Two Miles Apart & A World of Grief Behind

The ambush of officers in Urbandale & Des Moines shatters a community

By Crawford Coates  |   Nov 3, 2016
Photo Des Moines Police Facebook page.

Urbandale Police Officer Justin Martin was only 24 years old, just 15 months on the job and six hours into his 12-hour patrol shift, when a man pulled alongside his cruiser and shot an estimate 15 – 30 rounds at him. “When I saw the bullet holes, I pulled the door open and realized there was nothing I could do for him,” said Urbandale resident Russell Cheatem.

Martin died at the scene. The man who shot him jumped into a truck and sped away.

As reports of the shooting went out, Des Moines PD Sergeant Tony Beminio rushed to help. Just a few minutes later and two miles from where Martin was killed, at 1:26 a.m., gunfire rang out again. Officers found Beminio dead in his car, a victim of the same gunman.

Although police line-of-duty deaths are down in all other categories, ambushes have spiked in 2016. In all, 16 officers have been killed in ambush.

Police in Urbandale and Des Moines are reeling. Martin was the first officer to be killed in that agency’s history. Beminio was the 23rd officer killed in Des Moines’ history. The pain is especially acute given the brazen and senseless nature the attack. Moreover, Des Moines lost two officers just eight months ago when a drunk driver drove the wrong way down Highway 80, killing Officers Susan Farrell and Carlos Puentes-Morales.

“We’re a very tight-knit community,” said Sgt. Paul Parizek, Des Moines police department spokesman. “Des Moines is not a big city. We all know each other. We’re heartbroken. … We absolutely did not think it was going to happen here.”

Much is being made of the fact the killer had had run-ins with the law and school officials in the past. Shortly before 6 a.m. he flagged down a Department of Natural Resources employee in a rural county west of Des Moines and turned himself in.

One of the killer’s neighbors said that he had claimed to have called authorities to report a robbery at a guitar shop. The guitar shop owner meanwhile reportedly said that he had called police himself and that the responding officer was Martin. Whatever led to their encounter, what is clear is that Martin, like Beminio, was attacked unaware and with no means to defend himself.

Much has been made of late about tensions between police and the communities they serve. Certainly this is true in some communities. But this narrative, so readily peddled by the media, is only part of the story. A recent Gallup poll, released this month, found 76 percent of Americans have a great deal of respect for police.

What worries me—and I have never been a police officer, mind you—is that while respect for police in general is high, at the fringes the rhetoric has gotten violent and isolated. Police are, to such minds, murderous agents of a corrupt state. You needn’t travel very far down the dark halls of the internet to encounter the espousal of some form of dehumanization. What we can say about this killer now is that he is sick and he is in custody.

Martin and Beminio were human in every sense of that word. They likely got into police work to help people out, like most cops do. They thought they were going home at the end of their respective shifts. Their families and their colleagues expected as much. More than that, they depended on it.

From everyone at Calibre Press, our sincerest condolences to all who miss them now. May Officer Justin Marin and Sergeant Tony Beminio rest in peace.

[Note: If you are grieving, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. Here are a few of the excellent articles we’ve published on this subject: On Facing Grief; On Supporting Your Brother & Sisters in Grief; and On How We Should Grieve.]

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Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates is the author of Mindful Responder: The First Responder's Field Guide to Improved Resilience, Fulfillment, Presence, & Fitness--On & Off the Job and the publisher at Calibre Press.
Crawford Coates

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