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Rene Nunez (L) and Fidel Miranda (R and deceased)
credit: lasvegasmetro

The video that is the subject of this article provides at least a sense of what it’s like to be a police officer in a high-speed pursuit.  As much as people criticize the police and think them too dim to hold any other job, that kind of dismissive thinking is, for the most part, dead wrong.

In a pursuit, an officer’s thinking is accelerated in response to everything happening around him.  He has to be very much aware of the safety of the public. The criminal doesn’t, and often could not care less.  He has to be aware of traffic, anticipate what it will do in the next few seconds, be able to drive at speed, handle a radio microphone, provide accurate directions, anticipate the criminal’s moves, and sometimes, deal with gunfire, simultaneously.  It’s not easy, and it takes a flexible mind.

Here’s the background, courtesy of Fox News:

The two suspects allegedly fled after a July 11 traffic stop conducted by cops investigating the murder of a man near a car wash [several hours earlier], FOX5 Vegas reported.

The suspects traded more than 60 shots with police during the harrowing pursuit. The officer behind the wheel, William Umana, can be heard on video yelling ‘shots fired’ multiple times. The chase ended when the suspects crashed into the wall of an elementary school. [skip]

Police said the suspects fired 34 rounds at the officers and Umana fired 31 [actually, 32] shots at the men in the SUV.

The video begins with Officer Umana broadcasting he’s in pursuit of a “suspect” vehicle.  He does not, from that moment, provide any description of the vehicle.  He’s obviously excited, particularly when the suspects begin shooting at him, but doesn’t give any additional description of the vehicle.  According to media sources, the suspects fled from a traffic stop, so Umana–or another officer–presumably broadcast the plate number during that stop, but any officer in pursuit of a vehicle should always provide as precise a description of that vehicle and occupants as possible.  Particularly in a large law enforcement agency, officers can’t pay attention to every stop others make, and even if they did, they would only have heard–not recalled–the plate number, not the make and color of the vehicle. Later in the chase, he does provide a partial description of at least one of the occupants, but during the chase, he’s too far away to get that kind of information, so it’s hard to know where he came by it.

Umana also takes quite a bit of time telling anyone where he is. In pursuits, one must always give the street on which the suspect is traveling, the direction (compass, not “left” or “right”), and constantly updated cross streets or other well known landmarks so responding officers can judge the suspect’s position and relative velocity.  Officers must update their positions constantly, as any positional fix given is already obsolete as it’s being broadcast.

The video was shot from the officer’s body camera, which appears to be mounted on or near his left shoulder.  In the above screenshot, the suspect vehicle, a black SUV, is driving on the wrong side of the roadway.

The chase threaded through traffic upon occasion, dropping speeds considerably.  Early in the chase, the suspects began shooting at Umana, though there is no indication his vehicle was struck.  At some points, the rapidly firing suspect’s shots can be heard.  From that point onward, officer’s restraints could reasonably be off.  The suspects demonstrated they had no concern for anyone’s life and needed to be stopped as quickly as possible.

At this point, another police vehicle took the lead and Umana dropped back.  There is no indication why this was done, and a short time later, that vehicle dropped back–a second police vehicle is briefly visible–and Umana once again took the lead. Umana continued to periodically call “shots fired,” but provided no details.  At the least, he should have explained how the suspects were shooting–hanging out a window, shooting through the back window, etc.–and if possible, with what kind of weapon.  He had the time.  At one point, he told the dispatcher he had not been injured, but only in response to her question.

Umana eventually drew his handgun, which, by the number of rounds fired before a fumbled magazine change, appears to have been a Glock 17 (18 round capacity), 9mm.  He held it upward, apparently thinking of shooting through his windshield, but apparently thought better of it, rolled down his window, switched to his left hand, poked it out the window, but did not fire and switched back to his right hand.

Finally, Umana let loose five rounds in rapid fire, through the windshield of his vehicle.  He fired one handed, and from the positions of the bullet holes, it’s clear at least some of those rounds went winging off into the surrounding neighborhood.

Umana quickly grabs his handgun in both hands, apparently resting at least his left arm on the steering wheel, and rapid fires another six rounds at the vehicle, which appears to be about 30 yards ahead of him. These shots would be beyond the abilities of most police officers–they could not be accurate–even standing stationary on a range, shooting at a stationary target.

The vehicle begins to slow.  It’s not known if Umana actually hit anyone by that point, or whether they were just hyped up and confused.  As Umana draws closer, he empties his handgun–7 rounds–one handed, out his passenger window, as the suspect SUV slows, rolls to the curb and stops. The slide of his Glock locks back to indicate he has expended all of his ammunition.  At this point, Umana is shooting with a school in the backdrop, but it’s unlikely he realized that.  He was likely experiencing tunnel vision, absolutely excluding anything but what was right in front of him.

Umana opens his door, and takes a sort of cover behind the opened door as he reloads.  He badly fumbles the reload, initially trying to insert the magazine backward, but he recognizes his error, properly inserts the magazine, cycles his slide and comes out from behind cover, approaches the vehicle, and rapidly fires 13 rounds into the vehicle as it briefly backs up, then rolls into a school building and stops. It’s not possible, from the perspective of the body camera, to see who he’s firing at, or whether he was just ventilating the vehicle without having a clear target.  The suspects are out of the field of view of the camera.  Regardless of what body camera advocates claim, they don’t depict everything.

By this point, one of the suspects had run to the door–fortunately, it was locked–of the school they rolled into with the SUV.  Umana ran forward and fired another round, but again, it’s impossible to see his target.  The video ends within seconds.  Let’s return to Fox, where Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly comments:

In my opinion, they show a level of bravery, professionalism, heroics, that we come to expect of our officers,’ Kelly said. ‘The officer could have backed off but he didn’t, he stuck with that individual knowing what type of individual he was dealing with.’ [skip]

Nunez has been convicted three times and also has been arrested on robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery and grand larceny auto charges.

Miranda had previously been convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and arrested for robbery, kidnapping, grand larceny auto, prohibited person in possession of a firearm and narcotics.

Miranda was killed, and Nunez, who was wounded, is facing multiple felonies.

ANALYSIS:

Obviously, officers had to pursue and stop the suspects, who by firing on the officers in traffic, demonstrated their deadly intent. Once this happened–we’re assuming the officers knew these were “hot” murder suspects–they had no choice but to continue the pursuit. The criminal’s gunfire opened up the officer’s options. Obviously, we can only see events through Umana’s perspective, so we can’t see any additional police vehicles or their proximity or actions, but it appears that Umana did not coordinate with any other officers in any real way–there is no real communication with other officers–and his offensive actions suggest he was acting alone, not waiting for anyone to help.

Of greatest concern is Umana’s shooting.  It is always a very bad idea to shoot through windshield glass because one can never be certain where the rounds are going. This is particularly true of handgun rounds, and many tests have been done to confirm the unpredictability of bullet trajectory and performance when fired through a sharply sloping vehicle windshield.  Police officers are responsible for every round they fire; Bad guys don’t care.

This problem was compounded by Umana’s shooting while moving at high speed, and one handed.  In addition, shrapnel from the windshield, and even from the rounds fired, could easily have impaired Umana’s vision or blinded him.  He does not appear to be wearing any sort of eye protection.

Virtually every law enforcement agency has rules against firing from moving vehicles, and for good reason.  It seems clear Umana could not aim while firing with his right hand only, and the pattern of holes in his windshield makes that clear.  He could not adequately control recoil, and was shooting only in the general direction of the suspect SUV.  We also don’t know if he hit anything else, and knowing Metro, we’ll likely never know that.

When Umana fired two handed, it appears he could have had something of a sight picture, but considering both vehicles moving at speed, it would have been difficult indeed to focus on the front sight. He was probably just shooting in the direction of the moving vehicle, which was not maintaining a constant speed and direction, and again, shooting through the windshield.

What else could he have done?  Officers are taught a variety of ways to stop a fleeing vehicle, including a “spin and pin” maneuver.  But again, Umana–and other officers–seems to have given no thought to that, or to coordinating with other officers to stop the SUV.

It’s unlikely in the extreme that Umana had any idea of what was around or beyond the SUV when he was loosing rapid fire bursts in its general direction.

There is an argument to be made that when a suspect has demonstrated he cares nothing for human life, when his acts are so deadly and dangerous, an officer is justified in shooting to immediately stop the shooter, even if he injures or kills innocents.  However, such rare and narrow exceptions apply to shootings taking place among innocents in very close proximity, as in the middle of a restaurant or mall. In this case, the suspects were apparently shooting only at the pursuing officers.

In a genuinely deadly force situation, which this appears to be, there is no limit on the number of rounds an officer may legitimately fire to stop the suspect(s).  If one will do, that’s great, but if 10 are required, that’s fine too. However, at the least, Deputy Umana demonstrated less than stellar fire discipline and marksmanship.  This is not surprising.  Most officers are not competent with firearms, as I’ve often noted.  From his two-handed grip alone, it’s amazing the slide of his handgun hasn’t ripped the skin off his left thumb.

Deputy Umana got the job done, and thankfully, apparently no one but the suspects were injured or killed.  Even if Umana shot up a variety of innocents, everything known about Metro suggests he would suffer no discipline, and surely would not be fired. That’s a story I tell in my recently published book: License To Kill: The Murder of Erik Scott, which is available though Amazon, and at North Slope Publications.com.

Heroic?  Perhaps, but if Metro has even a mote of professionalism–that’s always an open question–Deputy Umana’s superiors will be looking into better training, not just for Umana, but every Metro officer.  This incident could easily have left wounded and dead innocents along the path of the pursuit.