Henry K. Lee, 3/4/13
A Hayward police officer shot at a vehicle that was about to ram a patrol cruiser Sunday – the fifth officer-involved shooting in the Bay Area in four days that ended in a fatality.
The shootings, coming on the heels of the ambush slayings of two Santa Cruz police officers, have raised questions about where the blame falls: on suspects bent on flouting police authority, or on officers acting too aggressively as a result of fear or poor training.
Those on all sides of the issue agreed Sunday that the number of recent incidents – which included shootings in Union City, San Francisco, San Jose and Sonoma County – inevitably draws scrutiny.
“We do see clusters of shootings that are just totally unrelated and just random. You have to analyze them individually,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who studies police use of force. “But when you see a cluster that follows officers who are murdered or ambushed, it certainly raises a red flag. You really need to have an extra filter put into the investigations.”
Civil rights attorney John Burris said he was concerned about officers possibly having a “siege mentality” after fellow law officers are killed. Burris said Vallejo officers involved in a spate of fatal shootings last year may have resorted to deadly force more quickly as a result of the shooting death of a fellow officer.
“You have to be mindful that officers could lose their objectivity and therefore react from a position of unmitigated fear and overreact to a situation, based on what happened to other officers,” Burris said.
The attorney, who frequently sues police departments involved in fatal shootings, added, “One should always have a jaundiced eye when police officials claim that a shooting was justified.”
‘Part of their jobs’
Michael Rains, whose law firm is representing all the officers involved in the recent incidents, said although he has seen clusters of police shootings before, “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like this.”
But Rains said in each case, officers “are reacting to assaults on them. They are reacting to violent and criminal behavior of suspects. They are doing their jobs, and part of their jobs is to use lethal force. The officers are simply doing what society asks them to do, nothing more.”
Sunday’s shooting happened near Fletcher Lane and Watkins Street in Hayward about 3:20 a.m. An officer, accompanied by a civilian riding along in the patrol car, was trying to pull over the reckless driver and a passenger in a Honda Civic when the suspect began driving toward the police cruiser, said Hayward police Sgt. Eric Krimm.
The suspect sped toward the cruiser, prompting the officer to fire at the driver “in defense of the ride-along and himself,” Krimm said. The Honda hit the passenger door of the police car, knocking the door into the civilian, who suffered a minor injury.
The car sped off but crashed a half-mile away at D Street and Foothill Boulevard. Officers found the passenger dead, either from being shot or injured in the crash “or a combination of both,” Krimm said.
The driver, Arthur Pakman, 23, of Oakley fled on foot but was arrested on suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer. He suffered injuries from the crash.
Alameda County prosecutors could charge Pakman with murder in the death of his passenger under the state’s provocative-act doctrine, which holds an accomplice responsible when a crime partner acts in a way that leads to death.
Of the five fatal incidents involving officer shootings, three killings came at the end of police chases. Police in many cities are authorized to continue a chase if the person being pursued is suspected of a violent crime. But officers have to weigh the risks to innocent bystanders and ensure that it doesn’t become “personal,” with police capturing the suspect at all costs, Alpert said.
On Thursday night, a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed kidnapping suspect Richard Shreckengaust, 37, after fearing the man was reaching for a gun at the end of a chase from Santa Rosa to Guerneville. No gun was found, however. The alleged kidnap victim, who was able to text details of her ordeal to a friend, was unharmed.
Early Saturday, a Daly City police officer shot and killed an alleged car thief in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley after the suspect raised a gun at police at the end of a chase.
Expert discounts link
On Saturday afternoon, San Jose police shot and killed an armed suspect at the end of a chase after he “displayed some type of threatening behavior toward the officers,” said San Jose police Sgt. Jason Dwyer. During the pursuit, the man brandished a gun at police and rammed several police cruisers, Dwyer said.
About 10 p.m. Saturday, Union City police shot and killed a suspect after he allegedly pulled out a handgun from his waistband after he fled from a car stop on Dyer Street near Meteor Way.
“In defense of their lives, officers fired their weapons, shooting the suspect several times,” said Union City police Cmdr. Ben Horner.
David Klinger, a former police officer and an associate professor of criminology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, discounted a link to the slayings of the Santa Cruz officers.
“These types of clusters happen around the country. They happen in groups, and there won’t be any for a while, and then one or two will happen, and then it will be fairly even, shall we say, across time,” he said of officer-involved shootings. “The fact that unfortunately two officers have been murdered is, in all likelihood, unrelated to the subsequent shootings.”
Whether an officer is shot dead or kills someone in the line of duty, long-standing protocols are immediately activated. Officers involved in critical incidents are sequestered, obtain legal counsel and are interviewed by internal affairs investigators and prosecutors.
After two Santa Cruz police officers were killed Tuesday, allegedly by a military veteran and serial Peeping Tom who was shot dead by other officers, the 94-member force was given two days off to allow them to grieve, and patrols were handled by Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers.
‘Dangerous out there’
Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel noted that although he had attended the memorial for four Oakland police officers shot dead in 2009, he never knew what Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan had been experiencing until now.
Harry Stern, an attorney who also represents officers, also disputed assertions that shootings by officers increase after one of them is killed in the line of duty, noting that after the four Oakland officers were killed, there was “no corresponding spike in officer-involved shootings after that.”
Any spikes in shootings by officers are because “it’s dangerous out there, and the police respond accordingly,” Stern said.