In recent times, the use of force by police officers has received increasing public scrutiny. An incident over the weekend on Vashon Island demonstrates the difficult circumstances that law enforcement officers often face, and provides some insight into when force is appropriate.
On Saturday, 911 dispatchers received a call from a mother reporting domestic violence by her adult son. Shortly thereafter, dispatchers received additional calls from nearby residents reporting a road rage incident, threats, and vandalism by the same suspect.
A deputy quickly located the suspect and there was a pursuit, which ended when the suspect rammed his truck into the patrol car, disabling it. It appears that while the suspect was ramming the patrol car, the deputy fired several shots. The suspect was not hit.
Early Sunday morning, deputies found the suspect in an unoccupied house. He attempted to run, but was Tasered and then arrested. The deputy who fired the shots has been placed on administrative leave, pursuant to King County Sherriff's Office policy.
Intuitively, it is easy to understand why the deputy opened fire as his or her car was being rammed.
But, was it within the letter of the law?
Washington law RCW 9A.16.040 governs under what circumstances a police officer may use deadly force.
Two parts of this statute seem applicable to this case.
First, police officers may use deadly force “to overcome actual resistance to the execution of the legal process, mandate, or order of a court or officer, or in the discharge of a legal duty.”
Here, it is somewhat obvious that a suspect repeatedly ramming a patrol car with a truck constitutes actual resistance to the execution of the legal process.
Second, officers “must have probable cause to believe that the suspect, if not apprehended, poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or a threat of serious physical harm to others.”
Here, again, it seems likely that the suspect posed a threat of serious physical harm to the officer as he rammed the patrol car.
In this instance, if the release from the King County Sheriff's Office is accurate, it seems likely that the officer here justifiably discharged his weapon.
As a criminal defense attorney, I recognize that this is not always the case. If you have been charged with a crime and believe that the police used unnecessary force in arresting you, you must protect your rights.
If you have been arrested for a crime in and around Seattle, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi if you have been arrested and faced unnecessary force. As an attorney with experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, I have seen the effects that unreasonable force may have. Again, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi for a free consultation.