A professional ending to an emotional day

Published 9:16 pm Monday, May 21, 2012

Emotions were surely running high on Saturday, as police officers from Suffolk, Hampton and Virginia Beach, along with the Virginia State Police, took part in a massive, nearly eight-hour manhunt for a man accused of grievously injuring a Suffolk police officer and then disappearing into the woods following a traffic stop in the 1000 block of Nansemond Parkway.

Officer James Winslow, who has been on the force for about two and a half years, was found unconscious in the woods, suffering from massive blunt-force trauma to the head, face and arm, after dropping out of radio contact with dispatchers when he left his police cruiser to chase a suspect who had run from the vehicle he was driving, which Winslow had recognized as matching the description of a vehicle that had been reported stolen from Norfolk.

Initial reports about Winslow’s condition were not good. He was flown to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and rushed into emergency surgery, from which he had emerged in what the hospital characterized as critical condition. Family members and the police officers involved in the search for his assailant wondered whether he would survive. Since Saturday, Winslow has had a recovery that could be described as miraculous, though he has a long way to go before his life will be what it was before the attack.

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But in the initial hours, as police officers, helicopters and tracking dogs searched for the suspect, there was every reason to believe they were searching for a man whose actions ultimately might result in the death of a police officer.

Emotions were, indeed, running high, and police had every reason to wonder about the man for whom they were searching. Would he attack another officer with the same blunt instrument that had injured Wilson so severely? Had he somehow found a more lethal weapon during his flight? Was he waiting behind some tree to ambush another officer?

Given the unknowns and the tensions they created, there was reason to fear the search would result in further bloodshed. But the police officers involved in the search operated with the highest level of professionalism — a fact that comes as a surprise to nobody who deals with them on a regular basis. In the end, police arrested Joe Louis Staton of Portsmouth as he ran from behind a house on Nansemond Parkway.

No shots were fired, there was no retaliation for the assault on their fellow officer, and Staton was taken to police headquarters, where he was interviewed, charged and booked into the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. Now he will face trial, and a judge or jury will assess his guilt or innocence.

Those involved in Saturday’s manhunt deserve the highest praise for their professionalism and restraint. Staton deserves a fair trial. And Officer Winslow deserves the heartfelt appreciation of Suffolk’s citizens, along with their continued prayers.