The federal judge's decision to order a trial in the Thomas McClain police shooting civil case was an important victory not only for the plaintiffs but also for members of the community who, like me, have been following the case with deep interest (NCJ Daily, Sept. 8).
The question of fault needs a public airing. Was it McClain's? He had a BB gun on him. EPD's? They are entitled to defend themselves in the face of lethal threat. A combination of both? Or, is neither party at fault?
Reading press accounts of the summary judgment ruling in the case, McClain's death appears to be a tragic and catastrophic case of miscommunication between EPD and McClain. For my satisfaction and, I believe, the public's, only a trial before a jury would be trustworthy enough for the truth to emerge and fault to be assigned.
It must be remembered that the question of fault — of who's to blame for McClain's death — has not been determined. EPD only determined that the officers involved did not violate its internal rules. The district attorney only determined that the EPD officers did not commit any crimes.
The McClain civil case illustrates the value of the civil justice system in our society. The right to file a lawsuit is protected by the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging ... the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"). But civil lawsuits have a poor reputation in our country, a reputation that is undeserved in my opinion. It's precisely in instances like this — where a satisfactory answer does not come from our government — that the civil justice system provides a vital alternative forum for truth finding.
Peter DeAndreis, Eureka