Cop Tales: The First Time I lied to a dying person

By Brian Smith
Special to the Sun

As a young deputy, I was working the 2100 shift (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.). I was responsible for about 800 or so square miles of the county, pretty much by myself. The local highway patrol went on call at 22:30 (10:30 p.m.), and the local city police had a few officers on duty.

One night, I received a call of a victim of a shooting at a house in the unincorporated area of the city. As I arrived on scene, I found a man lying on the floor of the bedroom with a .22 caliber gunshot wound to the chest. There was very little bleeding and only a small hole in the center of his chest. I could see that he was not doing well at all and he was in a lot of pain. He was holding onto one of the legs on a tall dresser with one hand. The pain was causing him to push/pull on the leg so hard that it was in danger of being tipped over onto him.

As I was kneeling next to him, I had to put my hand up to keep the dresser upright. He told me that he was going to die. I looked him in the eyes and told him to hang on, that the ambulance would be there shortly and although I knew otherwise, I told him he would be fine. After I told him that, he settled down and relaxed a little bit. I stayed by his side talking to him as I watched him die. He died just as the ambulance arrived on scene. I had been raised to not lie, that it was always better to tell the truth. That night I learned that sometimes it is kinder to lie, if it can give a little comfort to someone about to die.

Since it was my first homicide, I also witnessed his autopsy. I was 23 years, 2 months, and 20 days old, he was only 21. Looking back, I’m amazed how a single call could shape a person and how I could remember so many details 44 years later. -WL