SANDY — When Patrick Shaver, a certified police officer in Georgia, attempted to explain to a friend what an officer who has been involved in a shooting goes through after the incident is over, he couldn't find an accurate report or representation on YouTube.
"They all made us look really bad," he said.
So in 2013, Shaver, who has a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's degree in conflict management, decided to make his own documentary. After 30,000 miles of traveling across the country and conducting 100 interviews with officers who were involved in shootings, the result is the new film, "Officer Involved."
On Thursday, Shaver showed his movie to a group of officers from the Unified Police Department, the Utah Transit Authority Police Department and members of the media at Jordan Commons. The goal of the movie, he said, was to show the public what happens after an officer-involved shooting from the perspective of the officer.
In the movie, officers from several states recounted how their shootings — many of them fatal — affected them emotionally, many for years after the shooting. Some were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition to personal feelings, officers also dealt with how to tell their spouses, children and parents what had happened; the internal investigations and investigations from prosecutors who treated the officers like suspects in any other homicide case; grand jury investigations; the scrutiny from co-workers; and the civil litigation that typically follows from the deceased person's family.
Several officers who were interviewed criticized the media for how they portrayed officers involved in shootings and how they sometimes swayed the public's perception of law enforcement. During a Q&A session after the movie, Shaver admitted that not every officer's experience with the media was negative and that the media and law enforcement need to work together, though those comments did not end up making the final cut in the movie.
One of the officers interviewed who criticized the media was former Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy Heath Lowry, who teared up as he recounted his experience. Lowry, who now works as an officer in South Dakota, was involved in two officer-involved shootings during his career in Salt Lake County. One was determined to be legally justified. The second was an incident in 2007 in which Lowry and two other deputies shot at a fleeing vehicle. An investigation determined that shooting was not legally justified. Lowry fired three shots at a vehicle in an attempt to disable it.
The most compelling story in the movie came from Stephen Roach, who in 2001 shot and killed a 19-year-old black man in Cincinnati. Timothy Thomas disobeyed the officer's commands to get his hand out of his waistband as he walked toward him, he said. When his hand did come out, Roach believed he was pulling out a gun and fired a shot, killing him. The incident sparked three days of riots in Cincinnati.
Roach was indicted by a grand jury for negligent homicide and obstructing justice but was later acquitted of both by a judge. He said he was encouraged by his superiors to say he was startled by Thomas coming around the corner and the gun was accidentally fired, and that resulted in the obstruction charge. In the movie, a tearful Roach talked about how his purposeful action to pull the trigger resulted in the death of another person.
The movie does not address the issue of why each officer pulled the trigger, the circumstances surrounding each decision to shoot or not shoot, or whether each shooting was determined to be justified. Only the process of what happened to each officer after the shooting was addressed.
Many officers interviewed for the movie said they knew they were justified in shooting, and in many cases said they felt they wouldn't have gone home that night if they didn't. But for some, it didn't make their justifiable actions any easier to deal with.
Unified Police Sgt. Saul Bailey, who encountered many tense situations during his years of working in the Metro Gang Unit, was among those who watched Thursday's screening.
"I think it underscored a lot of the underlying issues that people don't get to see kind of behind the scenes and in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings. Being involved in that situation myself, it brought to light a lot of the aftereffects after the legal issues and after the scrutiny in the media, and after even judgment by your peers, things you have to deal with and continue to deal with," he said.
He hopes the movie will help educate the public about the investigative process of officer-involved shootings. He also hopes it educates the public about how it can take an officer the rest of his life to heal.
... even as righteous as it was to save your life or the life of somebody else, a byproduct of that decision was that someone lost their life. And in the end, that's the weight you're going to carry with you the rest of your life, and your family and your friends carry that with them.
–Sgt. Saul Bailey, Unified Police Department
"No matter how justified or how righteous, it continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. I know for me, it's going to be a part of my DNA for the rest of my professional career and my personal life. And that's just something I have to accept and is part of the business as well," he said.
Even though police officers will say that they want to make sure they return home to their families at night, that doesn't mean they aren't affected by shootings.
"Hollywood has made us believe that police officers are cold-blooded machines, that the good guy dispatches the bad guy, and goes on to do it all over again in a continuous good-versus-evil cycle. The truth is that, though it takes only a matter of seconds for a use-of-force incident to take place, the resulting action can stay with that officer for life and may have life-altering effects," Shaver wrote on the movie's Facebook page.
"These incidents clearly don't exist in a vacuum," Bailey added. "You still have that baggage. You still made a decision that even as righteous as it was to save your life or the life of somebody else, a byproduct of that decision was that someone lost their life. And in the end, that's the weight you're going to carry with you the rest of your life, and your family and your friends carry that with them.
"We can't be so shortsighted to think these things only exist in a vacuum and affect the immediate players. There's a ripple effect. It's like throwing a pebble in a still pond."
The movie, "Officer Involved," was recently selected to be featured at the Knoxville Film Festival.
Contributing: Nicole Vowell