The Dangers of Confronting Armed Suspects

A man with a gun in his hand is a deadly threat since he will always be able to raise and fire before you can react and respond.

A man with a gun in his hand is a deadly threat since he will always be able to raise and fire before you can react and respond.

*The purpose of this article is not to second guess officers on actions in the past.  Several of these incidents led to officer deaths.  We all make mistakes.   But if we don’t examine these incidents and learn what we can, tragedy and more officer deaths may result.

Times Square, NYNY (13 August 2012): On a sunny Saturday afternoon a man brandishing an 11 inch butcher knife and according to witnesses was slashing at random civilians, refused to drop the knife and continued to threaten police officers.  Over the course of seven blocks, after multiple orders to stop and several applications of pepper spray failed to stop or even impair the suspect, he was shot and killed by officers.

Laurens County, GA (12 January 1998): Deputy Kyle Dinkheller pulls over motorist, Andrew Brannan, for speeding.  During the course of the roadside contact Brannan began acting bizarrely stating, “Shoot my f’ng ass!” while dancing in the road and then aggressively toward Dep. Dinkheller yelling, “F’ng kill me man!”  Brannan returns to his pick-up truck grabs and loads an M-1 carbine while Dep. Dinkheller yells, “Put the gun down!” no less than five times.  A shoot-out ensues in which Dep. Dinkheller is wounded in the extremities, shoots the suspect in the abdomen, and is ultimately killed with a shot to the head.

Hays County, TX (3 August 2000): Texas Trooper Randall Vetter pulls over 72 year old, Melvin Hale for traffic violations.  Hale exits his vehicle with a .223 Mini-14 carbine.  Trooper Vetter gives the suspect no less than four verbal orders to, “Drop it!” or “Put the weapon down!” before he shoots at Hale.  Hale fires wounding Trooper Vetter who later succumbed to his injuries.  Alarmingly, after back-up officers arrive Hale is allowed to continually walk around the scene armed with his rifle even pointing it at officers at several points and is never shot by police.  A negotiator is called for and the stalemate continues for several minutes until Hale finally drives away and officers move in to rescue the mortally wounded Trooper Vetter.  It is unknown how many times officers ordered Hale to drop his gun or heard on a police loudspeaker, “Place the weapon down!”

Three incidents spanning 14 years which resulted in the death of two law enforcement officers with untold number of incidents occurring throughout this country before, during and since that time.

All of these subjects presented a deadly threat to the officers involved at the moment they brandished, drew or the officers became aware that they were armed.

No verbal warnings were required by law or necessary prior to the officers shooting.

Legal and Moral 

In the landmark Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner the justices in their decision referred to verbal warnings when talking about shooting dangerous fleeing felons.  The Court stated, “if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning be given.

Now, two important points need to be made: 1) This case did not involve threats at that moment but rather involved a suspect who had made or presented a deadly threat prior and was escaping and, 2) “if, where feasible, some warning be given” prior to the officer shooting.  The verbal warning, e.g. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” are only required if time and circumstances permit.

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