02-03-10 Chief urges Idaho Congressional delegation to Enhance
Services for Vets
Boise, Feb. 3, 2010 - Boise Chief of
Police Michael Masterson sent a letter to Idaho's congressional
delegation last week urging them to help enhance services to local
veterans who may be suffering mentally or emotionally from
In the letter, sent Jan. 21, 2010 to all
four of Idaho's members in Congress, Chief Masterson cited a case
from last summer when a confrontation between a veteran and
officers resulted in shots fired. Chief Masterson says the officers
had no way of knowing, under immanent threat of gunfire, the
suspect was a decorated war veteran with diagnosed combat related
stress. The Chief cites his concerns that this case may not be
isolated, and refers to recent news reports of increased suicides
among younger veterans.
In his letter, Chief Masterson said,
whatever the issues and explanations, he's concerned that without
more careful identification and treatment, these individuals may
indeed pose a threat to their own safety and that of their families
and community. The Chief believes it's important to take leadership
on this issue, to try and get needed help to struggling veterans
before another situation escalates to violence.
The letter (each was addressed to
individual Representatives and Senators) is attached and pasted
January 21, 2010
Washington DC 20515
Several Boise Police officers were confronted recently by an
armed man later identified as a military veteran. Issues revealed
to myself, my officers and the community since then prompts me to
share some concerns with you.
On July 28, 2009, Boise Police responded to a call from a woman
stating a man with a "machine gun" was at her front door demanding
to be let in. Police dispatchers heard gunshots and the woman said
the man had broken down the door of the apartment across the hall.
As officers arrived, they heard another gunshot and saw the armed
man ducking in and out of the broken doorway.
The officers called to the man to peacefully surrender and tried
to engage him in conversation, offering help if he would put the
gun down. Instead the man used, what appeared to be "military
tactics" and a bright light to spotlight the officer's positions
and aim a handgun in their direction. Four officers fired. None of
the shots hit the man as he used the doorway for cover. After the
officers fired, the man surrendered.
In a report released January 13, 2010, the Boise Community
Ombudsman wrote: "Considering all that these officers personally
witnessed and were told, any reasonable officer in similar
circumstances would believe that his life, the lives of his fellow
officers, and the life of the calling party were in immediate
danger from a deadly threat. Given the totality of the
circumstances and the subject's lack of compliance with repeated
commands to show his hands and surrender, the use of deadly force
in response to this imminent threat to human life was both
reasonable and necessary."
The armed man currently sits in the Ada County Jail awaiting
sentencing on felony charges. He is George G. Nickel, Jr., 38, a
decorated Iraqi war veteran. Unbeknownst to my officers at the
time, Mr. Nickel is the sole survivor of an explosion in Iraq that
killed three other Idaho U.S. Army Reservists. Mr. Nickel was
awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for bravery in Iraq.
Mr. Nickel has also been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury
and post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Iraq.
Following the media publicity of Mr. Nickel's Iraqi war
experience and subsequent revelation of his diagnosis, my office
received numerous emails and phone calls from citizens and veterans
groups highly critical of the officers' actions. Each citizen
wanted to know how the officers could justify shooting at a war
I responded to each call and email. I described our department's
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a large group of officers specially
trained to respond to individuals in emotional or mental crisis. I
explained to the concerned citizens that we work with the Boise VA
Hospital and local veterans support groups to identify veterans in
need and connect them with those who can provide them with
services. I also explained that, like our veterans, my officers
have chosen to serve and protect their community, and that means
taking decisive action when faced with an immediate and violent
threat to themselves and fellow citizens. The officers did not know
who Mr. Nickel was, nor about his military background, and Mr.
Nickel's actions did not give the officers time to find out.
What I cannot explain is how the military identifies and treats
psychological disorders, and why there appears to be a lack of such
identification and treatment. Mr. Nickel's case may or may not be
isolated. I have no way to track the number of veterans who, for
any number of reasons, come into contact with my officers. I am
aware of a recent case where officers were called to respond to a
man later identified as a veteran, armed with a shotgun threatening
suicide. Fortunately, that case was resolved peacefully. There are,
however, indications that veterans struggling with war-related
emotional issues are growing in number and severity. A recent study
by the Veteran's Affairs Department (published by the Associated
Press, January 11, 2010) shows the suicide rate among young
veterans has increased significantly.
I have many veterans in my own police department. I share with
them a pride in the service they delivered to their country and the
service they continue to provide to the citizens of Boise. I also
share with citizens a sincere concern for veterans struggling with
combat-related disorders, who are in need of professional
assistance and for whatever reason, are not getting it. I have been
told by veterans, including my own officers, that there are
perceived barriers within the military that inhibit individuals
from self-disclosing emotional issues, ranging from fear of being
labeled, to being passed over for promotion. Veterans tell me
military evaluators screening those leaving the service are
overwhelmed with sheer numbers, no time is made for thorough
screens, and critical post-combat evaluations are offered but not
And sadly, the struggles don't appear to be new. Again, just
within my own police department, an employee recently revealed the
emotional struggles he was aware of with vets who served in World
War II and Vietnam.
Whatever the issues and explanations, I am concerned that
without more careful identification and treatment, these
individuals may indeed pose a threat to their own safety and that
of their families and community. My greatest concern is Mr.
Nickel's case is not isolated, and other police officers, not only
in Boise but in Idaho and across the nation will be forced to
confront a troubled veteran with weapons drawn. Any or all those
involved will be chastised for doing what they felt they must for
self-preservation or public safety, and worse, the outcome will be
One citizen who wrote me said, "These veterans are our people.
We need to care for them like they took care of us!"
As a Chief of Police of Idaho's largest and Capital City, I urge
you to work with all branches of our military, our Veteran's
Affairs groups and VA hospitals, and strive to improve and expand
the safety net that must cover our veterans. It is the duty of the
country they served to now serve and protect them, and indeed
enhance their opportunities as they rejoin civilian life.
Thank you for your time and service you give to the citizens of
Michael F. Masterson
Chief of Police