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Bender: The Netterville video: Don't believe your lyin' eyes

Before Wrigley's hyperbolic press conference, the incident lay beyond my periphery — just an unfortunate case, I surmised, in which an officer had to make a tragic split-second decision while dealing with an erratic, possibly dangerous, individual.

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North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley holds a press conference Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, at the Fargo Police Department headquarters regarding the July 8 fatal shooting of Shane Netterville, 28, by Officer Adam O'Brien.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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Back the Blue. Don't ask questions. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

I realize I'm about to commit blasphemy in a climate in which we've almost deified law enforcement. Indeed, when I heard Attorney General Drew Wrigley's statements absolving Fargo Officer Adam O'Brien of wrongdoing in the July 8 shooting death of Shane Netterville — his bravery, his military service — I became convinced that O'Brien had single-handedly stormed Iwo Jima.

Before Wrigley's hyperbolic press conference, the incident lay beyond my periphery — just an unfortunate case, I surmised, in which an officer had to make a tragic split-second decision while dealing with an erratic, possibly dangerous, individual.

Then I listened to Wrigley. And listened. His statements lasted longer than the Grenada Invasion. The only thing missing were the strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

That piqued my interest.

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I'm no professional investigator, but I recognize salesmanship, and Wrigley, who was tasked with objectively deciding whether O'Brien had committed a prosecutable crime, was selling. Selling and acting, inappropriately, like O'Brien's defense attorney.

Pro tip: Once you've made the sale, stop selling, and don't sell something you can't deliver. Wrigley spent just about forever justifying the shooting. However, when an investigation's conclusive, the statement should be brief: An officer, fearing for his life and those of fellow officers, shot and killed the driver of a speeding van. Irrefutable just cause. Case closed. See you later, Gator.

His overselling suggested a lack of confidence in the findings, an ironic, unintentional disservice to O'Brien. Wrigley outlined what the public would (supposedly) see in police videos, buttressed by statements from the always reliable untrained bystanders. They, like Wrigley, say Netterville was trying to kill the officers. I don't think the video supports that. And why quote unqualified amateurs when trained experts at the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation deconstructed the incident?

Misdirection. Salesmanship.

Watch the video . Officers were located beside the vehicle. The van eases out of the garage, lurches, O'Brien shoots — across the passenger, with two other officers in the line of fire. Then, the mortally-wounded Netterville accelerates.

It was indisputably an unusual, dangerous situation. Three men, possibly armed, in a stolen van with a bullet hole in the windshield, and Netterville did everything wrong. Everything. He escalated the situation. Still, it comes down to one question. Did O'Brien have to shoot? Dissecting in slow-motion, absent the heightened sense of danger, I say, no. Under real-time human circumstances, it's understandable.

Wrigley called O'Brien's actions justified and lawful, leaning heavily on the word “lawful.” Well, “lawful” isn't always appropriate, is it? It's an unfortunate word, a bureaucratic crutch. A tell.

“Why not let the car drive away?” a reporter asked.

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“Why have police officers at all?” Wrigley retorted, why unleash potentially dangerous people into the public, he added. Fair point.

It's sad, though. A troubled 28-your-old's dead, his family grieves, and an officer must forever live with this. I've got family and friends in law enforcement, and I'd want them to receive the same benefit of the doubt O'Brien received. Wrigley made the right call, but he didn't do O'Brien any favors with his dog and pony show. And who's going to sweep up all the confetti?

He got a nice tan from the spotlight, though.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column from North Dakota for Forum News Service.
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