How could this happen?

The city of Cleveland has been reeling from high profile cases of the use of excessive force. Today comes news of the death of a young man in police custody in the neighboring city of Akron that is troubling to say the least, because the official report of the events is so astounding.

A 17-year-old boy’s death while he was in Akron police custody has been ruled a suicide, the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday.

Xavier McMullen died of a gunshot wound to his head Friday while he was detained in a police cruiser. Officers found a .45-caliber gun near him in the back seat, police said.

McMullen’s hands were cuffed behind his back when the shooting happened, Akron police Capt. Jesse Leeser said Monday at a press conference.

Investigators have not said whether officers searched McMullen for weapons before they put him in the police cruiser. Leeser declined to discuss the department’s polices and procedures for patting down suspects, but he said circumstances may dictate when those searches occur.

The officers placed the three suspects in separate police cruisers while they continued to interview witnesses. One of the officers returned to his police cruiser a short time later and found McMullen dead, Leeser said.

Several witnesses confirmed McMullen was alone when the shooting happened, Leeser said.

So many questions come to mind. How can someone who has his hands cuffed behind his back get a gun and shoot himself on the head? How can it be that someone who is arrested on suspicion of armed robbery is not thoroughly searched for a weapon before being placed in a patrol car? How can it be that the suspect is left alone? How can it be that a verdict of suicide can be arrived at within three days when the facts as stated are so bizarre?


  1. raym says

    When I first read “Leeser declined to discuss the department’s polices and procedures for patting down suspects”, I read it as “putting down suspects” which, in retrospect, was prolly not altogether inaccurate.

  2. hyphenman says

    @Marcus Ranum, No. 1, Yep.

    Add to the list: how can you discharge a 45 caliber handgun inside a police cruiser and not have the sound and muzzle flash noticed by anyone standing within a hundred feet?

    And Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rolling back restrictions on the Defense Department selling tanks and heavy weapons to local police forces.

  3. johnson catman says

    Well, it’s not like a 45 caliber handgun would make a bulge or anything. A dainty thing like that could be hidden anywhere.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    @hyphenman: depressingly easily. Most of the noise and all of the flash comes from barrel end when the bullet exits it supersonically. If the barrel is pressed up against something soft (e.g. a body or head), all of the flash and most of the sound will be absorbed. You don’t have to be a contortionist to retrieve a hidden gun from your pants and put it to your head, especially if you’re unattended in the back of a car. It’s not easy, but it’s far from impossible.
    @johnsoncatman, 4: he obviously was not properly searched. This is not the first time this has happened. See -- specifically this link. WARNING: graphic content on the other end of this link, although it does require a further click to play it when you get there.

    If you don’t want to follow it, it’s a video from 19 December 2003. It shows a suspect (Ricardo Alfonso Cerna) inside a police station, a suspect, furthermore, who had been arrested on suspicion of shooting a policeman. You’d therefore assume he’d been searched pretty thoroughly, and you’d be wrong. The video shows a cop seating him, giving him a bottle of water, and leaving the room. The guy takes a drink, replaces the cap on the bottle, then digs into the front of his pants, pulls out a gun, and calmly shoots himself in the head, all on video right there in the room. The shot is quiet and entirely free of muzzle flash.

    I’d suggest that the verdict of suicide could be arrived at quickly because the circumstances are not as bizarre as you’d think.

  5. Holms says

    You “may to be a contortionist to retrieve a hidden gun from your pants and put it to your head…” unless you happen to be handcuffed at the time.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Holms/Mano, 7,8: have you tried? It does depend heavily on the kind of cuffs used. Plasticuffs, pretty difficult. Speedcuffs (the kind with a rigid plastic doobrie between the wrists, standard in the UK), very difficult. “Normal” handcuffs, the kind with a bit of chainlink between the wrists, of the kind most US cops seem to use routinely -- surprisingly easy.

    @chigau, 9: You’ve rather made the point that Snopes did. The naive expectation is that a cop finding a suspect dead would flap dramatically around, shout and generally make a fuss, or at the very least exhibit some empathy for the dead human in front of them. Anyone who knows a cop (or a paramedic, or a nurse, or doctor, or really anyone who regularly deals with dead members of the public) would find the resigned “oh shit” to be precisely what they’d expect of someone who knows they’re now going to be in big trouble. Are you really suggesting that cop knew the guy had a gun on him, and was feigning his reaction? You’re suggesting a cop dealing with someone suspected of shooting a cop would willingly wander into and out of the room while the guy holds a loaded gun?

  7. sonofrojblake says

    I would have thought it was obvious that I have. First thing I did, actually. Clearly you have not, otherwise you wouldn’t be resorting to simple abuse.

    I put an electric screwdriver in my waistband, and applied a pair of handcuffs that looked like this:

    Without much effort I, a slightly portly middle aged person, was able to raise my shirt, retrieve the screwdriver from my waistband, and apply the pointy end to my earlobe. I was also able without effort to retrieve the key from the desk and open them. Good job, really. Try explaining that to the wife when she gets home.

    Perhaps US police are not well-trained enough to know this, but cuffs like that are only suitable for restraining someone who will remain under your immediate physical supervision, for precisely that reason -- the degree of freedom of movement afforded by them is simply too great, and obviously greater than an untrained person who doesn’t think about it at all expects. They’re good for stopping someone from fighting you, but leave someone unattended in them and they can get up to all sorts of things. This is why UK police are NOT issued with the things. Instead they use folding rigid cuffs, which when unfolded and locked have a rigid plastic moulding between the cuffs, making such contortions impossible, or at the very least beyond my capabilities. It baffles me why, when they have access to all sorts of ridiculous military hardware, US cops mostly seem to be cuffing people with equipment Wyatt Earp would recognise.

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