Police faced with ‘suicide’ dilemma

Fri, Oct 26, 2001 (9:41 a.m.)

The gun remained at Jeffery Daniels' side as three Metro Police officers stood outside his front door.

The officers' guns were in their hands as one of the officers, Ted Glaude, urged -- and then yelled at -- the man to put the gun down. As Daniels started to raise the handgun, Glaude, 30, a Metro officer for about four years, fired a single shot, fatally hitting Daniels in the chest.

Consistent with department policy, Glaude is now on administrative leave with pay, pending a coroner's inquest.

What officers didn't know Tuesday night in the apartment in the 6900 block of Dunsbach Way near Lake Mead and Hollywood boulevards was that Daniels apparently wanted the officer to fire.

"He made several statements like, 'I hope it's a clean, quick shot,' " Deputy Chief Ray Flynn said. "All the statements from the residents were consistent with that."

Police also found in the apartment a note carrying suicidal statements, Flynn said.

The confrontation involving the officers and Daniels changed when police say Daniels moved the gun toward the officer. It raised the threat to deadly force, and the officer's bullet hit where he was trained to aim -- "center mass."

"Even if it's 'suicide by cop,' what's to say he's not going to shoot at the cop," said Lt. Jim Duncan, who investigates officer-involved shootings for the San Diego Police. "If they are pointing a gun at you, then you have to say their intent is to shoot."

Metro and officials from other police departments say officers are trained not to shoot to kill, but to stop the threat. That means not shooting the gun out of someone's hand or shooting them in the leg, but to shoot at the biggest available target -- normally the chest.

"If you miss, the threat is still present, and that bullet doesn't stop just because you missed," said Sgt. Clint Nichols, Metro's rangemaster who trains police recruits. "In life or death situations, the chances to strike someone in the arm or legs is a very remote possibility."

Duncan said shooting guns out of suspects' hands isn't something that is taught.

"Unlike Dirty Harry or some other fictional TV cop or movie cop, officers aren't involved in shootings very often," said Duncan, who investigates homicides in San Diego. "We teach to shoot for the largest part of the body, the center."

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, doesn't question the veracity of the officers and of the others who witnessed Daniels' shooting, but he does want -- as in all officer-involved shootings -- an aggressive investigation.

However, Peck understands it is not feasible for officers to try to shoot someone in an arm.

"If someone is in fact in a life-threatening situation with someone pointing a gun, it really isn't terribly sensible for the officer to shoot them in the hand or the arm in an attempt to disarm them," he said.

Peck would like Metro to take a look at their training and practices after a number of shootings by officers in the past few years.

"Some questions that need to be asked and some issues that need to be explored in a serious and objective way ... Are officers too frequently putting themselves in life threatening situations where other tactics would be better? And might it be the case that officers generally are too quick to draw their weapons?" he said. "I don't know the answers to those questions. I think that those issues need to be brought to the table and addressed."

San Diego Police have had six officer-involved shootings this year and 12 last year. Denver Police have had eight officer-involved shootings so far this year.

Daniels' shooting was the 14th Metro officer-involved shooting so far this year. Five of those shot by officers have died this year. One of the deaths, David Herrera, a schizophrenic man who was shot to death as he was confronted by police while holding a knife, drew criticism, which focuses on officers not receiving training in dealing with the mentally ill.

The officers in the shooting were cleared by a Clark County coroner's inquest ruling that the death was justified.

While Sheriff Jerry Keller stood by his officers' actions in the case, he did meet with advocates for the mentally ill to discuss a new training program for officers to prevent officers' encounters with mentally ill people from escalating into a use of force situation.

Metro's deadly force policy is spelled out in their officer's policy manual.

Officers are authorized to use deadly force to protect themselves or others from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. Metro's policy is nearly exactly the same as police departments in Memphis, Denver and San Diego -- three agencies about the same size as Metro. Police from the three departments say their deadly force guidelines mirror law enforcement departments across the country.

That deadly force policy can involve a knife or a bat or even a telephone receiver, Duncan said.

"If someone is 20 feet away and starts running at you, he's going to connect," he said. "If great bodily injury could occur, then deadly force can be used."

Police have been criticized in the past for shooting suspects armed with knives, but Lombard said officers are still trying to protect themselves.

"We hear from some people, 'Why didn't you just take the knife away?"' Lombard said. "If you try it, you are going to get cut. We had an officer wrestle a man with a knife, and the officer was seriously injured."

Officers aren't taught to shoot to kill, said Sgt. Tom Lombard, a Denver Police Department spokesman, but to stop the threat.

Duncan said if officers were taught to shoot to kill, departments would instruct officers to shoot at people's heads.

"We have a lot of people survive their wounds in (police-involved) shootings," he said.

A head of a San Francisco human rights group says police have every legal right to protect themselves when faced with deadly force.

"I wouldn't want to be the one waiting to see whether or not the person pointing the gun was dangerous," said Van Jones, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which also started the Bay Area Police Watch and the New York Police Watch.

But he points out police are not very well trained to deal with suicidal or mentally ill people who are armed with something less than a knife.

"Law enforcement officers tend to trained in command and control. They give orders, and if they are not complied with, then they begin to use force," Jones said. "Often someone with a mental health issue and holding a screwdriver, creates a suicide by cop (situation)."

"Police need to be better trained because suicide assistance should not be a city service provided by the police department," he said.

Jones pointed to the Memphis police as a department trying to balance force with officers trained in dealing with those with mental illnesses.

Memphis Police Maj. Sam Cochran said the program is aimed at preventing force from escalating in situations with mentally ill people. However, he said that doesn't mean that when officers face deadly force they won't respond.

"There are no guaranteed outcomes when deadly force is an issue," he said. "This program doesn't mean we will never have a shooting. You have to use the necessary force to protect yourself and to protect others."


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