said. "In this scenario, there's not a reason to go outside."

As far as this investigation, "we can't leave a stone unturned. We have a degree of accountability to the public," Bane said. "We need to make sure the public has trust in us. We need to do a thorough investigation and unfortunately those things take time. Our priority is to conclude this as quickly as possible."

Thinking of other family

As of Monday afternoon, Bane had not spoken with Mr. Beckman's family, a move he was contemplating.

"There's a big part of me that wants to," he said, but was unsure if he would. "I feel a great deal of sympathy for the family. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. There's a lot they have to deal with."

What would he tell them?

"That I'm very sorry this happened. I know they're going through a very difficult time," Bane said. "It's not anything we wanted to happen and I hope they would understand that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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