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Police Panel Criticizes Officers in Athlete's Death

California and the West

May 04, 2000|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The city's police review board Wednesday criticized the judgment of two officers who fatally shot a former NFL player last year and also questioned the wisdom of equipping all officers with martial-arts weapons called nunchakus.

A confrontation between former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Demetrius Dubose, 28, and two officers turned deadly when Dubose resisted being handcuffed, snatched away the nunchakus used by one of the officers and began swinging the weapon at the officers.

The Citizens Review Board on Police Practices concluded that while the shooting was a justified use of deadly force under the department's guidelines, the two officers "did not exercise sufficient discretion."

Police Chief David Bejarano, in response to the report, said he felt his two officers acted properly. The shooting has been ruled justified by the district attorney.

Still, Bejarano and Mayor Susan Golding promised an immediate review of the department's use of nunchakus, including training given to officers on how not to lose the weapons in a scuffle.

Review board Chairman Fred J. Heske said Wednesday that "there were other alternatives that could have been taken" rather than the officers chasing Dubose and then, when he turned and began swinging the nunchakus, shooting him 12 times, including five times in the back.

Among those alternatives, Heske said, would have been to call for backup officers or, earlier in the incident, to not insist on handcuffing Dubose.

Officers were attempting to question Dubose, who was unarmed and initially cooperative, about why he had fallen asleep in a neighbor's apartment.

San Diego is one of the few departments is the country to give its officers nunchakus, which consist of two sticks tied by a short chain. The Los Angeles Police Department does not use the weapon.

"It would appear that the nunchakus present more of a danger to the officers than to the suspect," said the board's report. "Perhaps their use should be limited to certain specific environments, such as crowd control."

Nunchakus allow police to apply "pain compliance" on unruly suspects by wrapping the cord around their arm and twisting. In the Dubose case, use of the nunchakus escalated the incident when officers believed that their lives were in danger from the weapon.

The July 24 shooting of the 240-pound linebacker, who played four seasons with the pro football team, led to protest marches and angry community meetings. In February, Bejarano announced that officers will receive additional nonlethal weapons, including beanbag shotguns and long-range Taser stun guns.

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