Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsDeath

Cost Is a Factor in Deadly Force

An O.C. furor points up disparities among police forces in using less-lethal weapons to subdue.

September 04, 2006|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

The police officer was still trying to load pepper spray bullets into the gun when the young woman, a knife firmly in hand, made a sudden move that police took to be a lunge in their direction.

Time had run out.

Two other officers fired at the dark-haired woman, striking her in the chest, the part of the body that law enforcement regulations suggest police aim for in a life-threatening encounter. She crumpled to the grass and died a short time later.

The minutes it took to deliver the less-lethal weapon to the Huntington Beach park, and then to load the pepper spray pellets, had seemingly come at a high price. Another officer was also rushing beanbag ammunition to the scene.

Residents in the congested, apartment-heavy neighborhood, some of whom witnessed the early-morning shooting last month, said they were appalled that the 19-year-old woman couldn't be spared, and pointed to the recent shooting of a barricaded man in Irvine where police fired sponge foam rounds at the man to subdue him without taking his life.

Many have called the Huntington Beach officers' action a simple case of murder.

Police, however, say that the officers involved in both cities had an equal desire to preserve human life. To them, the death of MacDonald and the survival of Bahram Nezari laid bare the disparity among Orange County cities that have access to the expensive, high-tech weaponry that is designed to spare lives -- and those that do not.

Irvine police were able to bring their standoff with Nezari to a nonfatal conclusion because nearly every patrol car in the city is equipped with a 40-millimeter launcher that can release volleys of pepper spray, rubber projectiles and other "less than lethal" munitions.

In Huntington Beach, only a few patrol cars are equipped with launchers, so officers often have to scramble to bring them to incidents where they encounter people they consider dangerous. Additionally, stun guns are optional equipment for police in Huntington Beach, and the officers in the MacDonald shooting did not have them.

Lt. Craig Junginger, spokesman for Huntington Beach police, said that even if more officers opted to carry stun guns, "we don't have enough to assign to every officer."

Santa Ana, Anaheim and other large cities in Orange County are also trying to catch up with Irvine's stock of less-than-lethal guns.

"There are financial issues you have to deal with -- plus training issues," said Rick Martinez, police spokesman in Anaheim where Chief John Welter's budget priority is getting more officers on the street. "These alternative weapons compete with a lot of different priorities."

Irvine Police Lt. Rick Handfield said his department bought the weapons for its 117 street officers at $500 apiece for the launchers and stun guns. The rubber bullets, pepper-spray bullets and other munitions cost $10 a shot. Training for a new weapon can take 24 hours; the department has just spent $78,000 on a facility where officers can simulate using them.

The systems are the products of research into less-lethal munitions by the U.S. Justice Department, which conducted its first conference on the subject in 1972.

The effort was accelerated in 1985 when the U.S. Supreme Court placed limits on deadly force and ruled that police in Memphis, Tenn., acted improperly when they shot and killed an unarmed Edward Garner as he climbed a chain-link fence after allegedly burglarizing a house. Since that case, police can lawfully use lethal force only when they believe that life or serious injury is imminently threatened.

A team of more than six Orange County sheriff's homicide detectives has been gathering evidence to determine whether that threshold was met in the MacDonald case.

Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said the investigation was expected to last several weeks and that autopsy results would be released to show the number of times she was shot and whether she was on drugs.

One of the things that friends and neighbors of the woman said they are eager to learn was whether the trajectory of the bullets would contradict the police version of events that she was lunging at officers.

Patrick Carignan, 54, an air supply company employee, said he saw the woman tightly grip a knife that appeared to have a 4-inch blade as officers 6 feet away yelled, "Drop the knife!"

"She looked scared, and it looked like she was making a lean to the side to make a run for it," he said. "That's when they shot her."

The two officers who shot her remain on administrative leave and will probably receive counseling over the shooting, Amormino said.

"The officers suffer a private hell in these cases as well," said Irvine's Handfield.

*

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Aiming to stop, not kill

--

Police departments can use less-lethal ammunition to subdue a suspect, including rifle-launched beanbags, rubber bullets and rubber pellets. Another shell releases pepper spray on impact.

--

Target area

-

A rubber bullet can strike a suspect at more than 221 mph.

-

Torso: The largest part of body is considered best target area.

-

Head: Possibility of serious injury is too high

-

Legs, arms: Too difficult to hit

--

Types of less-lethal rounds

-

Rubber balls (about 200 in shell)

-

Beanbag (filled with silica sand)

-

Sponge foam

--

*--* Rubber balls Beanbag Sponge Rubber bullets Height 0.32 inch 3.75 inches 2.48 inches 1 inch Diameter 0.32 inch 1.2 inches 1.6 inches 1.4 inche Velocity 300 fps* 220 fps 325 fps 325 fps Max. range 30 ft 40 ft 120 ft 35 ft

*--*

*Feet per second

--

Source: Defense Technology Federal Laboratories, Irvine Police Dept., O.C. Sheriff's Dept. Graphics reporting by Garrett Therolf

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|