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Shoot the Rabbits: Conde Veteran Advocates Police State Shooting Citizens in the Back

Arrgghh! Just when I want to feel good about the intelligence of the electorate, the Aberdeen American News publishes this strange, vague, and arguably ominous letter to the editor from Densley Zambo of Conde. I reprint in full, for accuracy:

There is no respect today.

When I was in the Army and said halt three times, and you didn’t stop, I had the right to kill you.

When I came back from Korea, I took out three prisoners. And if they run, I had every right to use whatever means I took to stop them. Otherwise, I took their place in the stockade until they were found.

As soon as we got out, I told them I was a farmer, and I shot lots of rabbits on the run. When you run, you make a decision [Densley Zambo, letter to the editor, Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.15].

Oh my.

If I’m generous, I only run the English teacher critique. This letter is a prime example of the bad writing that comes out when a writer doesn’t put himself in his audience’s shoes and think about what words he must use to make his message clear to people who can’t hear the noises echoing in his own head. Who is not respecting whom? What decision do I make when I run? What exactly does Zambo mean by “took out” prisoners? In what official capacity did he have authority over prisoners? And what prisoners? Guys in the county jail? Deserters? Prisoners of war? Zambo does not make clear what point he is making about respect and shooting people.

The editorial page is no place for vague, random strings of letters. Editors have the right and obligation to demand that letter writers respect the readers by making their point clear. The Aberdeen American News should have declined to publish this letter until Zambo could make his point clearer.

By sending Zambo’s letter back for revision, the Aberdeen editorial board could also have protected Zambo from readers’ jumping to conclusions. Readers will assume that Zambo’s letter had some purpose, some connection to current events under discussion. If we are talking about shouting halt and shooting people who are running away, then casting about for some connection to current events could lead us to conclude that Zambo is looking at the news about police shootings of unarmed black men.

I don’t want to conclude that Zambo is saying police should follow the rules of the military and that “respect” means civilians living under martial law.

I don’t want to conclude that Zambo is equating black men with animals (the numerous rabbits he shot on the farm).

I don’t want to conclude that Zambo is saying an impulsive decision to flee made by a lone, scared, unarmed man facing an armed and angry-sounding police officer is a decision to sacrifice one’s life.

I don’t want to conclude that Zambo thinks shooting people in the back is a civilized action.

Sola scriptura, I can’t make those conclusions. Called to account, Zambo can say, “I didn’t say those words.” But in the context of the news, what else could Zambo be saying?

I can only conclude that Densley Zambo holds certain freedoms for which he fought in contempt. I can only conclude that he reprehensibly prefers some outlandish and violent police state to free civil society.

Indeed, there is no respect… in Zambo’s letter, for effective writing, for the rights of the innocent, for the rule of law, and for due process.


  1. Bob Newland 2015-04-15 09:10

    Zambo does seem to be able to correctly place an apostrophe, although one robin does not mean it’s Spring, just as one “Halt!” does not confer a license to kill.

  2. Bill Dithmer 2015-04-15 09:16

    Let me make this as simple as I can. If an officer tells you to stop, the very best thing you can do to not get shot is stop what you are doing. Anything else is on you “not” the officer.

    If it wasnt this way, whenever someone turned their back to tht law the officer would just have to say, “he turned his back to me so I couldnt stop him and he just ran away.” If that same person raped your little girl later in the day I’m betting you would change your mind about using a gun when someone runs from the law.

    The Blindman

  3. Cranky Old Dude 2015-04-15 09:31

    The letter writer may have the military parts right according to what prevailed at that time or what he was told.

    Civilian officers operate under a different set of rules. Unlike some of the events we’ve seen, it seems unlikely that this one was justified. It was a traffic stop and the guy had a bench warrant for unpaid child support-that may be why he decided to bolt. In any case, he didn’t appear to be a threat to anybody as he was sprinting away. But on the other hand, we probably still don’t yet know all the details about this case.

    I have always tried to be pleasant and relaxed if pulled over. I have family members in that line of work and know how difficult and dangerous it can be. Don’t play games or tell them anything they don’t ask: “Who are you? Where are your clothes? Is that paint on your face?”

  4. Paul Seamans 2015-04-15 09:32

    Bang, bang, bang! Stop or I’ll shoot!

  5. Roger Elgersma 2015-04-15 09:34

    When I was a kid my Dad said if someone runs from the cops they shoot them in the leg and go arrest them. Now the cops fire off five or six rounds in two seconds so they are sure they are dead.

  6. Jim in DC 2015-04-15 09:49

    Mr. Dithmer — With due respect, that is cringworthy! What ever happened to giving chase to someone that is running away? If a reply would be that that person may be armed so I better shoot, is not the training law enforcement officers recieve to shoot only when there is visible life threating danger? In this most recent case, the fellow did not have a gun and if he did, I imagine if his intention was to shoot the officer, he would have done so straight away and not after he started to run. And if officers are trained well and in shape, capture of allegeged criminals fleeing would easily rule out the possibility of someone’s child being raped. That statement you use is simply fear mongering and a cop out in looking at the real problem.

    The problem we are seeing now is evident in the letter the gentleman submitted to the Aberdeen paper. This is not the military. But some officers are certainly using military force and actions.

  7. mike from iowa 2015-04-15 09:56

    I’m guessing Rambo Zambo is a member in good standing with NRA and votes Rethuglican. Your chances of being salted down with lead go up dramatically as the color of your hide gets darker.

    Do we need further proof that humans are,in fact,still predators whose instinct to kill increases when we see prey run from us? We do have forward facing eyes,just the same as all other

    On a sad note,singer Percy Sledge passed away yesterday. One of my favorite soul singers and one black man who died,but not from a cop’s bullet(s).

  8. David Newquist 2015-04-15 09:58


    You are right on two points here. The current media is in such a frenzy to attract readers and viewers that it allows any kind of comment framed in any kind of grammar to be published. However, as a number of studies indicate, the quality of comments and letters-to-the-editor published by the media determines the overall quality of a medium in the public’s eye. That is why, years ago, all staff members of a newspaper had to take their turns at fact-checking letters and working with the writers on literacy matters, if the letters were accepted. If the writers did not agree to corrections and editing, the letters did not get printed.

    Zambo reaches deep into the military latrine to fill his crock here. When a soldier is assigned to a guard mount, he is on that mount for 24 hours. When I was stationed at Ft. Bliss, our primary function was to guard the guided missile training areas during the night. During the day when training personnel was on site, guards were not needed. So, some of them were assigned to be “tail gunners.” These are the guards who watch over prisoners from the stockade who are assigned to work details. At Ft. Bliss, prisoners in for minor offenses were assigned to police up the perimeter areas, picking up trash, cigarette butts, etc. The noncom in charge of the detail would tell them all he wanted to see of them was assholes and elbows and he would instruct the guards that if any prisoner escaped, they would have to serve out the prisoner’s sentence in the stockade. I recall one officer in charge of the guard mount explaining that advice as part of the crock, because if a guard shot a prisoner unnecessarily, the guard would end up serving his own sentence in the stockade. The military rule on the use of force is to use “Only the minimum amount of force necessary to make an apprehension.” The officer was responding to a question as to why the guards were issued only one round of ammunition (on some occasions three) for their weapons. And he termed that business about serving out the sentence of an escaped prisoner as wrongful advice meant to keep the guards alert.

    The American News, for which I once wrote columns but quit after in published some blatantly erroneous representations of fact by another columnist, continues its reputation for factual slovenliness and semi-literate expression.

  9. Joseph Nelson 2015-04-15 10:18

    I have to disagree with you Cory. I think this is an excellent example of creative writing on the part of Mr. Zambo, almost poetry.

    As far as his point not being clear, his first sentence spells it out fairly well. However, a quick check of the criteria that the Aberdeen News uses for Letters to the Editor make no mention of clarity being a requirement.

    Perhaps he does hold the views that you both wanted and didn’t want to conclude. What is curious is that his writing made it to the pages of your blog, thereby indicating that it holds some importance/value, at least to you. You critique him for bad writing, critique the Aberdeen News for not sending the letter back for revision, and then critique the Aberdeen news for not protecting “Zambo from readers’ jumping to conclusions.”

    But then you go on to jump to conclusions. Perhaps you and Dennis Miller have more in common than I thought ;)

    I don’t want to conclude the you think freedom of speech only applies to those who can clearly articulate themselves in the public sphere.

    Why? Because I think I know you better than that.

    Perhaps instead of interpreting Mr. Zambo’s words and taking them to the extreme (such as he is advocating a dystopian police state), we could instead try to think of Mr. Zambo in the best light possible. Perhaps he is simply trying to advocate more respect for authority figures. Perhaps he is advocating that instead of jumping to conclusions about whether this cop is going to shoot me, or that this alleged perpetrator is going to run away from me, we should respect the laws of the land, respect those who job is to enforce those laws, and respect the people they serve and protect. Unfortunately it is the bad apples on both sides that give law enforcement doubt to trust the person they are approaching and persons doubt to trust the law enforcement official approaching them.

    Perhaps we should strive to understand the other person better before shooting them, either with bullets or with words.

    But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  10. Bill Fleming 2015-04-15 10:33

    Confusing “police” with “military” is the problem. As Mr. Nelson says, Zambo’s first sentence spells it out pretty well. Unfortunately, Nelson then tries to blur things with his litany of “perhapses”.

    Ah, so it goes.

  11. larry kurtz 2015-04-15 10:42

    howz the feces flinging going at pat’s place going, fleming?

  12. Bill Fleming 2015-04-15 10:50

    Great, Larry! There’s an ass-wipe over there right now who makes you look like a piker. ;-)

    (…pssst, per our buddy Bob, you have an extra “going” in your sentence above. I won’t hold it against you, but he might.)

  13. Chuck Point 2015-04-15 10:51

    Bill Dithmer, that kind of thinking is what has put this country in the place they are. I don’t really think you believe what you said. There are many things police in other countries do before they shoot someone. Regular police in some countries don’t even carry guns. It is our over-sized worship of Guns that is Really Bad. Repeal the Second Amendment. Take all guns away from everyone. Now, let us start from there. Thanks.

  14. Bob Newland 2015-04-15 10:55

    I seen it.

  15. crossgrain 2015-04-15 11:02

    I was speaking with a friend yesterday who happens to be a police officer. At the end of our conversation, he said something along the lines of, “Well, I’m off to ruin some peoples’ day.” To which I replied, “Hang on, what about protect and serve?” “Nah,” he says, “It’s ‘Harass and Kick Ass!” I know this fellow to be something of a jokester and I took his parting words to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it still leaves me a bit uncomfortable.

    Respect is a two-way street. If the police expect the citizen to respect their authority, the citizen should be able to expect the police to respect their rights.

  16. larry kurtz 2015-04-15 11:02

    Pat is the rabbit back-shooter in South Dakota’s briar patch: schadenfreude hasenpfeffermeister ala bile.

  17. larry kurtz 2015-04-15 11:06

    Speaking of shooting unarmed Lakota men:

    Yellow Robe confirms RCPD joking did take place but over the years, jokes became cruder, more frequent #rapidcity— interested party (@larry_kurtz) April 15, 2015

  18. Joseph Nelson 2015-04-15 11:24

    Bill, you caught me. I am secretly trying to get the word “perhaps” nominated for word of the year.

    I need a new word that means “perhaps”. Conceivably, I could have used another word. Maybe a beter word could have been used. Mayhaps I could have looked in a thesaurus. Perchance a new word would have popped out at me. Possibly.

    I was not trying to blur lines, simply trying to extract the meaning of the words. In effect, respect Mr. Zambo, and what he was articulating with such a short phrase. Admittedly, such a phrase as “There is no respect today.” needs context to be properly understood.

  19. grudznick 2015-04-15 12:11

    Let this be a cautionary tale to us all. Do not run from the police.

  20. mike from iowa 2015-04-15 13:13

    Let’s try it this way-I am a cop at a basketball game. Black players are running all directions so I yell at them to stop. They ignore me and keep running. Do I taser them first before I empty my gun? How do I determine which one(s) to shoot first? Did I exceed my authority? If they huddle with the coach during a timeout,can I arrest the coach for conspiring? Other than my target,did I miss anything?

  21. owen 2015-04-15 18:37

    I”ll conclude on the things you won’t Cory. The sad part is that there are a lot of people in this state who think like this guy does. They just don’t write letters to the editor saying it.

    I agree with Bill. This guy is confusing police with military.

  22. grudznick 2015-04-15 18:47

    Mr. Mike, who is from Iowa, why are all the players black where you come from? Aren’t you being just a little bit stereotypical? Maybe they are just players.

  23. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-15 19:26

    Zambo writes “When I came back from Korea, I took out three prisoners”. I assume that they would have been war prisoners.
    Since Zambo was back in this country when he “took out three prisoners”, where did this incident happen and when.
    Claiming to have killed three people demands an investigation and details should be reported.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-15 19:30

    That’s the scary thing here, Roger. Zambo’s references even to his own experience are so unclear, so unexplained, he leaves readers unable to know for sure what he did and thus opens himself up to all sorts of grim conclusions. Write clearly—your reputation is at stake!

  25. mike from iowa 2015-04-15 19:41

    Mr Grudznick,who is from somewhere,I guess-when was the last time you heard and how often does it happen that a cop would hose down a white guy running away from him?

  26. grudznick 2015-04-15 20:06

    I am told by my granddaughter’s boyfriend that in 2012 140 blacks were killed by police and 386 whites were killed by police. No doubt some of them were running away, those bastards.

    Mike says you should go to and “mine the date” but I don’t understand what that means.

  27. scote 2015-04-15 20:33


    Your comment “Respect is a two-way street. If the police expect the citizen to respect their authority, the citizen should be able to expect the police to respect their rights” is right on!!

    I have also heard officers make similar comments. One time an officer made a comments in a presentation that all that matters is he made an arrest and then the court system can decide if he made the right call. No regard for the impact that arrest may have on marriage, family, or the persons career that could be ruined just because of that arrest.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-15 20:37

    Perhaps of interest: here are the U.S. Army regulations, as of April 1993, on the use of deadly force in military law enforcement operations:

    3-2. Deadly force

    a. Principles defined in this regulation on the use of deadly force with firearms will be applied equally to personnel using a weapon or equipment which, when properly employed in their intended application, would exert deadly force.

    b. The Secretary of the Army, major Army commanders, or their designees may impose further restrictions on the use of deadly force if deemed necessary in their judgment and if such restrictions would not unduly compromise the national security interests of the United States.

    c. Personnel will not be permitted to perform law enforcement or security duties requiring the use of weapons until they have received instruction on applicable regulations for the use of deadly force in the performance of such duties. Additionally, annual refresher training will be given to all personnel assigned to those duties to ensure that they continue to be thoroughly familiar with all restrictions on the use of deadly force.

    d. Personnel carrying weapons for personal protection under the provisions of paragraph 2-2d will have the necessary training on deadly force commensurate with that prescribed by this regulation.

    e. For contract security forces, use of deadly force criteria will be established consistent with this regulation and local law.

    f. Deadly force is justified only under conditions of extreme necessity and as a last resort when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed. Deadly force is justified under one or more of the following circumstances:

    (1) Self-Defense and defense of others. When deadly force reasonably appears to be necessary to protect law enforcement or security personnel who reasonably believe themselves or others to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.

    (2) Assets involving national security. When deadly force reasonably appears necessary to prevent the actual theft or sabotage of assets vital to national security. DOD assets will be specifically designated as “vital to national security” only when their loss, damage, or compromise would seriously jeopardize the fulfillment of a national defense mission. Examples include nuclear weapons; nuclear command, control, and communications facilities; and designated restricted areas containing strategic operational assets, sensitive codes or special access programs.

    (3) Assets not involving national security but inherently dangerous to others. When deadly force reasonably appears to be necessary to prevent the actual theft or sabotage of resources, such as operable weapons or ammunition, that are inherently dangerous to others; such as assets that, in the hands of an unauthorized individual, present a substantial potential danger of death or serious bodily harm to others. Examples include high risk portable and lethal missiles, rockets, arms, ammunition, explosives, chemical agents, and special nuclear material.

    (4) Serious offenses against persons. When deadly force reasonably appears necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offense involving violence and threatening death or serious bodily harm. Examples include murder, armed robbery, and aggravated assault.

    (5) Arrest or apprehension. When deadly force reasonably appears to be necessary to arrest, apprehend, or prevent the escape of a person who, there is probable cause to believe, has committed an offense of the nature specified in ( 2 ) through ( 4 ) above.

    (6) Escapes. When deadly force has been specifically authorized by the Secretary of the Army and reasonably appears to be necessary to prevent the escape of a prisoner, provided law enforcement or security personnel have probable cause to believe that the escaping prisoner poses a threat of serious bodily harm either to security personnel or others.

    g. Additional requirements for the use of firearms.

    (1) Give an order to halt before firing.

    (2) Warning shots are prohibited.

    (3) When a firearm is discharged, it will be fired with the intent of rendering the person(s) at whom it is discharged incapable of continuing the activity or course of behavior prompting the individual to shoot.

    (4) Shots will be fired only with due regard for the safety of innocent bystanders.

    (5) In the case of holstered weapons, a weapon should not be removed from the holster unless there is reasonable expectation that use of the weapon may be necessary.

    h. Commanders of MACOMs may establish additional considerations in implementing procedures over the use of firearms.

    Hmmm… you can shoot escaping prisoners after giving an order to halt, if you believe the escaping prisoner poses a threat of serious bodily harm to others. Do these military criteria apply to any of the civilian police force incidents under discussion in the news?

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-15 20:45

    Joseph, I am open to the possibility that Mr. Zambo could be a sharper writer than my post alleges. You’re going to have to work harder to convince me—his inability to tell his personal narrative clearly enough to answer the questions I laid out at the top (what office did he hold? what prisoners? “took out”?) inclines me against believing he is a master of some subtle or poetic wit. With no other evidence at hand, I’m inclined to believe that he could hear what he wanted to say in his head, knew he’d raise hackles if he said it directly, and thus left a bunch of stuff out, without regard to maintaining a clear and complete essay. He read his essay to himself, still hearing the omissions that remained loud and clear in his head, and figured we’d all get his meaning without his having to put himself at risk of being held accountable for specific, objectionable words.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-15 20:48

    Given some comments I let through here, I may not be doing any better job of policing reader commentary than the Aberdeen American News did on Zambo’s letter… but I’ll say this: you commenters tend to make your points pretty directly and clearly. Do carry on.

  31. mike from iowa 2015-04-15 20:55

    Those statistics,adjusted for relative populations of blacks v whites show this- The site reported: “The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”

    The overall figures may be skewed because a small percentage of agencies actually reported anything at all. The fed does not keep stats and the police don’t want them to be kept.

  32. David Newquist 2015-04-15 21:24

    The confusion here is not between the military and civilian police, but in the fact that soldiers operate under one set of rules of engagement in combat and another set when performing guard duty. The rules on deadly force cited by Cory apply to the military police performing law enforcement duties, not to soldiers performing guard duty as watch persons guarding a military site or encampment, or in guarding prisoners. Every soldier is required to memorize and be able to cite three general orders when assigned to a guard mount. They are:

    1. I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.
    2. I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.
    3. I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions to the Commander of the Relief.

    Members of guard mounts are often assigned to guarding prisoners who are let out of the stockade when assigned to work details or to be transported. As I related above, guards were often told that if they let a prisoner escape, they would have to serve the escapee’s sentence in the stockade until the prisoner was recaptured or the end of the sentence was reached. This was said to gullible soldiers to make them diligent in watching the prisoners, but it is totally false. The Universal Code of Military Justice does not allow such arbitrary punishment.
    When Zambo writes the following, he is clearly referring to himself as a member of guard mount watching over a work detail of prisoners or during the transport of prisoners for some purpose: “When I came back from Korea, I took out three prisoners. And if they run, I had every right to use whatever means I took to stop them. Otherwise, I took their place in the stockade until they were found.”

    Under the general rules of a guard mount, a soldier does not have every right to use any means to stop them, but is governed by the rule that ““Only the minimum amount of force necessary to make an apprehension” may be used. For guards on American soil, they were issued only one or three rounds, which had to be turned over to their relief or accounted for to the Field Officer of the Day. These rounds could be used for warning shots according to the special orders, unlike the rules for the military police.

    The information given by Zambo is the stuff of beer sessions in enlisted men’s clubs, but is false. I know of cases wherein guards have had to shoot prisoners trying to escape, but these cases were covered by special orders issued on the basis of circumstances involved in the prisoners being guarded.

  33. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-16 22:56

    There is a glaring flaw in this conversation. None of us belong to a group that is regularly stopped by police. For us it’s easy to say, “Yes officer. What can I do for you?” We would say that because if we’re standing on the sidewalk chatting with a couple of friends, when the cops go back one glance would be enough.

    On the other hand, if we were dark-skinned the cops would slow down and give us a hard stare. Then they’d go around the block and come by again. This time they’d pull over, stop, and ask us what we are doing.
    “Just talking.”
    “Well, it’s time to move along.”

    Okay. Not a big deal. But then it happens the next day. But this time they tell us they think we’re drug dealers and we better watch our step because they’re going to be watching us. We should be careful where we’re hanging out.

    Then it happens again the next week. And again. Just like it happened to our aunts and uncles, siblings, parents.

    Jeez. Why would we feel comfortable or trusting around police?

  34. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-16 23:02

    I made an omission myself: “None of us belong to a group that is regularly stopped by police.”

    Except Roger. Sorry.

  35. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-16 23:18

    Exactly Deb,

    Although it has been years since I have been stopped for “attempted speeding” by the SD Highway Patrol coming off the reservation I still keep my good eye on any cop or cop car I encounter, I remain as suspect of them as they are of me.
    Generations of stories about police encounters have taught me to view them with skepticism and doubt their motto “to protect and serve”.
    Whenever possible when I see police questioning Natives, I will go and watch and be a witness should something go wrong.

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