What we know for sure is that last Sunday, an Elk Grove police officer shot a handcuffed man in the back seat of his police vehicle. Initially, the Elk Grove Police Department had provided no explanation as to why the officer fired his rifle at the suspect, which ended up grazing the 32-year-old man in the face.
The man was arrested around 3 am after his wife called to complain that he had threatened her and their young daughter. The original release said that the suspect had moved around in the back seat of the police vehicle while handcuffed.
On Thursday they released more information that only added fuel to the fire.
When the suspect refused to leave the home, he verbally threatened an officer and “remained by a security door in a shooting position,” according to published reports in the Sacramento Bee, taken from the department’s spokesperson.
It is here that it gets fuzzy. He was searched, they found no weapon. He was then handcuffed and taken to the police vehicle.
The police then report that the suspect “suddenly started shouting that he had a gun and made quick movements as if he did. An officer using the computer in the driver’s seat quickly left the car and told other officers that [the suspect] said he was armed.”
The Bee goes on to report, that he “moved his hands toward his rear waist band, ignoring officers’ commands to keep his hands visible.”
“[The suspect] stretched his body away from the officers and reached below the backside of his waistband where his hands were in his pants positioning as if he was [sic] aiming a weapon,” the report said. “Believing that [the suspect] was about to shoot a weapon and fearing for his safety, along with the safety of the other officers present, the officer with the rifle fired a single round that grazed the left side of [the suspect’s] face.”
He was then taken from the vehicle, and no weapon was found on him, police said.
Elk Grove’s Police Chief, of course, said that the matter is under investigation and that they review every officer-involved shooting exhaustively “to determine if policies, procedures and training were followed.”
He said that in the meantime “I would ask that people reserve judgment about the appropriateness, or not, of the actions of all parties associated with this case until such time as all of the information is available and the reviews have been completed.”
Right. Before I get into what is wrong with this story, let me point out the obvious flaw in the Chief’s reasoning. They just put out a detailed explanation that places the officers in better light before conducting their investigation. They are asking the public to reserve judgment, but it is very clear that they have not. How can the public have confidence in the police’s own internal review, given that they have attempted to explain the incident before the investigation is concluded?
I say this in advance, because after talking with a few people experienced in the matter, they agree that this story is at best fishy and more likely a CYA attempt.
The first reaction that people will likely have is that the guy got what he deserved for claiming he had a gun. I do not agree with that conclusion, but even granting it, what evidence do we have the guy claimed he had a gun? Was the conversation or incident recorded?
Otherwise, the only evidence we have that the man made such threats and claims is the word of the officer shooting the man.
But I submit that this was not properly handled, even if the guy was stupid or drunk and making such claims.
Also this situation would be seen in a different light if the guy did have a gun, but that gets to my first problem – was it reasonable to believe, even if he made such claims, that he did have a gun?
First, when you handcuff a man, the first thing you do is a proper search. So if the officers really did believe the guy had a gun, then they are admitting they did not properly search him.
This reminds me a bit of the Galvan case where the Officer is claiming that he feared the guy had a weapon in his jacket after observing him putting his hands in and out of his pockets. But the officer’s actions were not consistent with that fear as he had his partner drive down the street, and he casually walked alongside the Galvans. Now, would you do that if you believe the guy had a weapon in his pocket? No way. He would have ordered him to remove his hands from his pockets and then searched him.
In the Elk Grove incident, had they properly searched him, they would have known he had no weapon. So did they properly search the guy?
Second problem, even if he did have a gun, his hands were handcuffed behind his back. It would be difficult to aim and shoot a gun quickly in that position. The officers would have a huge tactical advantage. And most people I talked to felt that the guy would be more likely to shoot himself than a cop.
So why the need to shoot before checking the situation thoroughly? Why use a gun rather than a taser or a non-lethal weapon? In other words, even granting the guy had a gun and the story happened as they suggested, they had no business shooting a guy in the backseat of a police car who was handcuffed.
The police chief said further, “These reviews cannot reasonably occur until the investigation into the incident is complete. In this case, there are a number of details that still require verification.”
He is correct. But that should apply to his PR department to. They should never have sent this obviously hastily fabricated story to the press. It will lead reasonable people to have more questions than answers. And it’s such an obvious rush rationalization of the incident that to me it should be more likely than not that the police know they handled this in the wrong manner.
Now, unless it was caught on tape, we may never know what really happened. But at the very least the police here are guilty of overreacting and improperly handling a situation at multiple points in time – even if things occurred as they report they did occur.
—David M. Greenwald reporting