TALES FROM THE PELLET GUN
It took a few days to nail down the key details, but it’s now looking like a Maui Police Officer shot and killed Marshall “Mosi” Langford, 31, of Wailuku during a May 22 confrontation involving a stolen car. According to news accounts as well as statements put out by the County of Maui and the Maui PD, Langford was at the wheel of a blue 2010 Chevy Impala rental car that was reported stolen a week before when police spotted him in the parking lot of the Mana Kai Maui Resort in Kihei.
Witnesses cited by the Maui News report that three officers surrounded the vehicle. Police said they ordered Langford to stop. Instead, “Police said Langford tried to drive away and had allegedly pulled out a handgun and pointed it at an officer,” wrote Maui News reporter Lila Fujimoto on May 25. One of the officers, an 18-year veteran, according to the Maui PD, then fired at Langford. Witnesses reportedly heard three shots, and Langford died at the scene. The Maui PD said they later recovered a handgun, a sawed-off shotgun and a pipe “commonly used to smoke Crystal Methamphetamine” from the car.
It’s all cut and dry, except buried at the end of the May 25 Maui News story was the revelation that Langford’s “handgun” was actually an Airsoft pellet gun. So Langford, for whatever reason, allegedly reached for a pellet gun and not a shotgun when cornered by the cops pointing actual guns at him.
It’s a strange narrative. Given the prominent mention of the smoking pipe in Fujimoto’s story, and the clear implication that Langford was a bad person, can a person smoke enough Ice to suddenly think that the fake gun next to him is real? Is it possible, in these times we live in, for someone not to know what happens when you brandish something that looks like a gun in front of a cop?
Now add to it the fact that the PD felt compelled–during an active investigation!–to release photos of the recovered guns to the Maui News, which printed them on the front page of their May 25 issue. That shows at least tacit acknowledgement that they know their department’s reputation is less than stellar, right? After all, papers across Hawaii ran a story the day after the shooting about Maui Police Officer Paul Bailey (also an 18-year veteran) getting booked for third degree sexual assault involving a 15-year-old girl.
Anyway, officer-involved shootings are rare on Maui, to be sure, and there are similarities between the Langford shooting and one dating back to January 2004, when two Maui PD officers shot and killed Lisa Kaina, who was allegedly driving a stolen car in Paia. Then, the officers justified the use of lethal force by saying her driving posed a danger to them.
The key issue with the Langford shooting–like the previous Kaina shooting–isn’t the alleged car thief’s previous police record, or even whether the shooting was justified. Even if Langford was just reaching for a pellet gun (or even a phone, as his mother insists), post-shooting investigations have exonerated cops all over the country because in a split second, who can say that that small, dark object the suspect just grabbed isn’t a gun?
No, the key issue here is that the Maui PD will not identify the 18-year veteran cop who shot and killed Langford. To this day, they’ve refused to identify the cops who killed Kaina, though the “Shine the Light on Maui Police” blog (mauipolice.blogspot.com) reported that one of them was Nelson Johnson, the same cop who allegedly assaulted MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo in April 2011 (the blog hasn’t posted anything new since June 2011).
State law–pushed through by heavy lobbying by the State of Hawaii Police Officers Organization (SHOPO)–protects the Maui PD from identifying officers who do things like run afoul of Internal Affairs or kill people in the line of duty. It’s an absurd, insulting law that needs to end, but given the chokehold SHOPO has on the state Legislature, efforts to change it are likely to die as fast as Langford.
* * *
CAN’T SEE THE FOREST OR THE TREES
We know that the burning of sugarcane in the fields causes a lot of fire and smoke and pollution. But does it cause enough haze to restrict visibility in Haleakala National Park? That’s a key question that should come up during tonight’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on haze and our beloved national parks.
“The Clean Air Act requires states, in coordination with EPA, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other interested parties, to develop and implement air quality protection plans to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment in 156 national parks and wilderness areas,” states the EPA’s press release on the hearing (another will take place June 1 on Hawaii Island). “Agencies have been monitoring visibility in national parks and wilderness areas since 1988. In 1999, the EPA announced a major effort to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas through the Clean Air Act Regional Haze Rule.”
Now the haze comes from a variety of sources–the biggest being vog, which we can’t do anything about. But the burning of sugarcane by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar also produces haze, which certainly restricts visibility in Haleakala National Park. While residents shouldn’t expect the EPA to shut down the HC&S mill, they should understand that haze can be mitigated. Or, at the very least, they could start seriously monitoring things like fugitive dust, cane smoke and mill emissions (the findings on such emissions in the EPA’s 81-page Technical Support Document are “inconclusive”).
Those attending the hearing, though, should keep in mind that all the EPA will talk about is how haze impairs visibility–not health effects from cane burning. Just haze and visibility. Got it? Good. The hearing starts at 5:30pm tonight at the UH Maui College’s Pilina Multipurpose Room.