Guisto: Clackamas Town Center Shooting, one year later.

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The never ending gunfire that may not warm the heart

Clack Town Center memorial blogFor those who were at Clackamas Town Center on the afternoon of December 11, 2012, the sounds of gunfire still rings clearly this holiday. They will tell you that on that day each shot fired by 19 year old Jacob Roberts had a meaning all of its own. They wondered, not in awe but in fear, that each round of ammunition carried name of a potential victim ,theirs, at the end of its travel. They know exactly where they were when the shooting started, but will be hard pressed to tell you when it stopped. Because it never seemed to stop that afternoon. For some it still has not stopped. For others and their families it will never stop.

Lost in the gunfire that day was one simple fact: The cops were on the way with an energy and commitment to duty you can only understand if you have been there. There was no illusion for those deputies and police officers that they were riding to the rescue of those in trouble. They knew that the report of gunfire meant that they were on the way not to save every life but, if they were lucky and skilled, the next one. That the gunfire was happening in a place where violence can multiply its affect quickly only meant that once on scene they would not have time try to find “a safe way” to stop the shooting. It didn’t matter who or what awaited them either outside or inside. The only mission regardless of the danger of the unknown was to stop the shooting and stop it in the soonest moment possible.

In the background, invisible to all except Operations, was the command brain center that guided the operations through the eyes and ears of cops about to be deployed around and then into Clackamas Town Center. Tactical Command is the place where the command to act is guided through the careful assessment of the situation as relayed by the sights and sounds being soaked in by the cops on scene. Tactical command is the place where fear and the strong sense of duty takes a deep breath, and, in this case, where rational and unemotional decisions were made and then implemented.

Clack Town Report mapIt is the place where a commander’s career experience brings life to a life and death plan where there are significantly more unknowns than certainties. The clear separation of Tactical Command and Operational Command both in location and mind set was beyond essential, it is in fact critical to the life and death decisions and action that followed. The separation of Tactical and Operational Command signaled a well trained and disciplined police response. Clearly the decisions made were based on well tested police policy and implemented by a calm deployment of operations resources.

When Operations Command and Tactical Command were joined in purpose at Town Center, tactical Command asking the right question in the right order was more important than any singular answer to follow by Operational Command. Soon that would flip over and the observations of Operational Command would be driving the plan now being formulated, deployed and revised in the minds of the Tactical Commander. That is correct commander singular. A heavy burden to shoulder. Orders given from Tactical Command will be responsible for the lives yet to enter the mall and those waiting to be rescued. Calculating a tactical plan does not mean delaying operational action. It only means that tactical guidance must be an unemotional decision making process and the resulting guidance implemented rationally by operations command.

So as the cops began to arrive they prepared a mental checklist of what they would be facing. When two, three, four uniforms arrived from whatever agency, they knew that waiting for a Special Weapons Team was not an option. They gathered and deployed into the mall with the unknowns far out weighing any certainties. They may or may not have comparable firepower as a group or as individuals. They used their “Active Shooter” training which sent them in to hunt down the bad guys and neutralizing them. They knew there was much more danger to those waiting for their help. The safety of the Active Shooter team they knew would have to wait. But they did not engage this shooter. Roberts shot himself when his delusion meets reality. 

For Cindy Yuille and Steven Forsythe the best tactical plan backed up by the courage to actively hunting the shooter would come too late. For Kristina Shevechenko the presence of well trained operational deputies and police officers could no doubt only provide emergency attention to her critical wounds and does very little to give her emotional comfort going forward. For their families all that tactical and operational mumbo jumbo matter little. They will find whatever peace comes to them in the memory of Cindy and Steven and grateful for the recovery of Kristina. 

A year later we are still arguing over whether the actions of an armed, licensed security guard, Nick Meli, who said he drew his weapon to engage Roberts himself really made any difference. We are still trying to assess the possibility that Roberts seeing Meli’s gun caused him to end the shooting. In the moment it may have, we will never know, but in the longer threat assessment to our community, I’m not sure it does. 

Clack Town Report Meli 1
From the official after action report into the shooting.

In all the recounting of the tragedy at Town Center, the evil of guns in the wrong hands remains front and center. The problem is we can’t define the “wrong hands” let alone the wrong gun. If it is not all guns that are evil then certainly we are still in a free fire zone conversation regarding the killing power of high capacity weapons and ammunition magazines. But we are still no closer to placing responsibility with those who harbor guns legally but carelessly.

In all the review of the Clackamas Town Center shootings this month you will find no mention of how the AR-15 used in the shooting got into the hands of this violence prone individual. To refresh memory, Roberts took the weapon from a friend’s house in the hours prior to his delusional rampage. I use the word “took” because it must not have been stolen. He must have allowed Roberts to possess the gun otherwise a responsible gun owner would have reported the weapon stolen maybe even naming Roberts as a suspect. The only other possibility is that he had no idea the AR-15 was missing and even where it might have been at any one moment, even that moment when it was blazing terror into Clackamas Town Center. We can be absolutely sure that it was not locked away in a place not available to any other person including Jacob Roberts.


From the official after action report.
From the official after action report.

Our law makers must place the responsibility squarely on the owner to secure this gun. There is a legitimate state interest of the state to control firearms through forcing individual responsibility of ownership even of just high capacity firearms and magazines with appropriate penalty assigned when the statutory test is failed to be met. if they need further proof just ask the parents and families of 20 children and 6 teachers and staff of Newtown Connecticut who were shot to death by Adam Lanza who was armed firearms legally purchased by his mother and left available to him even with known mental health issues. Again: no unsecured guns, very likely no shooter.

If we quit quibbling over tired gun purchase issues and– just for this holiday season– remember the shots fired at Clackamas Town Center and that preventing this shooting before it happened may have been within control of our well intended political leaders. Certainly the next time they can’t say they didn’t know.

And the best news is that it will take very little political courage.

Now there is a heartwarming thought

Bernie Giusto is the retired Multnomah County Sheriff, former Gresham Police Chief,  former Gresham city council member, and member of the Multnomah County ESD.  He’s also a member of the Victoria Taft Blogforce. 


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3 thoughts on “Guisto: Clackamas Town Center Shooting, one year later.

  1. Yeah I always had reservations about Guisto. I havw always suspected that he is one of those who, deep inside, think only the cops and the military should own guns. This piece certainly doesn’t dispel that suspicion. The armed citizen wasn’t a factor? Oh waiyt Guisto just puts doubt upon – doesn’t honestly refute – that notion. There were thousands of potential victims. Why didn’t the shooter kill more? His gun jammed? He could have cleared the jam in seconds. While the cops were still minutes away, one armed citizen changed the dynamic in seconds. The police were still basically hiding in the parking lot at that time, waiting to be told by their commanders it was safe to go in.

  2. I wish Sheriff Guisto would take a moment and think very carefully about the ramifications of what he is proposing. There are two extremely problematic, very plausible issues that arise:
    1. If a citizen should be required to lock-up their guns, lest some maniac use them to commit murder, then surely they should also be required to lock-up their knives, shovels, baseball bats, rope, hammers, rat poison, box cutters, scissors, and medications…just for starters. From where I sit at my dining room table, I can see no less than a dozen ordinary household items with which a maniac could snuff-out the life of an innocent victim. What would the good Sheriff say if I were the victim of identity theft, and the money stolen from me were used to purchase poison that a murderer used to kill their victim? Would he hold me responsible for that? If he is to remain intellectually honest, he would have to. The bottom line is that his suggestion grants the government an unreasonable amount of control over what I can do, what I cannot do, and what I must do. History is replete with lessons that tell us the only way to constrain this sort of control is to never grant it.
    2. Make no mistake, he is putting-forth the notion that I should be compelled, by the force of law, to be my brother’s keeper. If the actions of another can be tied, no matter how tangentially, to me, do I not have the right to protect myself? This creates a dangerous situation whereby my freedom hinges on the behavior of another person. And, should that become the case, would I not have the right to effect some control over the behavior of others? How far can I go to preserve my own freedom? Ultimately, his proposal provides an opening and an impetus for people to view others as a potential threat.

  3. Bernie Giusto responds to comments here and at the Facebook pages:
    “It is good to know that the gun debate in this country has entered a new phase. We now rely an emotional arguments which would allow a loaded high capacity weapon to be left on the kitchen table by an irresponsible owner to fall into the hands of a determined killer trumps the value of human life, apparently any human life. It is discouraging however that the debate has devolved to the point where the lack of public policy intellect cannot distinguish between the unfettered right to purchase a firearm,any legal firearm and the need to protect our inherent right to move safely in a free society. Be wary of those who get paid to take radical positions on either side of these issues. Because eventually their self serving uncompromising positions will harm the rights of all of us.

    There was a time in this country when a person could purchase and possess a fully automatic weapon without restrictions. Just to mention one,the Thompson Sub Machine Gun. There were no laborious federal processes to endure,no licensing requirements,no ownership transfer hoops to jump thorough,no home inspection on demand and no travel notice requirements to with which to comply. But events like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago finally brought so much heat that finally Congress acted to make the purchase and ownership and possession of fully automatic weapons and such accessory equipment such as silencers highly restrictive and in some places in this country impossible. Now all of those come with owning a Thompson Sub Machine Gun.

    No amount of emotional rhetoric or political pressure stopped that train from its final destination. If we do not act to place significantly more responsibility on the owners of those type of weapons and high capacity magazines now in the sight of those who are really the anti gun you can count on the same end result sooner or later. Remember you heard, or should I say read it here first

    So before you pound on your chest about guys like me, (who none of you really know), who want to preserve the right to purchase and own any legal gun you better take a deep breath. My only point of emphasis here is that lawmakers need to create carefully crafted law that provides for both reasonable criminal and civil penalties for those who make no reasonable effort to secure these type of weapons which end up the principle to the commission of a violent crime. For that matter, how about just knowing where that weapon might be found at any given moment. There are only two acceptable answers from the owner of an AR-15 about its whereabouts. I have it in my immediate possession or I know where it is secured out of the reach of any other person which I have not authorized to possess it. Any other answer is irresponsible at best and potentially very deadly at worst.

    Both as Chief and Sheriff I was the only chief law enforcement executive in Multnomah County and probably beyond who would sign the ATF form which would allow a person to apply for the Federal License to purchase and possess a fully automatic weapon and related suppressors,flame restricters etc. Without this signature a person was not even allowed to apply for such a license with ATF. My belief was it did not matter whether I agreed with the purchase of the weapon or not,simply I did not have the right to subvert what law prescribed for such a purchase and ownership if ATF allowed. I took a lot of heat for that decision but I believed my personal believes had no place undermining the rights held in law for others. So lecturing me about the 2nd Amendment is a waste of time, you better start thinking not reacting.

    We are beginning to place significant criminal penalties in law for parents who leave access to any firearm at the discretion of children to manage regardless of the final result of that irresponsible act. The law should anticipate that the potential for tragedy exists in the irresponsible lack of firearm access regardless of the actor. If you don’t think so please tell the victims of Jacob Roberts and Adam Lanza that we can’t be bothered to sanction those who carelessly lose track of or refuse to secure their AR-!5 regardless when it falls into the hands of the serious mentally ill on the way to the mall or to school. “

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