There have been three officer involved shootings in the past week or so, two you will never hear about because they involved white suspects. The one getting the press involved Los Angeles County deputies. They encountered a black gunman firing random shots. They gave him repeated commands to drop the weapon, that were ignored. Once the officers fired and the suspect went down, he continued to maintain control of the pistol and they continued to fire. Thirty three rounds later it was over. The perpetually outraged are, well, outraged.
The standard training is for a peace officer to fire to eliminate the threat. A gun in hand is a threat. An autopsy may show that the suspect sustained fatal wounds while still standing. That means that the suspect would not have survived the encounter. It is not an indication that the suspect was incapable of firing his weapon. The officers are justified in believing that he posed a continuing threat to officers and bystanders. The ME will always have an advantage over officers, in determining if death has occurred. The presence of the patient on the ME’s table is usually a reliable indicator.
The FBI lost three agents in Miami when they engaged two bank robbery suspects. Both suspects sustained “fatal wounds” in the opening moments of the gun battle. They continued the fight for several minutes resulting in the death of three agents.
I suspect that part of the controversy is that death recorded on an IPhone is not as stylized as a Quentin Tarantino production and this is disappointing. People are horrified to see the death of a suspect unfold before their eyes, somebody has to take the blame. Why not the recently departed? The suspect after all set the chain of events into motion. The suspect had the ability to end the confrontation by obeying police commands. The cops did not have the ability to walk away and avoid the confrontation. Had they done so, this same crowd, less the family of the suspect, would still condemn the cops.
The other two shootings, one in Texas and one in California have been characterized as “suicide by cop”. There is ample evidence that this is the case in the California incident. First the suspect indicated that he intended to commit suicide by cop. In this incident the Deputy backed off as the suspect advanced until it became clear the suspect would not abandon the confrontation California Sheriff’s Deputy Shooting.
The Texas incident isn’t as clear cut. An officer responded to a campus parking garage for a report that a suspect was breaking car windows with an ax. He found the suspect and two other males standing together. The story is unclear as to the role of the other two males. There is no mention of a confrontation among the three and no indication that they acted in concert with the suspect.
The officer called out to the suspect to drop the ax. Instead the suspect advanced upon the officer. Despite commands to “back off” the suspect continued to advance and the officer shot him. The whole confrontation lasted about ten seconds and was recorded from multiple angles.
I suspect there is another dynamic going on in shootings like the ones in Ferguson and this one at the University of North Texas. There isn’t any indication of suicidal intent on the part of either suspect. I see an outsized ego, a desperate search for respect, a contempt for the conventional and an acknowledgement that things aren’t likely to get better on the part of the suspects. There are no dragons to slay, no romantic quests to pursue, but watch me back this cop down, I’ll be a legend in my own time, or not. It’s almost a misplaced belief that bad things don’t happen to me. Who knows, this guy may have gotten to many participation trophies and never knew the agony of defeat.
One final comment, when suspects display deadly force, a knife or ax, the appropriate law enforcement response is to meet it with deadly force. Some asshole wants to bring a knife to a gunfight that’s his problem. One on one a taser is not an alternative. Taser’s don’t always work on the really crazy or really high. If the taser failed to work, there would be no time to deploy a firearm. Even the stupidest crook is going to figure out that after the cop tried to light his as up with 50,000 volts, that the cop was not his friend. The focus belongs on the suspect’s action, he started the train rolling down the track. The suspect is the one engaged in criminal behavior.
Police officers are under no obligation to try and discard a variety of alternatives prior to resorting to deadly force. It speaks to the high regard for life that law enforcement officers, given the opportunity, will
often almost always resort to less that deadly force. There are hundreds of thousands of confrontations every year where deadly force may have been an appropriate response, yet there are roughly 400 police shootings a year.
On May 10, 1920, Ranger Kiowa Jones duly noted the disposition of one prisoner as: “Mean as Hell. Had to kill him.” Some things never change.