Fatal police shooting raises questions about Taser failures
Seattle police say that the two officers who fatally shot a man who was threatening them with a broken bottle early Wednesday at Gas Works Park had followed department use-of-force protocols.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle police say that the two officers who fatally shot a man who was threatening them with a broken bottle at Gas Works Park early Wednesday did so after two Tasers failed to have an effect on the man.
It was the second time in two days that a Taser failed to stop a man who was later shot by law-enforcement officers. On Tuesday, King County sheriff’s deputies shot and wounded a burglary suspect in SeaTac when a Taser failed to stop him, according to a sheriff’s spokeswoman.
That man remained hospitalized Wednesday.
In Wednesday’s shooting, some Seattle police patrol officers were at Gas Works Park about 2:30 a.m. as part of increased patrols after vandals caused nearly $8,000 damage to the park Monday night. Immediately after arriving, officers were flagged down by a security guard employed by Seattle Parks and Recreation who said he was attacked by a man who was drinking and had an illegal campfire burning after the park had closed.
Four police officers found the man seated on stairs, drinking from a bottle of alcohol, said Assistant Chief Nick Metz. Upon seeing police, the man slammed the bottle against the concrete and started waving the jagged glass shard, he said.
As the man approached police with the broken bottle, one officer used his Taser, but it had no apparent effect on the man, Metz said.
The man kept approaching, so a second officer also fired a Taser at the man. Again, it failed to stop him, Metz said.
The man then started walking toward a third officer, Metz said. “As the guy was advancing with the bottle, two officers fired multiple rounds.”
The man fell on top of one of the officers, who apparently had tripped or fallen during the confrontation, Metz said. No officer was injured.
The man was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he died a short time later. His name has not been released.
The parks and recreation security officer suffered minor injuries during his encounter with the man, said police spokesman Patrick Michaud.
Michaud said officers followed use-of-force policies in dealing with the man.
A crisis-intervention-team member — someone trained to deal with people in the middle of a mental-health episode — was called to the scene and spoke with the man before any weapons were used, Michaud said. The crisis-intervention officer couldn’t persuade the man to surrender.
“They went through their training. They did what they’re trained to do and, sadly, someone died. The officers were in one of those impossible situations where they were forced to shoot someone,” Michaud said.
Metz said neither one of the officers involved in the shooting had been involved in a prior on-duty shooting.
Mayor Ed Murray, who was briefed on the shooting, said: “It appears from initial reports that the officers had little choice.”
Michaud said that when officers are being threatened with deadly force, they have the discretion to use a less-lethal weapon, such as a Taser, or resort to deadly force with firearms. In this case, they did both, he said.
It’s unclear why the two officers’ Tasers failed to affect the man.
In another recent incident, a man was fatally shot by State Patrol troopers June 16 after a Taser failed to have an effect on him. Jonathan K. Whitehead, 33, had stopped his pickup on the Ship Canal Bridge when he confronted the troopers armed with a knife, according to the State Patrol.
On June 19, Port Orchard police fatally shot Thomas D. Rogers, 36, after he reportedly got into a fight with two officers at a shopping center. Officers first tried using a Taser on Rogers, who was armed with a knife, but it had no effect.
As part of their investigation into Wednesday’s shooting, Seattle police will also examine why the Tasers did not stop the man. Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Taser International, said its weapons have a 94 percent success rate.
“There are a lot of things at play when you deploy a Taser,” Tuttle said Wednesday. “When you have a moving target, it’s harder to hit. You have to make good connections with both [electrical] probes, it’s an all-or-nothing affair.”
Taser International, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., touts its weapons as safe alternatives to firearms. Tuttle said they have prevented more than 128,000 deaths and are used by more than 17,000 law-enforcement and military agencies in 107 countries.
“It’s been used more than 2.2 million times in the field. It’s the most-used, less-lethal weapon on an officer’s belt,” Tuttle said. “Hands down, nothing is close.”
Robert Bragg, fitness and force-training manager at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, which runs the state’s police academy, said Tasers are “not 100 percent effective.”
“There are always those individuals who are wired different, where it doesn’t have that much effect,” Bragg. “It doesn’t always completely immobilize you.”
A Taser may also be ineffective if the target is wearing baggy clothing and the barbed darts don’t make contact with the skin.
Tasers work in two different ways.
They can fire two barbed darts attached to wires that carry a high-voltage charge. In this mode, the stun gun has a range of more than 30 feet and can be used to subdue violent suspects at less risk to police.
The stun gun also can be used in “drive stun” mode in which the device is pressed directly against part of a suspect’s body and is intended to deliver enough localized pain to get someone to obey police orders.
Bragg said he was hit by a Taser during training last year and was still able to pull his gun out of his holster and fire it 72 times at a target. Bragg admits the Taser kept him from standing up.
The Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which handles internal investigations, and the new Force Investigations Team (FIT) are investigating Wednesday’s shooting. The Force Investigations Team was created as part of the reforms being made while the department is under a federal consent decree requiring it to adopt reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
According to the Police Department’s new use-of-force policy: “An officer shall use only the force reasonable, necessary, and proportionate to effectively bring an incident or person under control, while protecting the lives of the officer or others.”
The policy also says an officer’s use of force “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Factors to be considered when weighing whether an officer’s force was reasonable include level of threat or resistance presented by the subject; the potential for injury to citizens, officers or subjects; the availability of other resources; and the proximity or access of weapons to the subject.
Seattle Times staff reporter Lynn Thompson and The Associated Press contributed to this story, which includes material from The Times archives.Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.