Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Seattle Police Department's Opportunity of a Lifetime

One of the important revelations contained in the recent Shawn Helton article about the March 18, 1994 incident at Kurt Cobain's Seattle residence is that SPD Homicide investigators appear never to have inquired into the circumstances of that incident as part of their “investigation” into the death of Mr. Cobain.

As indicated in the article, newly revealed testimony from SPD Detective Everett Edwards, the responding officer to the March 18 event, plainly and credibly contradicts Courtney Love's dramatic and self-serving version of events which predictably portrays Mr. Cobain as on the brink of suicide.

This said, it is frequently the case that investigative bodies intentionally avoid certain paths of inquiry, even when it's entirely proper and necessary to pursue them. This usually occurs in sensitive, high profile matters where to pursue a certain line of investigation would be detrimental to interests deemed “superior” to the integrity of the investigation itself. So the scope of inquiry gets dumbed-down; relevant matters are cast aside or disingenuously downplayed as unimportant; and all the while the investigative team falsely trumpets their efforts as thorough, rigorous and consistent with standards of professionalism.

Sadly, in all of this, the rights of the victim are forgotten about. The interests of the one who has paid the ultimate price are subordinated to considerations bearing on departmental pride, career aspirations and simple politics. It's a mindset driven not by the moral and legal obligations of the badge but by fear – and since the deceased cannot speak out, this breach of professionalism is often carried-out with relative ease.

With regard specifically to the Cobain case, certain individuals within the SPD know full well, given the severe lapses in the 1994 investigation, that pursuing certain obviously relevant and necessary lines of investigation risks opening up a “can of worms” that, once opened, won't wriggle back into the can. It will mean, finally, that the extraordinary breach of care that occurred over twenty-one years ago will have to be accounted for, in the public eye and under media scrutiny.

As daunting as this all sounds, however, for those in a position to reopen the case, it is actually the chance of lifetime – for if approached head-on, with diligence and integrity, and fearlessly undeterred by where the evidence may lead, this leader could rightfully trumpet the Seattle Police Department as a national beacon of reform and law enforcement excellence to be emulated by other departments throughout the nation. Accordingly, those in leadership positions need not view the Cobain case as a dark void to be avoided at all costs – for it's just the opposite: a rare leadership opportunity for the courageous person in the Department who seizes it.

And the fact that the Seattle Police Department is currently under federal oversight should not be a reason to flinch at this opportunity – again, directly the opposite: taking ownership and responsibility for the lapses of judgment which occurred two decades ago and correcting those errors by way of a thorough and disciplined reinvestigation into Mr. Cobain's death represents the precise kind of commitment to justice and reform that the federal government wants to see out of the Department. It's precisely this type of difficult yet head-on accounting for past mistakes that will best reflect upon the SPD as it continues to navigate through this period of federal intervention.

Relevantly, one of the most remarkable aspects of the Cobain case has always been the pure strength of the evidence indicating that the suicide verdict was misplaced. From the decedent's startling blood-morphine concentration, which suggests he was incapacitated prior to being able to discharge the weapon; to the absence of legible fingerprints on multiple key crime scene items, to wit: the shotgun, the two chambered shells and the discharged shell, and the red pen stuck through the “suicide” note; to the location of the spent shell casing, which was found due opposite of the firearm's ejection port; to, among numerous other items of evidence and witness testimony, the strangely crafted note discovered near the decedent's body. This, taken in conjunction with the highly suspicious behavioral patterns of individuals with motive, plainly indicates that the investigative foundation necessary to reopen the case is solid and therefore not subject to rational criticism.

Accordingly, the leader or leadership team within the Seattle Police Department responsible for spearheading a reopening of the case would be able to rest assured that they are on firm evidentiary ground in taking such a step.

In this regard, one need only turn to the former Chief of the Department at the time of the victim's passing, Norm Stamper, who unhesitatingly stated in Soaked In Bleach that he would reopen the case if he were chief again and that the behavioral patterns of those with a motive to see Mr. Cobain dead should have been studied. In addition, there are the supporting proclamations in the film of former NYPD Homicide Commander Vernon J.Geberth and the former President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Dr. Cyril Wecht, among other notable law enforcement and forensic leaders who have expressed concern regarding the circumstances of Mr. Cobain's death.

This all, of course, is to make the obvious point: a reinvestigation into the decedent's 1994 passing should not be viewed by the Seattle Police Department as a liability to cower from, but rather as one of those rare opportunities to attain redemption and to thereby propel the Department courageously forward.

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