Shootings remind police officers of dangers they face

Shootings remind police officers of dangers they face

July 21st, 2009 by Jacqueline Koch in News

PDF: Officer wounded; suspect killed

Video: Police continue investigation

Video: Investigation continues in police shooting

OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

June 24 -- Walker County Deputy Terry Miller shot and killed John Coates in a Chick-fil-A parking lot. The deputy was serving a warrant on Mr. Coates when he fired at Fort Oglethorpe Officer Mitchell Moore, whose body armor deflected the bullet.

July 1 -- Alonzo O'Kelley Jr., 15, was shot once in the back by Chattanooga Housing Authority Officer Lt. Erik Reeves in East Lake Courts. Authorities said Lt. Reeves saw the juvenile -- who had just exchanged gunfire with a passing sport utility vehicle -- raise a gun at the officer, who perceived a threat and fired.

Saturday -- Six Chattanooga Police Department officers were placed on paid administrative leave after their involvement in the shooting and killing of 32-year-old Alonzo Heyward. Preliminary indications were that the incident was a case of "suicide by cop," officials said.

ON PAID LEAVE

Here are the Chattanooga police officers placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation of the shooting death of Alonzo Heyward.

* Deborah Dennison, hired in 1998 as a dispatcher, became an officer Feb. 9, 2007

* Lauren Bacha, hired Oct. 19, 2007

* Zachery Moody, hired Aug. 6, 2004

* George Romero, hired Oct. 19, 2007

* William Salyers, hired June 9, 2006

* Bryan Wood, hired July 29, 2002

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

In the wake of three local officer-involved shootings in a month, police say their mindset won't change when responding to armed suspects, but they are reminded of the job's dangers.

"It would kind of just put them on alert or awareness of what could happen to them every day," Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper said. "This is not something we just hear about locally. We get those kind of alerts daily from all over the world."

Two fatal officer-involved shootings inside the Chattanooga city limits and a third in Fort Oglethorpe have occurred within a month of each other, although each incident involved separate agencies -- Chattanooga police, the Chattanooga Housing Authority and the Walker County Sheriff's Office.

On June 24, Walker County Deputy Terry Miller shot and killed John Coates in a Chick-fil-A parking lot. The deputy was serving a warrant on Mr. Coates when the suspect fired at Fort Oglethorpe Officer Mitchell Moore, whose body armor deflected the bullet.

Fort Oglethorpe police plan to develop a training program from the incident, but are waiting until the investigation is complete so the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can release the Taser camera and in-car camera videos, Police Chief David Eubanks said.

"We'd like to get our hands on that and evaluate that and see how we can turn that into a lesson plan," he said.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson is out of the office until Thursday and could not be reached for comment. CHA Police Chief Felix Vess declined to comment.

During the shooting in Fort Oglethorpe, only one of the deployed Taser's probes hit the suspect. The other hit his truck, rendering it ineffective. A Taser's two probes must both hit a target or his or her clothing for the device to fire 50,000 volts.

In incidents when it doesn't work, officers must make a decision about whether to use more force, said Emanuel Kapelsohn, president of the Peregrine Corp., a police training and consulting firm, and vice president and director of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.

"The ideal doesn't always occur in actuality, and sometimes we try to use a Taser and nevertheless have to use some higher level of force," Mr. Kapelsohn said.

The most recent officer-involved shooting happened Saturday, when Chattanooga police shot and killed 32-year-old Alonzo Heyward at his home on Seventh Avenue. Officers tried to talk him out of dropping his weapon and used a Taser on Mr. Heyward, said police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary, but they were not successful in getting him to release his gun, so several officers shot him.

Preliminary indications suggest the most recent incident was a case of "suicide by cop," and Mr. Heyward's relatives said he previously had spoken of suicide.

The six officers involved in the shooting of Alonzo Heyward early Saturday morning are on seven days administrative leave. Officers Lauren Bacha, Deborah Dennison, Zachery Moody, George Romero, William Salyers, and Bryan Wood were placed on paid leave according to Chattanooga Police Department policy. The investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Heyward's death is underway with the medical examination scheduled for today.

Six officers -- all from the police department's Fox team midnight shift -- were placed on paid seven-day administrative leave per the department's policy regarding officers' use of deadly force, officials said.

The department's sector captains already have met to discuss shifting personnel to cover the temporary vacancies, Chief Cooper said.

During leave, the department offers counseling to the officers involved and time to deal with emotions after a traumatic situation, he said.

"It's never an officer's goal to go out and use deadly force," Chief Cooper said. "That's a last resort, and they don't want to be in those situations where they can be killed or kill someone."

He said he is not aware of a need to make any changes in training or policy regarding use of deadly force.

Hearing about officer-involved shootings helps officers gain awareness of situations they may encounter, Mr. Kapelsohn said. But officers should not rely solely on prior incidents when deciding how to respond to a new one, he said.

"It heightens their awareness or renews their awareness of the fact that they're doing a dangerous job and at times may be faced with a deadly threat," said Mr. Kapelsohn, who is based in Bluefield, Ind. "But ideally, we want officers to treat each case that confronts them on a case-by-case basis."

Mr. Heyward's relatives told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that every officer involved fired a round. Whether that is the case is not yet clear, but Mr. Kapelsohn said such a response would not be unusual or a sign of excessive force.

"No part of police training says I shouldn't fire if I know you're going to fire," he said. "That's partly because there may not be that level of communication at the instant the lethal threat occurs.

"I can't assume that you see the same threat I can see from my vantage point," he said. "Even if I know you're going to fire, I don't know whether your shots are going to hit the suspect or miss him, and I don't know how many shots are going to be required to stop the threat. Also, in the midst of a shooting, I may not even be aware of whether other officers are firing or not."

Although an officer can fire several rounds in only a second or two, it takes longer for them to perceive that the threat has ceased and stop firing, he said.