Excessive Force in the War on Cannabis: The Death of William Reddie

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William Reddie isn’t someone we should be talking about on a cannabis blog for one simple reason: he didn’t have cannabis in his system when he died (or alcohol, for that matter). Still, cannabis allegations and CPS involvement resulted in William’s death. More than two years later, the situation still doesn’t make any sense to the people who loved him.

William, like all of us, wasn’t perfect. He’d had a couple of rough years when he was younger, struggling with behavioral issues and trying to find his place in his world. According to his mother, he had changed for the better since the birth of his son, Cameron. When it was clear Cameron’s mother wasn’t in a position to care for their son, William started working toward full custody of his boy. But then a neighbor called the police over a loud telephone conversation, starting a chain of events including allegations of cannabis use that resulted in William’s being fatally shot the same day, February 3rd, 2012. According to official reports, William was shot because he pulled out a folding knife and lunged at the officers attempting to take his son away.

reddie3It’s easy for anonymous people and pundits to sit back and dismiss William’s death as his own fault. Before you decide to ignore this injustice, put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Your only son is the most important thing in your world. You’ve been harassed repeatedly by a local police officer (Alan Somero) who seems to bear a personal grudge against you for some reason. Still, you’re keeping your nose clean and are going through the court process to receive full custody.

It’s only three days until your final court date, and you’re so happy and excited. That is, until police show up at your house because you were talking on the phone (your voice is deep and loud). After the cop badgers you, you buckle under pressure from this cop and admit to a crime you hadn’t actually committed. Although he promised to leave you alone, now you know he’s coming back to take your son and place him with strangers all because of a verbal confession to cannabis use.

William did what many of us would do in this situation: he tried to run. He was packing up his truck and was planning on staying elsewhere for a few days when the police returned to his house with another officer, CPS officials, and a court order. It’s amazing how quickly the bogged-down family court was able to produce that emergency order for cannabis, which poses no direct threat to children, certainly no more than a beer in the fridge.

When the cops and CPS agents told him they were taking his son, he refused to comply. His response wasn’t rational, but how many people can honestly say they’d be calm in his position? He was literally backed into a corner while he was trying to flee, flanked by two officers with weapons pointed at him (initially tasers). What came next is heartbreaking.

After refusing to hand over his son, William allegedly pulled out a folding knife and lunged at the officers. In response, one of the officers fatally shot William, who fell to the floor facedown and died. His three-year-old son witnessed everything and was spirited away by CPS and placed into foster care. One of the CPS agents clearly noted in his official statement about the incident that the knife was in the closed or folded position when he saw it on the floor. That alone provides a reasonable doubt as to the need for deadly force in this situation.

Of course the police inquest and later the courts ruled the shooting homicide “justified,” but plenty of people aren’t convinced. There’s no two ways about it: the courts should never have tried to remove William Reddie’s son from his custody over allegations of cannabis use. William shouldn’t have been placed in that situation to begin with. According to the family’s version of the story, he was pushed to the breaking point by someone in a position of power and then murdered for his emotional reaction.

William ReddieHere’s where we add insult to injury: the courts have refused to place Cameron with anyone in William’s family. It turns out that William’s mother, Michelle VanBuren, was at some point placed on the state’s secret list of 275,000 alleged child abusers. This list has been criticized by many people because plenty of the people on it, including Michelle, were never convicted of or even charged with child abuse. Like plenty of people on this very questionable list, Michelle wasn’t aware that she was on it until being on that list started causing problems with Cameron’s custody.

After pushing for the reason she was on this list, Michelle was told it had to do with the fact that William suffered minor brain damage during labor and delivery. That’s right; the fact that William’s birth was a prolonged endeavor that required machine intervention was being used as a reason why Michelle could not care for her beloved only grandchild. While William’s sister, Monica, has previously tried to gain custody of Cameron with little success, his mother Michelle is determined to not back down until her grandson is home with her.

Michelle is one of few people in the state of Michigan who has fought to have her name removed from the secret list and won. Now that she has been removed from the registry that was preventing her from legally pursuing custody of Cameron, she’s actively moving forward with bringing him back to the family that loves him.

Michelle will be going back to court at the end of June to fight for Cameron, and she’ll hopefully have a very skilled attorney at her back. The only issue is that the family needs to raise $10,000 for the attorney. There’s little question that self-representation would not be in the best interests of the family (or little Cameron, who has been separated from his family for years now). If you live in Michigan, you can help by attending local fundraisers and court dates for this custody case. If you’re elsewhere, you can always help by making a donation on their fundraising site.