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This week’s firearm-related article is interesting indeed. As regular readers know, I often analyze police involved shootings. Sadly, such analysis is normally reserved for officers that made deadly mistakes. Happily, today we get to see an officer that did it right, and in so doing, removed an obviously dangerous criminal from circulation–permanently. Fox 5 in Atlanta reports:

A man fled from police, crashed his car, then was shot and killed after attacking an officer in Rabun County this week, authorities said. The chase and shooting were caught on dash cam video which was released by the Clayton Police Department on Friday.

Clayton Police Chief Andy Strait said the officer, who has not yet been identified, attempted to pull over a vehicle along Highway 441 for doing 68 in a 45 mph zone. Instead of pulling over, the driver turned off on a side street, blew through an intersection, caught air on a curve, and crashed in the driveway of Mountain View Health and Rehab.

The video shows the officer arriving at the scene of the crash. The car was smoking and the side airbags can be seen fully deployed. The officer struggled to see the man inside, who appeared to him to have been crawling into the back seat. Eventually, the man emerged, having kicked out the back window.

The man then climbed on top of the vehicle.  With something apparently in his hand, he lunged at the officer and fell face down on the ground.

The officer commanded the man to stay down, but the suspect then got upholding that same object, which was later determined by investigators to be a knife. He came toward the officer, slashing and stabbing at him, as the officer slowly backed away.

‘At one point, he was able to kick the back window out of the vehicle, climb onto the roof with a knife and dive at the officer on the ground. Officer is continually giving him verbal commands, ‘stop or I’ll shoot,’ and the suspect says ‘I don’t care’ at one point, continues at the officer in a slashing motion, stabbing motion, within less than a foot and the officer was forced to shoot. And unfortunately, the suspect was deceased at the scene,’ Chief Strait said.

The dashcam photo heading the article shows the position of the suspect’s vehicle relative to the police car–the front of its hood is at the bottom, center of the frame–just after the crash. By all means, take the link and see the video. It’s one of the clearest of this kind I’ve seen.

In this photo, the officer, calm throughout, has called in the location of the crash, and is approaching from the driver’s side of the car, obviously trying to see inside. Unfortunately, there is still substantial dust and smoke. One can see movement inside the car, which is rocking, but not much more. The officer delivers loud, clear and simple commands throughout the encounter, just as he should. He reports he can’t see the suspect and can’t see if he “has anything”–any weapons–but notes he’s trying to break out the windows to get out of the car.

By this time, the officer has seen the suspect break out the rear window. He quickly moves to the passenger side of the car as the suspect jumps onto the roof, and launches himself, his right arm extended, at the officer, who dodges to the side. As this is happening, the officer continues to give clear, concise commands, trying to stop the suspect, who has fallen to the ground.

The suspect gets up and charges the officer wildly swinging his arm in a slashing motion. The officer repeatedly tells him he’ll shoot, but the man continues to attack as the officer retreats toward his police vehicle. With his back against the car, the officer shoots multiple shots. The suspect is visible immediately to the officer’s left, partially covered by the officer’s body. What appear to be two ejected casings are visible in the air near the officer’s head, to the right.

By this time, the suspect has fallen, right in front of the police vehicle. The officer calls “shots fired,” and keeps the suspect covered until back up arrives, still giving clear, concise commands. When backup officers arrive, he handcuffs the suspect.

The officer, a Marine veteran, then helped the other officers tend to the wounds of the suspect he had just shot. He relayed information about the suspect’s wounds to dispatch so medics would be ready to assist when they arrived at the scene. Despite their best efforts, the man died from his injuries.

Analysis:

This is a textbook case of how to do it right. Shooting someone is something no rational police officer ever wants to do, but this Marine veteran did it by the book. This is also a situation where a dash camera worked as honest officers hope they’ll work, and conditions were ideal.

The officer had probable cause to stop the suspect, and doubly so when he began to flee. Fortunately, there was no traffic, and no one other than the suspect and officer were endangered by the chase. Some might argue that after the crash, the officer could have remained behind the cover of his vehicle, but with the suspect trying to break out, he might have fled on foot, leaving the officer behind. The suspect’s behavior in fleeing raised the officer’s threat detector level. He was just after a speeder, but the suspect was behaving as someone with a great deal more at stake.

The officer’s commands were loud, clear and simple. As is usually the case, everything happened very fast indeed. The suspect broke out the rear window, climbed onto the roof of his car and launched himself headlong at the officer, his right arm extended.

It’s not possible to tell if the officer could have seen and identified a knife at this point, but when the suspect immediately got up and charged the officer, swinging his arm as though slashing and stabbing with a knife, even if the officer had not clearly seen a knife, he was justified in shooting. Any rational officer would have believed he had a knife.  In the officer’s favor is the fact he was continuing to deliver clear, concise and non-contradictory commands and was continually backing away from the onrushing suspect. He waited until the very last second before firing. The officer’s comments to the first arriving officer indicate he did see the knife prior to firing.

One might also quibble and say the officer waited too long to shoot, but nothing succeeds like success, and the mere fact he waited to shoot until he could retreat no further, and the suspect was not only in range to do him serious bodily injury or kill him, but was doing his best to do just that, will go a very long way to exonerate him. The officer also demonstrated his goodwill and professionalism by rendering medical aid.  All of his actions show he was doing all he possibly could have done to avoid shooting the suspect.

This case is instructive. It is commonly said that police work is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. This officer had no idea when he went to work that night a speeding citation would turn into a life-changing event. This video provides a brief window into the life of police officers, where things happen very fast, unexpectedly, and where one’s life can be upended in fractions of a second.

But this time, this officer can go home, glad to be alive, and secure in the knowledge he was entirely justified, and he did it right.

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