Some actions are easy to justify

Jerry "J.J." Ramar recalls the moment, but only when asked.

Ramar is the Modesto police officer who, on June 14, bounded out of a Stanislaus County sheriff's helicopter, ran up to an electrified fence and took aim with his pistol. In limited light, and through a cloud of dust churned up by the rotor, he fired the shot that killed a 27-year-old man who was stomping his own son to death along a rural road west of Turlock. The shot was so perfect under the circumstances that if you saw it on a cop show you'd dismiss it as TV theatrics.

Seven months later -- and just days after another fatal shooting involving a Modesto police officer -- Ramar refuses to allow that fleeting moment to define his law enforcement career or his life.

"I am a cop," the 37-year-old said. "I have a job to do, and that's what I did. (The shooting) doesn't affect me mentally or physically. It was an unfortunate part of my job."

The facts of that case -- a crazed man kicking his child's body like a soccer ball and refusing to stop on Ramar's command, along with the presence of eyewitnesses -- told the discerning public what it needed to know: Ramar was justified in using lethal force.

In talking to Ramar on Wednesday, I hoped to understand what Latisha Leap, the officer who shot and killed a 45-year-old Modesto man in front of Modesto Centre Plaza early Sunday, might be facing or experiencing today.

But he shed little light on that. He couldn't speak to the circumstances of her case nor would he presume to predict how she'll deal with it.

No one has asked him to talk to her about it, to share how he handled his case. If she asked, "I'd keep that between her and I," Ramar said. "I'm not one to be giving advice. I had an incident I was involved in. I did what needed to be done. That's it."

Every officer-involved shooting has a unique set of circumstances, including the personalities of those involved. His case was clear-cut. Hers? Not so clear.

This time, there were few witnesses. One admits he heard nothing -- no voices, arguing or commands -- until three gunshots rang out, followed by two more shots several seconds later. He said he saw only Richard Robles Jr.'s silhouette as Robles sank to the ground.

Whether Leap ultimately handles her incident as well as Ramar handled his remains to be seen. Officers involved in such incidents are required to see a psychologist. And then there's the paperwork, writing the report explaining every last detail of what happened. Officers are placed on paid leave, usually for three days, during the in-house investigation.

In June, Ramar took six days off, four of them scheduled before the incident. He's now on special assignment, a lateral career move he began working toward well before that night in June.

Because his incident demanded such an immediate and forceful response, Ramar was deemed a hero by many who offered online comments or wrote letters to The Bee's opinion pages. The Stanislaus County district attorney ultimately determined his actions were justified.

Ramar, in turn, said the real heroes were Rob Latapie, the sheriff's helicopter pilot, along with the 911 dispatchers who spent some agonizing minutes on the phone with witnesses who described the attack while waiting for authorities to arrive.

His life quickly returned to normal, in no small part because the facts left little doubt about his performance in the heat of the moment.

He thinks about it, Ramar said, only when people like me ask.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or