Our View: Brown’s leadership on June 14, 2017

Our View: Brown’s leadership on June 14, 2017
Police Chief Michael L. Brown. (Courtesy Photo)

Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the June 14, 2017 shooting at Alexandria’s Eugene Simpson Field, when James T. Hodgkinson opened fire at around 7 a.m. on the Republican Congressional baseball team as players practiced for the annual game against their Democratic counterparts.

That day – and its aftermath – left residual scars that took time to heal.

Those who lived nearby or were inside the adjacent YMCA heard the gunshots, which turned into an almost 10-minute firefight, and endured a terrifying lockdown. It was a traumatic experience.

Our progressive city, which prides itself on kindness and tolerance, had to face the reality that a politically motivated attack on members of Alexandria’s Republican political minority, had just occurred in Del Ray.

We comforted ourselves on both fronts with the knowledge that the gunman was an outsider from Illinois. He had come to town with the reported intent of harming Republican President Donald Trump but found an easier target on the field next to the YMCA, where he had been living out of his van for several weeks.

That no one other than the gunman died that day was a miracle. Two factors prevented a bloodbath: The gate to the field closest to the YMCA was locked, which stopped Hodgkinson from actually entering the field, and two capitol police officers were on the scene as part of the security detail for Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a member of the House leadership team. Those officers instantly returned Hodgkinson’s fire.

Our city’s leaders also set a great example in the aftermath of this tragedy.

Police Chief Mike Brown, lifetime Del Ray resident Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Mayor Allison Silberberg, City Manager Mark Jinks and others walked the nearby neighborhood on that hot day, comforting residents. Silberberg wrote a column of reassurance that ran in the Alexandria Times, as did Del Ray community leaders Pat Miller and Gayle Reuter.

But it was Alexandria’s police department, in particular Brown, that was front and center that week.

Brown, who is retiring at the end of June, projected calm competence at a time when our city was rattled. The press conference on June 19, 2017, four days after the shooting, when Brown related specifics of the gunfight felt like a television drama – except this was all too real.

Brown shared that Alexandria Police Department officers Kevin Jobe, Nicole Battaglia and Alexander Jensen began arriving on the scene within two minutes of the first 911 emergency call. Jobe, at the time a 16-year APD veteran, was apparently the first to appear and engage with Hodgkinson. Battaglia then moved toward the field and drew Hodgkinson’s attention, which allowed Jensen and others to “neutralize” the shooter.

On his officers’ actions Brown said: “I could not be more proud of the officers of the Alexandria Police Department who showed up that day. … One of the things that’s real interesting is when an officer shows up it’s a point of courage. [They think,] ‘Do I drive by and assess the scene or do I step in and go into a fight? Maybe a fight that I don’t know about.’ These officers got that call and they answered that call on the 14th of June.”

Not everyone has been happy with Brown’s overall management of APD, and we have detailed some of those concerns in the Times. But during the most significant event of his four-and-a-half-year tenure as Alexandria’s police chief, Mike Brown was the right man for the job. For that leadership, we give heartfelt thanks.