Arthur Kirk: The Investigation

Governor Bob Kerrey, circa 1980s

Governor Bob Kerrey, circa 1980s
Courtesy U.S. Government
Typical 1984 Nebraska State Patrol vehicle

Typical 1984 Nebraska State Patrol vehicle
Courtesy Nebraska State Government

After Arthur Kirk was killed by a Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team, some charged that the killing was not justified and that Kirk was allowed to bleed to death while the Hall County Sheriff was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The legislature and Governor Bob Kerrey appointed former Lincoln judge Samuel Van Pelt as a special investigator to review the case and the charges.

His report was released in December, 1984. Van Pelt said that the death of Kirk could have been prevented, but police acted in a prudent manner under difficult circumstances. Van Pelt concluded that the slaying of Kirk by the Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team occurred because of "too many unrelated and coincidental factors" and wasn’t an orchestrated killing by police as some of Kirk’s friends had claimed.

The highlights of the report were:

  1. The state should consider a moratorium or limitation on foreclosures on farm loans to give the agricultural economy time to recover and to give farmers under stress time to cool down and repair their finances.
  2. Ministers and psychologists could go along when foreclosure papers had to be served to farmers on the edge. They also could be used in negotiations during hostage situations and other emergencies.
  3. Criteria for selection for SWAT team members and implementing the team should be spelled out in greater detail.
  4. Kirk’s lender, Norwest Bank of Grand Island, was not at fault.
  5. At the point Kirk left the house, "He had reached such a state of paranoia that it is difficult to hold him responsible for his actions." Van Pelt also said that Kirk’s troubled state of mind might have been fueled by radical groups.
"Kirk’s faith would have been better placed in his own church and religion, or in an agriculturally oriented support group like the Farm Crisis Response Council, sponsored by the Inter Church Ministries of Nebraska."

Finally, Van Pelt said the farm crisis was the real cause of the killing.

"The first causation factor, and the backdrop of the entire scenario, is the farm economy."

It could have been worse. Van Pelt said it’s lucky that the Patrol did not try to use tear gas to catch Kirk. Kirk had a gas mask, and if the Patrol had used gas and then rushed the house — thinking that Kirk was incapacitated — several officers could have been shot. The SWAT team was "passive and not provocative" in its actions, Van Pelt concluded.