Fault Lines
20 June 2017

The Much Expected Pokemon Homicide

February 3, 2017 (Fault Lines) – I’ve been cringing for months, expecting to hear of someone killing another over mistaken facts while playing Pokeman GO. It was bound to happen.

Pokemon GO really caught on in the United States. The mobile device game requires players to traverse neighborhoods, office parks, industrial areas, roadways – all in search of virtual booty.

Immediately upon its release, we started hearing of the dangers. You can imagine the pitfalls of keeping your head down in your phone while walking across the street and through backyards. Play through the night and your chances for finding more trouble (and Pokestops!) drastically increase.

As a street cop, at the height of the Poke-craze, I saw firsthand players darting in-and-out roadway lanes, walking into traffic sign posts, stumbling on curbs, and colliding with parkway trees. The number of late night 911 “prowler” calls spiked for a week too!

One of the funnier stories is the Michigan man who, on his search for Poke-booty, travelled near the police station. He was recognized by the cops and arrested on outstanding warrants.

There’s even the man who filed a lawsuit against Niantic Inc. and Nintendo Co. (the game’s manufactures) for:

“At least five individuals knocked on plaintiff’s door, informed plaintiff that there was a Pokemon in his backyard, and asked for access to plaintiff’s backyard in order to ‘catch’ the Pokemon,” according to the complaint. “Defendants have shown a flagrant disregard for the foreseeable consequences of populating the real world with virtual Pokemon without seeking the permission of property owners.”

But not all incidents are that laughable.

In Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old girl was struck by a car while crossing the road. In Minnesota, teens were threatened by a man (who happened to be a military veteran) after the man interrupted the teens playing in a park memorializing veterans. In Missouri, armed robbers exploited the Pokemon craze by luring potential victims to the designated stops.

Then there’s the Florida man who shot at the late night Pokemon GO partners near his home after he heard one ask the other, “Did you get anything?” According to the local sheriff’s office, the suspected teen burglars fled in their car, putting the man in fear of being run over.

But last week, in Virginia, it finally happened. A bona fide Pokemon homicide.

A 60-year-old Chinese man was out after 10:30 p.m., in his van, in the family’s neighborhood. The clubhouse was a local Pokemon “gym.” At some point, two security guards for the association confronted Jiansheng Chen, with one guard eventually firing multiple shots into the van. And into Chen.

Chen died on the spot. According to the dead man’s family attorney, Greg Sandler:

“The information that we have seen at the van and learned from a couple of people who either saw or heard various parts of this indicated that the security person was standing in front of the van and fired somewhere between five and 10 shots directly through the driver’s front windshield of the van.”

A witness reported:

“I could see the security guard pointing at the car and he was yelling at the guy but I could clearly see that the guy was deceased,” she said. “The security guard kind of panicked, started cursing, I saw him pace around the car.”

The homeowner’s association confirmed:

“The River Walk Community Association does have a contract for unarmed roving patrol services for the common areas of the community,” it reportedly read. “We are fully cooperating with authorities investigating the incident that took place just outside association property.”

There’s a lot at play in this tragedy. Chen’s inability to speak any English.  A protective residential association. A security guard who may not have been authorized to carry a firearm. A perceived intruder.  The distraction of a video game. A late night disagreement between adults. It’s a deadly mix.

While it’s much too early to opine on this particular case, it raises (yet again) questions on the complex interactions between persons of authority and those they confront.

What is the historical context of the neighborhood? Has it experienced a trend of burglaries or other crime? Why the desire for a security contract?

What factors make potential threats stand out? Do the suspicions rise to the level of contact? Why? Or do they merely warrant additional observation? Or should guards simply call the next layer of authority (police)?

What training do we give our security guards? Observational and surveillance skills? Conflict resolution? Strategic or tactical decision making? Interviewing? Emotional intelligence or de-escalation?

What do we expect of our security guards? Confront trouble? Call 911? Detain violators?

Do we as the public view security guards as legitimate holders of authority? Are they “rent-a-cops” or wannabes? In what ways do we view law enforcement officers and security guards as similar? And different?

How are persons in position of authority programmed to view non-compliance? (And I’m talking about teachers, bosses, coaches, and homeowners too!) And what are the darned good reasons why some people don’t comply with requests & orders from those authorities?

How do we hire our security guards? Are they overzealous, high-strung authoritarians? Are they off-duty police officers? If so, are they given clear direction on how to distinguish the tension between roles as a police officer versus a security guard? Are they working tiresome double shifts as cops and guards?

To what extent are those who don’t speak the local “language of authority” responsible for their own (perceived) defiance or disobedience.?

These are tough questions to ask; they’re tougher to answer. They paint a broader picture of American private security.

I have to assume the language barrier between the Virginia security guard and Chen factored into the escalation. I’ve heard many Westerners describe Asian languages (and those who speak them), for even the most loving, compassionate discussions, as sounding aggressive, loud, and argumentative. Language matters. Even I’ll concede that I’m biased into thinking the tone and flow of a French-speaker, even while yelling profanities at me, sorta sounds like the recital of a love poem.

I’m also a bit skeptical into believing grandpa Chen posed a comprehensive threat that rose to a deadly force response. That’s just me, from the comfort of my home office, with hindsight of only a handful of facts and speculations. I’d have to traverse a lot of challenging terrain to go on a real life treasure hunt for hidden clues and answers.

Now get your face out of your phone and ask those tough questions. So tragedies like this can be avoided in the future.

8 Comments on this post.

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  • joe
    3 February 2017 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Dear Tom, the security guards MURDERED Jiansheng Chen. Your numerous questions about what training security guards should receive and how they should be treated doesn’t address the fact that they killed a 60 year-old man.

    Being a former cop I expect you to side with the security guards. Are you seriously proposing that more training would have resulted in a different outcome?

    As you’re well aware many off-duty cops work as security guards, would an off-duty cop be justified in murdering a motorist simply because he was playing Pokémon Go?

    Lets address the real issues, campus security across the country have been turned into police, public transportation security have been turned into cops and off-duty cops work as security guards, bouncers etc.

    How long will it be before security guards are given police powers, a year or two at most?

    • Lou Hayes Jr
      3 February 2017 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      Joe, thanks for you comments & questions. Actually, I am the author of this piece. There was a technical glitch that listed another by mistake.

      I am a current cop – in my 20th year on the job. Did the guard murder Chen? Very possibly! I wouldn’t be the slightest surprised if there are criminal charges against him. But I’m also open minded enough to figure out whether there was some sort of movement of the car that led the security guard into believing Chen was going to run over or strike one or both of them (whether intentionally or not).

      The point of this article is for the reader to answer these questions for him/herself about what s/he personally thinks about the powers or protections given to private security. Certainly a discussion to be had!

      Thanks again for continuing the conversation. Lou

  • L
    3 February 2017 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Where’s your clever commentary on the victims of crime while playing this game? One cop kills someone and you are compelled to write? never mind the many cases of blacks who have exploited the game, lurking around prize locations specifically to rob and assault Pokémon players and laughing (always laughing) as they flee the scene. No surprise you’ll ignore this fact and instead focus on the one case of a rental cop. You’re not biased or anything right?

    • Lou Hayes Jr
      3 February 2017 at 2:24 pm - Reply

      L,
      Thanks for your comment. I am the author of the piece. (There was a glitch earlier that posted another’s name in the author spot.)

      I am a cop, so I certainly see your perspective on criminals exploiting players of the game – maybe as clearly as you do.

      But as a police trainer, I would like to find out more about the dynamics at play to find out why this sort of incident occurred the way it did. There’s gotta be some lessons there that I can use to make cops better decision-makers.

      Lou

  • joe
    3 February 2017 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Lou, claiming security guards may have been justified in shooting a 60 year-old motorist is a specious argument at best.

    As a police trainer do you train security guards to shoot first? As you said “There’s gotta be some lessons there that I can use to make cops better decision-makers.” I have a lesson for you, stop training security guards to act like cops.

    Lou, would you be surprised if there weren’t charges against Mr. Chen? No probably not because the DA probably will charge him with driving to endanger, attempted manslaughter etc.

    Why not present both sides when you write an article? Like maybe the guards overreacted or maybe he panicked when they pointed their guns at him, etc.

    • Lou Hayes Jr
      3 February 2017 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Joe, I don’t train security guards. My sole student population is veteran police officers, with the bulk being supervisors and instructors. I believe I did present both sides. Please keep in mind that I write for an audience that is significantly comprised of police officers & trainers. I intentionally focus on the aspects of the incident that *may* have been influenced or shaped by the “authority” – which in this case was security rather than police. Lou

  • Debbie
    4 February 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Lou,
    As always, there isn’t enough room to discuss all the intricacies of this issue. I do train security officers, but each state require different levels of training. Society ask all in the protection business to do more, but often with less (money, training, experience etc.) This is often the result, although the number of security officers killed in this country is quite high. Training (good training) never hurt ANYONE, and getting some here may have changed the tragic ending.

    • Lou Hayes Jr
      4 February 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks Debbie for your commentary.

      I’m interested in statistics that highlight the deaths/attacks on private security officials. Of specific interest: the context & tactics used by security guards that predicated their assault.

      One trend I see is the training of security guards by police officers and veteran military. While some of the technical skills & mindset are SIMILAR, there is much that is different. 1. What are those differences? 2. What should those differences be? 3. Are they being appropriately and deeply discussed? It’s easy to fall into role confusion (as I’ve seen occasionally when cops are trained by military veterans who train skill without understanding context/law/purpose/etc of civilian LE).

      Lou