Cops, psychologist give insight on shootings, tasings


by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

Posted on September 5, 2010 at 10:57 AM

Updated Sunday, Sep 5 at 11:55 AM

LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- As law enforcement agencies across the region deal with a weeklong string of officer-involved incidents, most of them fatal, counselors and cops give some perspective.

 "On an individual officer, it's going to get their intention," said Dr. Norman Mar, a psychologist who works with police. "How often do they use levels of force, how often do they escalate, how does it fit into... the sector they're patrolling, as well as the activities that are going on."

On Monday, a Seattle police officer shot and killed John T. Williams in downtown Seattle, investigators said, after he ignored commands to drop his carving knife.

On Tuesday, Pierce County deputies say they hit King Ramses Hoover with a taser when he was unruly, but he stopped breathing and died. The same day, Federal Way Police shot and killed David Young, a 23-year-old in a stolen truck.

On Friday afternoon, Tacoma Police killed a homeless man who was threatening people with a knife, they said. That night, three Seattle Police officers shot a 59-year-old man who they say leveled an AK-47 at them. That man survived.

On Saturday, deputies in Gold Bar tased Adam Colliers, 27, but he stopped breathing and died as well.

But Mar also cautions not to read too much into the concentration of these events. 

"Both historically and currently, what usually happens is that ... factors leading up to incidents are often less about individual officers or agency policies... and other societal factors," he said. "It's more likely to be an anomaly and a factor of a matter of circumstances."

Trooper Sean O'Connell with the Washington State Patrol said he's fortunate to have never had to fire a gun or taser a suspect. But, he said, like being struck by a vehicle, it is a concern that crosses his mind when he pulls someone over for a traffic violation.

"Any police officer, state trooper, deputy, we're all peace officers, [and] would agree, you're always playing  the 'what if?' game," he said.

Each case has had different circumstances, with authorities in each saying the officers involved felt justified at the moment in what they did.  But each is still under investigation as well.

O'Connell says for most officers, it comes back to training, and knowing when the suspect is a danger to those around them, including fellow officers. 

"Once you report to work, ultimately you are a law enforcement officer, and unfortunately there are people who choose to harm law enforcement officers,"  said O'Connell, whose patrol car includes decals paying tribute to six Western Washington officers killed on duty last year. "Once you put your uniform on and you go to work you always say ... 'What if I was in that situation?' It very well could happen where I work." 

And in a tense situation, O'Connell expects training will take precedence over any other emotions.  Mar agreed.

"On a higher level, in terms of precinct, watch commander, agencies, command staff will often ask, 'Is there something we're doing in our jurisdiction where we're seeing an uptick?' [But] my experience with command staff, with counties, Seattle PD, is that they are looking at that stuff on an ongoing basis," he said.