Denise Hawkins, 18

Rochester, New York
November 11, 1975

Agencies: Rochester Police Department New York

Cause of death: Shooting

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On November 11, 1975, 18 year old Denise Hawkins was running from her abusive boyfriend down a Rochester, NY street when a 22 year old Rochester, NY Police officer named Michael Leach shot her dead.

Leach, the son of former Rochester, NY Police Chief Delmar Leach, stated that Hawkins had a knife in her hand.

Denise Hawkins’ death was met with an outcry for justice from the community in Rochester, NY for several reasons.

First, because she was an African American shot by a white police officer.

Second, because she was a woman.

Despite demands from community activists in Rochester, such as the late Rev. Raymond Graves, Rochester Police officer Michael Leach was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of Denise Hawkins, and her killing was found to be justified.

And, as is usually the case after a Rochester Police officer shoots and kills an innocent person, Rochester, NY Police officer Michael Leach was promoted to Captain.

Michael Leach retired from the Rochester, NY Police department in 2001.

If the name Michael Leach sounds familiar, it should.

You see, on Saturday July 21, 2012 Leach shot and killed his own son at the Clark’s Beach Hotel in Old Forge, NY.

New York State Police say that Michael Leach, 59 mistook his son, Matthew Leach, 37, for an intruder, before shooting him once in the back.

According to New York State Police, Michael Leach, now a part time Perry, NY Police officer, shot and killed his son with his .45 caliber Glock handgun, when his son entered the motel room they both shared.

The Leach’s were part of a motorcycle group that stays at the Clark’s Beach motel every couple of years.

Dan Rivet, owner of the motel said “For some reason, nobody knows why, his father whether he was having a nightmare or whatever he had his service revolver apparently in his room next to his bedside and he thought he was an intruder and shot him once in the back.”

As a filmmaker, writer and activist exposing police misconduct, I’m used to covering cases where police officers kill an innocent person.

In my more than 15 year career, this is the first time I have covered a story where the victim is not a stranger to the police officer, but they’re actually a family member.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Some would argue that actually Michael Leach’s training and learned behavior as a Rochester, NY Police officer, and the fact that he had previously killed an innocent person, had alot to do with his shooting and killing his own son.

I think there is something here that law enforcement would never want to address or in any way mention, and that is a certain state of mind that police officers have, where they are overzealous, trigger happy and overreact.

And I think that Michael Leach has a history of this.

And sadly, I believe it is exactly what led to Matthew Leach being senselessly killed by his own father.

Police officers are trained to shoot to kill, not shoot to wound, or shoot to disable.

In my work over the years, I have talked about what law enforcement refers to as “Center mass”, that area just below the neck and just above the waist.

It is this area of the body that police officers are trained to shoot at for a couple of reasons.

First, because it is the broadest part of the body, therefore it is an area which would most likely guarantee a “sure hit.”

But perhaps more interesting, is that “center mass” is the area of the body where a shot is most likely to cause death, hence the “shoot to kill” training.

And it is that same area where Michael Leach shot his own son.

Except, I do find it disturbing that Matthew Leach was shot in the back, I mean, we now know that it wasn’t an intruder, and that in fact it was Leach’s own son, but one can’t help but wonder, what if it had been an intruder, would shooting someone in the back be justified?

Again, I understand perhaps Michael Leach really thought it was an intruder breaking into his motel room.

But if a person has their back to you, where is there a threat?

And if a person has their back to you, where would there be a need to use deadly force?

Certainly I feel these are important questions which need to be answered.

I hope that the New York State Police do not in any way, shape or form give any favoritism to Michael Leach as a fellow law enforcement officer.

I hope they conduct a complete and thorough investigation.

I guess in a way it is ironic, that 37 years ago, just as Matthew Leach was being born, his father, a young, overzealous, trigger happy cop shot and killed an innocent woman who was actually running for help, and now Michael Leach, overreacts, is trigger happy, and shoots his own son in the back, killing him.

Sadly, the Rochester, NY Police department taught Michael Leach well.

They taught him to shoot to kill.

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