Wednesday 7 August 2013

Cops  firing  their  guns  unnecessarily

There have been incidents in the past when police officers have fired their guns at suspects unnecessarily resulting in the people they were shooting at being killed. There are three reasons why the victims were killed. (1) The police officer accidentally pulled the trigger. (2) The police officer mistakenly thought his life was in danger. (3)  The police officer didn’t care if the victim was killed or not.

In August of 2010, an off-duty Thunderbolt police officer, C. Watson   accidentally discharged his handgun inside the United Community Bank.  Watson was at the bank at about 9 a.m. and was chatting with a loan officer about handguns.  The officer withdrew his weapon, which was the officer’s personal weapon, to show it to the bank official. He took the clip out and looked to see if there was an extra round in the chamber. He concluded that it was empty. As the two men spoke, Watson kept the handgun pointed toward the floor, but during their conversation, Watson accidentally fired the weapon. There was a round in the chamber. Fortunately, the bullet went into the concrete floor so no one was hurt.

A Garland Texas police officer, Patrick Tuter was fired for killing an unarmed suspect by shooting at him 41 times following a car chase in the summer of 2012. Tuter claimed that he feared for his life while pursuing Michael Vincent Allen. Their investigation revealed that the 7-year veteran police officer had rammed his cruiser into Allen's truck, cornered him and then he twice reloaded his semi-automatic gun while firing 41 shots at him.

In September 2012, New York police arrived at a convenient store that had just been robbed. A uniformed officer, his gun drawn, positioned himself outside the Bronx shop’s front door moments after the 911 call. In a flash, the store manager rushed out the door. Closely behind with his head down was Renaldo Cuevas who was the store clerk who ran full speed into the officer, sending both him and the officer tumbling to the sidewalk. The police officer’s gun was fired. The innocent clerk died from the shooting. The fatal police shooting, one of two in the city came two weeks after two police officers wounded nine people by shooting a total of 16 rounds at an armed murder suspect, leaving him dead in the shadow of the Empire State Building. The bystanders all were struck by police gunfire, ricochets and fragments.

In October 2008, an Anaheim, California police officer chasing burglary suspects shot and killed an innocent 20-year-old man who heard a commotion and emerged from his house in the early hours holding what authorities said was either a broomstick or a shower rod. The officer encountered Julian Alexander on his front lawn and shot him twice in the chest. 

In February 2011, Portland, Oregon police entered a home where they were searching for a man who was wanted on a parole violation. They rushed into the bedroom of Dustin Theoharis who wasn’t the man they were seeking. The startled man awoke and when he moved, the police shot him 20 times. He ended up having 12 operations to repair his broken shoulder, 2 broken arms and both legs were broken. He also had a compression fracture to his spine, along with injuries to his liver and spleen. Can you believe it? Both the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections ruled that the shooting was justified and in compliance with policy. Later, the new civilian watchdog of the Sheriff's Office said that the case highlights significant weaknesses in existing policies and practices regarding deadly force investigations and review.

In July 27, 2013, a neighbor in Warrington, Florida saw someone reaching into her neighbour’s car at about 2:40 a.m. and called 911. Escambia County sheriff's deputies responded as Roy Middleton, 60, was bent over, searching the car's interior. It was his mother’s car and he was searching for some cigarettes. Suddenly he heard someone yell, “Get your hands where I can see them.” He thought it was a neighbour pulling a joke on him. He backed out of the car and when he turned around to face the police in his mother’s driveway, he had the car keys and a small metal flashlight in his hand. That’s when they opened fire. Fifteen bullets were fired in his direction by the two police officers. Two of them hit him. "It was like a firing squad," Middleton said Saturday from his hospital bed.  “Bullets were flying everywhere.” He was shot in the leg, shattering bones in his left thigh. H was lucky the bullets didn’t hit his chest, neck or head. His mother’s white Lincoln Town Car sat on the driveway speckled with bullet holes. Seventeen shell casings were found in the carport. I realize that they wouldn’t have shot him if he didn’t have something in his hand but the deputies could have taken better precautions by standing behind a large object for safety. If they had, they might not have jump to the conclusion that the man was armed. Obviously, holding something in your hand when you are facing police officers is akin to standing in a puddle of gasoline and dropping a lit cigarette in it. It is damned foolish.

In January 2007, a man in Compton, California was at the front entrance to his home when the police arrived. They threatened to sic the police dog on him. He said that he would shoot the dog if the dog headed towards him. They let the dog loose and as it headed towards the man, he outstretched his arm to fend off the dog approaching him. Suddenly, the police officers on the scene fired their guns in a four-second barrage and he was hit 81 times. The dog was also killed at the same time. It turned out that the man was unarmed. The object in his hand was a flip flop shoe he found on the porch. Admittedly, he shouldn’t have told them that he had a gun but firing 81 bullets at him, even when he was down seems excessive. 

In 1999, four New York City police officers approached Amadou Diallo. He pulled out his wallet to show them who he was and at that same moment, one of the officers tripped backwards and the other three officers thought that what was in Diallo’s hand was a gun so they fired 19 bullets into him and killed the innocent  23-year-old man

In November, 2012, in the City of Cleveland, Ohio, city cops conducted a 19-mile chase through city streets. The chase began with a report of gunfire outside police headquarters, but it wasn't clear why Russell didn't stop after he had fled an earlier traffic stop. The chase ended with a barrage of gunfire (137 bullets) from 13 police officers who were in some of the 60 cruisers involved in the chase. Both the driver, Timothy Russell, 43, and his passenger, Malissa Williams, 30 were killed. Russell was shot 23 times and Williams 24. No guns were found in the car. The city fired a police sergeant, demoted two other supervisors and suspended nine more for their roles in the chase. A decision hasn’t been made at the time of this writing as to what is to be done with the officers that fired their guns. What I am wondering is how many of the bullets hit the car and how many bullets flew elsewhere?           

One of the worst police shootings in Canadian history occurred in Vancouver in 2007. The police saw a mentally disturbed man crawling across a major street in that city and video frames show that one of the Vancouver police officers shot the man to death while he was still crawling across the street.

On the 27th of July, 2013, an 18-year-old man was in a streetcar in the late hours of the evening in Toronto, Ontario and while in the streetcar, he exposed his penis and flashed a small 3-inch knife in the air. A 3-inch knife is about the size of an ordinary pocket knife. A number of the passengers in the streetcar were alarmed and some of the young women screamed. The young man told the passengers that were to leave the streetcar and they did and in less than a minute, he had the stopped streetcar all to himself as the driver of the streetcar had also left the streetcar.  The 22 police officers that ended up on the scene within a minute or so surrounded the empty streetcar with the 18-year-old man standing near the empty driver’s seat.  

Police could be heard yelling, “Drop the knife! Do it now!” The man didn’t drop the knife. A muffled voice could be heard repeatedly saying, “You’re a prick. You’re a fucking prick.” A male officer is heard saying, “If you take one step in this direction, you’re finished.”  The man on the streetcar moved slightly although he hadn’t yet stepped onto the streetcar’s front steps. At that time he wasn’t really in a position to stab or slash anyone. The police were on the sidewalk, several metres away from the entrance to the streetcar so they weren’t in any immediate danger. As a matter of fact, of the twenty-two officers on the scene, twenty of them hadn`t even un-holstered their guns. Surely a man with a three-inch knife in his hand should not have posed a real threat to the gaggle of 22 armed police officers standing several metres away especially when they all had batons and pepper spray and one had even had a Taser. In fact, Constable James Forcilli who fired the deadly shots had previously called in for an officer with a Taser to come to the scene, of which one did.

Suddenly three shots were fired. Then six more shots were fired six seconds later and all nine shots were fired within 13 seconds. Eight of those bullets fired hit the man in the streetcar. Seconds later, the officer who had arrived with a Taser entered the streetcar from a door further to the rear, and fired his Taser at the man. Needless to say, the young man by then was already dead after he crumpled to the ground so firing the Taser at him was pointless.

One is forced to ask this rhetorical question. “Why did Constable Forcilli fell that he needed nine bullets to bring the young man down?” After all, the victim wasn’t Superman—the man of steel. One bullet would have been sufficed and if not, the two that were fired after the first one was fired surely would have been sufficient. Police officers in Ontario and across Canada are trained to continue shooting until the person they are aiming their guns at are incapacitated.

Are we to understand that when the man was shot with the first bullet, he was still heading menacingly towards this constable? And even when the officer fired the eighth bullet into the young man, was the young man still a danger that convinced the officer behind the man with the Taser in his hand that he had to fire his Taser at the man's back while he  lay crumpled on the floor? If you believe that at that particular instant, the constables were in fear of their lives, then I have some property want to sell you on the cheap. It’s five kilometers south of the North Pole. Hey. You won’t even be bothered by pesky neighbours.  

I understand that after the third bullet entered the body of the young man, he fell down. If that is so, then the six bullets fired into him had to be for the purpose of making sure that the man was dead. If that is what really happened, then the young man in my opinion was murdered. Murder charges are rarely filed against police officers who shoot citizens to death. The SIU which investigates police shootings investigated 44 shootings brought about by Toronto police officers between the year of 2008 and July 2013 and of the 15 deaths, only one on-duty police officer was charged with murder.

Did the constable who shot the young man to death believe that the word ‘incapacitated’ means that the man being shot must be lying on his stomach with his arms outstretched and with nothing in his hands? One is forced to wonder whether or not the shooter really understood the extensive training Toronto police officers receive with respect to dealing with armed, deranged individuals and the true description of the word ‘incapacitated’.

Alas, their training has much to be desired. The inquest into the shooting of Lester Donaldson by the police many years ago led to recommendations for a course on ‘crisis resolution’ to be given to Toronto police officers so that they can better deal with mentally ill persons they are confronted with. However by 1977, because of budget restraints, the course was no longer being given to the police officers and subsequently more mentally ill people who confronted the police with a weapon (other than a firearm) were shot to death by the police. There was a subsequent policy created for the Toronto Police Service. It was called; Police Response to Persons who are Emotionally Disturbed or have a Mental Illness or a Developmental  Disability. Unfortunately, implementing that policy has been a problem since there still is no firm commitment by that police service to train police officers on how to deal with people who suffer from any of those problems. The former director of the SIU said that he wrote the Toronto Police Services 82 times offering guidelines with respect to confronting mentally ill persons and each time the TPS ignored his recommendations.  

I spent a year working with mentally ill prisoners and every time, I was with them, I was also alone with them even when I was doing group counseling notwithstanding that some of them were incarcerated because of them having committed violent crimes. I wasn’t a threat to them and they all knew that. Even when I was asked to talk to prisoners in a correctional institution in Ontario in 1962 who were planning to riot, I managed to convince half of the inmates in the large prison not to riot while the other half had rioted. That is because the power of persuasion can work miracles if used prudently. 

Incidents involving barricaded subjects, hostage takers, or persons threatening others or threatening suicide represent real trying and stressful moments for law enforcement personnel who respond to them. Officers first responding to the scene must quickly assess the totality of the situation, secure the area, gauge the threat to hostages, bystanders and themselves and then request additional units as appropriate.

Judging from the video I saw of the shooting, there didn’t appear to be much talking going on between the police and the deranged man. Perhaps if there had been, the shooting might have been thwarted.

Police officers must try and lessen the threat that is in front of them. Yelling at a man with a knife in his hand isn’t always the right way to deal with this kind of crisis, especially when the man is obviously mentally disturbed. The use of effective and well-known de-escalation strategies should have been the police officer’s first option.

I don’t believe that the young man really wanted to hurt anyone. He certainly had the opportunity to use his knife on the passengers and the driver of the streetcar and this he didn’t do. In fact, he even ordered the passengers off the streetcar and he didn’t stop the driver from leaving the streetcar either. If he wasn’t a threat to them on the streetcar, why would he be a threat to armed police officers? It simply doesn’t seem logical unless he wanted to commit suicide by having the police shoot him. But even if that was his motive for acting as he did, someone should have talked with him in a calm voice and get him to calm down. That is what someone trained in crisis resolution would have done. If someone at the scene had been trained in crisis resolution and had the common sense to at least try calming the man down, the man might well be alive today.

What lethal threat could a fully armed police officer such as the one that shot the young man, have felt during the confrontation when the disturbed man had a much inferior weapon? It would appear that what was on the mind of the constable that shot the young man was that he implemented what he had been taught when confronting an armed man. The police officers in Toronto and Canada are taught that if a potential assailant is within six to nine metres from them, the man could reach them before they unholster their guns. With the exception of two of the officers, the remaining twenty officers whose guns weren’t even upholstered were approximately four metres away from the man in the streetcar. However, two of the officers who were closer to the man had upholstered their guns and were aiming them at the man inside the streetcar. If the man was going to lunge at them, they could have sidestepped him and within a second, be in front of the streetcar. In any case, they shouldn’t have been that close to the streetcar. The man would be able to hear the officers speaking to him since there was little traffic on the road at that time of the late evening. 

Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association may have hit it on the nail when he said; “Certainly the fact that someone (the police officer) would lose it and shoot nine times does indicate a failure in recruitment or failure in training.”  Perhaps the officer who fired his gun nine times in a period of 13 seconds at a man who was no longer a threat to him after the first shot was fired, was scared shitless when he saw the young man take a small step closer to him even though the officer was several metres from the man.  

What follows in the next paragraph is strictly my opinion and not to be construed as fact. However, this opinion of mine is an honest one even if it seems outrageous to some of my readers.

I believe that at the moment when the constable who shot the 18-year-old to death was facing the young man who had the small pocket-knife sized weapon in his hand, the constable was shitting in his pants while he was in a state of utter panic and if he had his finger on the trigger of a M61 Vulcan pneumatically driven, six-barreled, air-cooled, electrically fired Gatling-style rotary cannon capable of firing 6,600 rounds a minute, he would have fired that weapon and held his finger on the trigger in its depressed mode even when the young man’s body was being shredded until all the rounds had been fired. I realize that is hyperbole on my part but it is my way of expressing what I believe was the real fear that particular officer was in when he fired his hand gun.

I don’t want to downgrade the normal fear that police officers have when being confronted with a man with a weapon in his hand. Researchers have identified ‘time distortions’ where seconds feel like minutes and tunnel vision distorts an officer’s perception of what is really going on around him.  These fight or flight reactions which are created in the brain’s amygdala can cause tenseness in muscles, cause one’s eyes to bulge, dilate the pupils of the eyes and pump the blood at 200 times a minute. Obviously, when a police officer is in a state of fear, he is less likely to try and find an alternative way to de-escalate the event.

However, there is a time when the officer should back partly away from a disturbed man with a knife so that the immediate fear can be lessened which will then give the officer a chance to find an alternative way to resolve the problem. This unfortunately is not what the officer did.

Further, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have been a better move on the part of the officer with the Taser if he was standing where the shooter was. That way, the young man wouldn’t have died from the shooting. It would also be appropriate if the Toronto police officers have small video cameras attached to their uniforms just like the Oakland, California police officers and other police forces across the United States have. That way, we would have a truer picture of what happened when Constable Forcilli confronted the young man he believed to be violent and dangerous and then shot him to death. 

Incidentally, he wasn’t the first man in Ontario who was shot to death by the police because he had a pocket knife in his hand. Douglas Minty, who was aged 59 was a mentally challenged man who moved towards Ontario Provincial Police Constable Jeff Seguin in June 2009 and the constable was so afraid of the man with the small pocket knife in is hand; he fired his handgun five times and shot the man to death.

Here is a knotty question for you. Why did the officer inside the streetcar with the Taser in his hand fire it at the man who had just been shot with nine bullets and had collapsed? Did he fire the Taser at the man because he thought that the man wasn’t fully incapacitated? If you believe that, my offer of the sale of that property up north is still open to you.

There certainly appears to be an overreaction on the part of the police officer who fired the fatal shots. He could have aimed at the young man’s legs instead of further up his body where death of the young man inevitable. I realized that shooting a person’s legs can be difficult when you fire only one shot but if you fire nine shots in quick succession, you have to be partially blind to not have one of them hit one of the man’s legs.

The question that must be on everyone’s mind is; did the police officer fire his gun because he was in a state of panic or was there another motive? For example, was he angry because the young man called him and the other officers fucking pricks?

Canadian police forces have guidelines as to when they can fire their weapons at a suspect and the Toronto Police Service is no different.  They use the National Use of Force Model that sets the standard across Canada as to when a police officer can resort to the use of any form of force to apply to a suspect they are confronting.

Passive resistance

The subject refuses with little or no physical action to cooperate. The officer can apply hand-to-hand restraint or the use of handcuffs or plastic restraints.

Actively resistance  

The subject uses no-assaultive physical action to resist arrest. The officer can use the metal baton, punch him or kick him in the knee or leg or restrain him in a neck hold.


The subject applies attempts or threatens to apply force against the officer such as kicking, punching, or appears to beginning to react in this manner. Less lethal weapons can be used such as pepper spray, a Taser, tear gas, baton, dogs and projectile launchers.  

Likely to inflict serious bodily harm or death 

The subject appears to have some form of weapon in his hand and is threatening to harm or kill someone or appears to have that immediate attempt on his mind. The weapon could include a firearm, a knife, hatchet, or even a stick. This is where a firearm would come into play by the police officer.

When police officers experience a real fear that they or a citizen are in immediate danger and are about to be wounded or killed by a suspect and the suspect has the means to inflict wounding or death on the police officer or the citizen, then the officer has the right to use deadly force.  

The problem facing the officers and later the investigating team after such force was applied is; “Was the fear authentic?” That is a difficult question to answer if the person shot was not so close to the police officer or the citizen so that they couldn’t escape the suspect, even momentarily.

Patrol officers nowadays are venturing into a stage of police history where violent encounters are dramatically worse than they have ever been before. Uniform officers are being tasked with more tactical responsibilities and roles, because the level of the threat has evolved to be more militant than ever before. Waiting for the SWAT team to show up can be a long wait when the adversary is trying to close in on the police officers for the kill. Smaller jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada do not have full-time SWAT teams at the ready so from the point that the call originates until the heavy weapons platoon arrives can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Until SWAT gets there, it's up to the patrol units to handle the critical incident.

Often officers on the scene are not really qualified to handle critical incidents, especially when the suspect is suffering from some form of mental illness. I certainly don’t believe that the officer that fired nine bullets into the man in the streetcar was qualified to deal with the incident he was facing. I believe that he fired the bullets while he was in a state of panic. A police officer who is a state of panic when the suspect isn’t that close to him shouldn’t be shooting at anyone, let alone a man with a knife in his hand unless the suspect has a handgun in his hand.

In other jurisdictions, critics have complained about the police culture of gun-happy police officers who maintain their right to stand their ground rather than retreat until more qualified officers arrive on the scene. Of course, there are times when retreat is not possible and the police have no other choice but to shoot the suspect. In 2012, in Toronto, there were ten fatal shootings by police officers. How many of them were really necessary?

Could the use of a Taser be sufficient to stop the suspect on the streetcar? In April 2013, Duluth, Minnesota police investigator Laura Marquardt was attacked by a woman carrying two knives in downtown Duluth. Marquardt sustained a broken nose and a concussion. Five officers deployed Tasers before one of the probes was finally able to stick in the suspect’s leg and stop her attack. Tasers work best when the two probes can get far enough apart to affect a large muscle group. When a Taser is shot, its probes spread about a foot for every seven feet of distance. Of course using a Taser on someone who in the winter is wearing a long overcoat is pointless.

I do believe however that every police officer should have a Taser with him when he is on patrol. That way, if he has to stop a man from attacking him, he can use the Taser to subdue him. It is better than shooting him to death. It is unfortunate that the officer with the Taser entered the side doors of the streetcar instead of confronting the man at the front doors. If he had been at the front doors of the streetcar, he could have subdued the man with the knife in his hand and that man would be alive today. In my opinion, that police officer made a bad judgment call by choosing to enter the street car in the side doors instead of standing in the vicinity of the front doors.

There are police officers in our police forces who in my opinion, should never be given a gun to carry with them. Consider the kinds of officers I have written about in this article. Ask yourself this rhetorical question. Would you want to be in a dark alley when one of those officers walks into the alley with a handgun in his hand?

The officer who fired the bullets into the man at the time of this writing is currently under suspension with pay as ordered by the chief of police. I will keep you up-to-date on whether or not the police officer that fired the nine bullets into the knife-carrying suspect is charged with a crime or not. 

UPDATE:  August 20, 2013.   Constable James Forcilli, the officer who shot the 18-year-old man in the Toronto streetcar to death has been charged with second degree murder.  He was released on bail after his sureties posted bail of $510,000.00                     

No comments: