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What I Wrote About the Pettit Case; And What I didn't

Gracious. The readers comments and the e-mail in connection with my column on the shooting of the customs officer have been wild. Much of the criticism wasn't what was actually written in the column but what was inferred. What some readers thought they saw lurking, like a nefarious rodent, between the lines.

I didn't write that the search for the cabbie killers was inadequate. I wrote:

Hollywood police sent a swarm of patrol cars and police dogs on a serious search for criminals so depraved that they'd kill a man for 40 bucks.

Note the word "serious."

I don't begrudge the overwhelming show of force South Florida police officers demonstrate when a fellow officer is shot. If I had been bothered, I would have had earlier opportunities to complain following the deaths of four law enforcement officers in the last year. I wrote:

The massive police turnout in Pembroke Pines conveyed the grim warning that if someone shoots a law enforcement officer, he can expect an overwhelming, unified, angry response.

That was a complaint. It was an observation. It's the reality. But my column pointed out that this particular case seemed incongruent with such a reaction. The indications were that the slain customs officer was not involved in a law enforcement matter. That he and his assailant were involved in a foolish road rage incident. He chased the retiree into the post office parking lot and the retiree shot him. Wrongly, of course. It was a criminal act. It was a horrible, stupid, tragic crime. Whether or not the crime holds up as first degree murder is another question altogether. But the shooting of Donald Pettit was, in my view, both criminal and outside the bounds of civil society, no matter what loopholes are afforded the shooter by the state's very loose self-defense laws. I'm glad they got him.

But surely, most police officers must secretly think that some small percentage of culpability might be attributed to the victim for allowing a fit of temper between two drivers to escalate into a face-to-face confrontation. Pettit's actions seemed inconsistent with that of a responsible law enforcement official.

It struck me that most street cops looking for Pettit's killer last week knew from experience that irrational rage can lead to life-altering acts. Irrational rage, after all, is what can make a police intervention in a mundane "domestic disturbance"  so potentially dangerous. It's hard to imagine a responsible policeman pursuing another motorist in a pique over a traffic incident. Not with his daughter in the car. Not in South Florida. Where so many people are armed, disaffected and ready to explode.

It was this case that was bothersome. This case in isolation. This case in particular. This case specifically. This case with the absurd assertion from the assistant chief in Pembroke Pines that the shooting stemmed from a law enforcement matter.

It seems doubly wrong to place this shooting into the same category with the still unsolved murder of Sgt. Christopher Reyka, the well respected Broward sheriff's officer who was ambushed by cowards in the dark of night as he was investigating a drug store burglary.

Sgt. Reyka's murder was one of those brutal incidents that grips the entire community. I felt it. Everybody felt it. His killing was worthy of the overwhelming response. His murder was different from the usual stuff on the homicide dockets. Reyka was killed in the line of duty, protecting society from dangerous criminals. We owed him, in that instance, a massive show of public outrage. And the criminals who killed him, though still at large, must know that all of South Florida wants them brought to justice.

But the case in Pembroke Pines was not the same. That was my opinion, one which I think is defensible, even if someone disagrees with it. What I did not do, despite assertions by e-mail and by reader comments under the column, was besmirch all police officers, disregard the dangers of their job or forget what happened in New York City on 911.



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hear hear.

daughter, sister, and sister-in-law of law enforcement

I've got a question for you Mr. Grimm. How come the Miami Heraod only wrote 1 story about the cabbie being killed? I stopped counting at 6 on how many stories were written about Officer Petit being murdered? Is it because he was just a cabbie?

Ignacio J. Vazquez, Jr.

Mr. Grimm:

The reason law enforcement shootings are handled distinctly is that any criminal so brazen to kill an officer is a unacceptable threat to civil society. From your comments I gather you have no shortage of respect for law enforcement, however your editorial does raise an important question on whether officers respond with undue zeal when a member of their ranks is killed. Undoubtedly, law enforcement professionals are shaken by the loss of one of their own, yet there is the more at work than simple emotion.

To put it bluntly "cop killers" challenge the basic rules that bind a civil society. When an officer is slain, the rule of law is violently trampled. The murder of an officer is an upheaval of our social order, and it is critical that government respond with a clear rebuke. In our nation we are equal under law, with no life more valuable than the next. Yet when one act of violence challenges our society's ability to govern itself, we must have the fortitude to take the reins from the madmen.


and there is absolutely zero evidence that Mr. Wonder had any idea whatsoever he was being confronted by a "law enforcement officer" in that post office parking lot, so why do you keep talking about "cop killers" as if it had some relevance here?

tom webber

just another reminder we are in florida where the nra rules with the help of jeb bush.
stay calm and stay out of the way of upset people. they can blow you away and get away with it!


You're column was right-on! No need to apologize or explain.


Dear Fred,

I know that this column did not make you very popular but the fact is that Mr. Petit was not carrying out any official duties relating to this incident. He put his daughter at risk by his actions which were precipitated by a bad driver makeing him angry. He had no uninform, special vehicle or any other official designation that was obvious. While is death is very sad it was the result of two angry men, neither of them having enough good judgement to walk away. Many lives will be altered and or ruined by this few minutes of incredibly poor judgement.

You probably should get someone to start your car for a few days.




While the death of Mr. Pettit is tragic, it is outrageous that his agency is attempting to get him death in the line-of-duty pay of $300K by trying to portray him as being in the line of duty. Since when is an officer on duty with his minor child in the car. This is outrageous fraud and rip-off of the taxpayers and those that perpetrate such fraud should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.


How tragic that that "road rage" could destroy a family, but I would only hope that we all would see the same determination to catch a murderer if the victim was not an officer.

R. Londono

Mr. Grimm:

Your article was right on and I commend you for having what it takes to stand up for the injustice that the regular lay person endures when they pass away at the hands of a murderer.
It is unfortunate that the CB guy died, but it is increasingly clear that he escalated the incident by entering the parking lot where the elderly gentleman might have sought as refuge.
Insofar as "official business", that is bogus because federal law enforcement employees are NOT permitted to have anyone in the car that isn't a law enforcement officer. From the account, it is clear that he was not on business, and to portray it as such as also a crime, and a serious offense by that spokeman.
There is a clear distinction between the murder of a civilian and that of a law enforcement officer. THERE IS NO DISTINCTION!
A life is a life. Let us not kid ourselves of that. Law enforcement would have you believe that they are special; they are not. They carry a badge which they play up for free food and other perks, which are not ethical, but many are corrupt, which the system protects and keeps. A badge is not a shield, in the sense they should not be scrutinized. If they are free of blemish, what is the problem.
I commend you Mr. Grimm for stating the obvious, and it is a shame that someone would suggest that you be careful when starting your car. If true, it wouldn't be from the masses but from many of the rouge cops/law enforcement officers that exist and like to think that they are special - they are no better than us.
Thank you for stating that, if even for one day.


Kudos to Mr. Grimm for expounding on many key points surrounding this case. It is especially amusing to see hot the Pembroke Pines PD has spun the fable that this incident happened in the line of duty. I would be just as amused to see an ACLU-sponsored attorney come forward and get Mr. Wonder off based on the ground of his right to defend himself.

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