Not Quite Necessary Shooting

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I started my law enforcement career as a security officer at a large university located in a metropolitan area. Being a private university, located in a high crime-rate area of the inner city, it was protected by armed security officers.

One warm spring night our office received a call concerning “a possible man with a gun” at the U-shaped building just south of our office. Dispatch advised that there might be two subjects with one possibly wearing goggles. Several officers responded and we set up a perimeter around the area. One officer spotted a suspicious vehicle leaving the front of the building and detained the occupant. I left my perimeter position to assist and we quickly verified that the occupant of the car was not the suspect.

At that point I realized three things: #1 I was standing directly in front of the building in question. #2 The building had not been checked. And #3 My “sixth-sense” was telling me that something was definitely wrong. I ran across the street to one of the brick pillars for cover and did a “quick-peek” into the darkened patio, to be facing a subject, at point-blank range, who was wearing camouflage fatigues and a ski-mask pulled over his face. Additionally, he was holding what appeared to be an AR15 rifle in his right hand.

There was no time to put out a call for assistance, and I immediately pointed my service revolver center-mass, ordering the subject to drop the gun and to lie prone on the ground. Instead of complying, the subject elected to argue, stating he didn’t have to obey my commands, that it was a toy gun. It looked very real in the gloom of the darkened patio. This became a stand-off for several very long seconds until officers from the oncoming watch rolled out from graveyard-shift briefing in response to assist, and the situation was neutralized.

Lessons learned: When the dust settled, we quickly learned that the cinema department was using the patio area of the building to film a student movie about guerilla warfare—WITHOUT TELLING US!

This incident took place in between scenes, thus the patio lights, along with the film crew’s high-intensity cinema lights were off. That is what triggered my subconscious or “sixth sense,” as normally the patio is illuminated at night. When I saw the subject holding the rifle (which turned out to be a plastic replica) I focused completely on the threat. This is known as “tunnel-vision,” a normal human reaction under extreme stress. It wasn’t until the situation stabilized, did I notice the filming equipment and the other members of the cinema crew.

This incident still bothers me to this day, as the young man doesn’t know how close he came to getting shot. I have related this incident numerous times throughout my 31-year career in law enforcement, as both a training officer and a supervisor. Unfortunately, the members of the filming crew treated the incident as a joke at the time. Later, the cinema department became very vigilant about notifying the local authorities if violence and/or weapons were to be used during filming.

A more aggressive officer might have opened fire as soon as he/she saw the rifle. Yes, the young man appeared to be a street-thug or terrorist, especially with his face covered by the ski mask. He was holding what appeared to be an assault rifle in the darkened gloom; however, he was holding it by the stock, in a non-threatening manner. Had his body language taken a more aggressive posture, the ending most probably would have been different. Going back during my basic police academy days, I remember the rangemaster giving us three pointers on the use of deadly force. Is it legal? Is it moral? Is it necessary? Had I fired, there is very little question that the shooting would be considered legal, as it would be within the parameters of “justifiable homicide,” because at the time, I would have been in fear for my life. Would the shooting be moral? A civil jury, in the inevitable civil action, might rule otherwise and I could have lost my house, probably my job, and my employers would have had to come up with some serious money. Would the shooting be necessary? In this case, obviously not. I would have taken a human life because the individual elected to be stupid.
—JB, CA

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