Chief: Cedar Rapids police acted properly in not confiscating Livingston's guns

Livingston used AR-15 rifle, handgun in Cedar Rapids murder-suicide, police say

Rick Smith
Published: February 5 2014 | 4:46 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:13 am in
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Police Chief Wayne Jerman on Wednesday said his police officers take guns from homes to which they are called when they find a person is a threat to himself or herself or to others.

Robert Livingston was not such a person the evening of Jan. 28, Jerman told The Gazette Wednesday.

On that Tuesday evening, the 47-year-old Livingston summoned police officers to his house, asking to be taken to Mercy Medical Center for help with an emotional crisis related to his troubled marriage, the chief said. He told the police he had guns.

Two officers answered the call, and at least one of the officers talked to Livingston about the guns. Livingston said the guns were in a safe and had trigger locks, which satisfied the police officer who then transported him to Mercy Medical Center, the police chief said.

Less than a day and a half later, Livingston entered the home of his mother-in-law, Linda Huber, at 3515 Banar Dr. SW, three blocks away from his own house, with a rifle and handgun, and shot Huber, his wife, Ingrid, and then himself.

Jerman said the officers who answered the Tuesday evening crisis medical call at Livingston's residence, at 3600 Big Horn Rd. SW, could not have foreseen that Livingston was a tragedy in the making.

"(I)f someone says that 'I’m experiencing some stress and I want to go to the hospital to speak to a professional because of a relationship,' does that warrant automatically taking someone’s weapons when all they’re indicating is they wish to speak to someone regarding some relationship issues?" the chief asked.

It doesn’t, he said.

"What we know now, we didn’t know last Tuesday," the chief said. "… There was nothing done (last) Tuesday night that was done outside of policy or practice."

In a 90-minute interview in his office on Wednesday, the chief said more access to mental-health counseling and more awareness about domestic violence were two places to seek improvements in the community so that acts of violence such as Robert Livingston’s do not happen again.

At the same time, he did not suggest any specific policy areas in his department that might benefit from review and improvement, particularly so when guns and mental and emotional health show up in the same tragic events.

Police officers can’t be confined by a "cookie-cutter approach" when they are sent out to residence to deal with a wide range of issues, the chief said.

"That’s our job is to dig into, stop being sort of generic and broad, and say what type of issues are here?" Jerman said. "And the person says, ‘I’m just experiencing stress from the breakup … . And we’ll inquire further.

"Well, in this case, it was revealed that there were weapons in the house. But they were secured in a safe with gun locks. Again, without being threatened with danger, what authority do we have to remove those weapons?"

The chief said he suspected that some officers ask to take weapons out of a house for safekeeping in certain situations even if they might not have legal authority to do so.

"An officer can certainly ask," he said. "They’re not prohibited from asking. And if the individual wants to surrender it, certainly we’ll accept it for the individual."

Jerman said Cedar Rapids police officers also had gone to the Livingston home on Dec. 9 after a nonfamily member called police about vague references to suicide that Robert Livingston had posted on Facebook. The matter was handled by an officer and did not require a report, he said.

The officers who responded to Livingston’s house on Jan. 28 to take him to the hospital did not mention the earlier call to the home in their report when the decision was made that his weapons were safe and secure, the chief said.

Jerman said murder-suicides such as Livingston’s can sometimes seem all too common nationwide, but he said such a case remains "extremely rare" in Cedar Rapids.

He recalled Thanksgiving Day 2007 when, as assistant police chief in Montgomery County, Md., he was called to the scene of murder-suicide in which a husband shot his wife and his three children, ages 12, 10 and 7. In that case, the wife had asked the court to seize her husband's rifle as part of a protective order, but the court declined to do so.

Maryland law at the time only allowed for seizing handguns in such cases.

Jerman on Wednesday remembered the 2007 incident as if it was yesterday, and he said the events surrounding the Livingston shooting last week in Cedar Rapids will have an enduring impact for Cedar Rapids police officers even as it has had a devastating effect on the family of those who died.

"In the police profession, you always have to have a heightened level of awareness," Jerman said. "Does it increase immediately following a situation or call like this? It certainly does occupy any vacant space that an officer can potentially have the next time they get a similar type of call."

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