Thursday, February 12, 2015

Shooting Highlights Differences in Local Policies

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 3:32 PM

click to enlarge A deputy-involved shooting in McKinleyville on Dec. 15 left a 25-year-old suspect with a gunshot wound to the hand and this SUV pocked with bullet holes. - RHEANNON OKEY
  • Rheannon Okey
  • A deputy-involved shooting in McKinleyville on Dec. 15 left a 25-year-old suspect with a gunshot wound to the hand and this SUV pocked with bullet holes.
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office released the name of the deputy who shot and wounded a suspect during a December car chase today after a shooting review committee found he didn’t violate any departmental policies or procedures. The announcement comes as similar departmental policies and procedures throughout the nation are coming under scrutiny.

Deputy Scott Aponte, who’s been with the sheriff’s office for 7 years, returned to full duty at the end of January. He was placed on leave after the Dec. 15 shooting that left 25-year-old suspect Andrea Frances Hunsucker with a gunshot wound to the hand. The county’s multi-agency Critical Incident Response Team’s investigation into the shooting is ongoing, but it is expected to submit its findings to the district attorney for review in the near future.

Aponte was on patrol in McKinleyville at about 9 p.m. on Dec. 15 when he attempted a traffic stop on a black SUV, having learned that the vehicle’s owner had an outstanding felony arrest warrant. The vehicle reportedly failed to stop and continued down the 2300 block of Chapel Road, with Aponte in pursuit. The vehicle turned down a private driveway, according to the sheriff’s office, and Aponte followed.


“At this time, the suspect vehicle attempted to drive back out of the driveway toward the (deputy’s) location, at which time shots were fired by the deputy sheriff,” the press release states. The vehicle was occupied by two people — Hunsucker and 23-year-old Michael Lawrence Barret, who fled into the woods and was arrested early the next morning and booked into jail for a parole violation. Hunsucker remains at large, but a warrant has been issued for her arrest on suspicion of felony reckless evading a peace officer. (She also reportedly has six other outstanding arrest warrants.)

Photographs of the SUV taken after the shooting show bullet holes on the driver's side of the vehicle and its windshield, as well as  blood stains on the driver's side door.

click to enlarge RHEANNON OKEY
  • Rheannon Okey
Sheriff’s office Lt. Wayne Hanson said the department’s shooting review committee consisted of nine people, including a captain, two lieutenants, a sergeant, two deputies, someone from the Arcata Police Department and representatives of the sheriff’s training and firearms divisions. Hanson said the committee looked at the facts of the case to make sure departmental policies and procedures were followed.

The main policy in question was the department’s use of force policy, which states that deputies can only open fire when they perceive their life, or someone else’s, to be in danger. Hansen said the sheriff's office does not have a policy that specifically addresses if or when it's appropriate for an officer to shoot at a moving car. But, across the nation, some departments are instituting such policies, seeking to restrict when their officers open fire on occupied vehicles.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal ran a story noting that Denver police opening fire on a moving car for the fourth time in seven months reignited calls for police to rethink their policies. The article notes that the Miami Beach Police Department revamped its policy last year, after police killed a suspect motorist in a shootout that saw 116 rounds fired and four bystanders injured. The department’s new policy prohibits officers from firing at moving vehicles unless someone in the vehicle opens fire on them first or brandishes a weapon. As a part of settling a U.S. Justice Department probe into a string of police shootings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the city imposed similar restrictions. New York has had a similar policy on the books for decades.

The concern over officers shooting at moving cars is several fold: hitting moving targets is hard; it can be hard to determine if anyone other than the suspect is in the vehicle; and, even if a driver is shot, there’s no guarantee a vehicle will come to a safe stop. “The emerging conventional thinking is that shooting into a car is a bad idea for all kinds of reasons,” Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands police chief who heads the Police Foundation research organization, told the WSJ.

But many police groups have said limiting an officer’s options in potentially deadly situations puts their lives at risk. Hanson, speaking generally and not about the Aponte shooting, said cars can and should be considered deadly weapons when pointed at a person. And, Hanson said, police often only have a second or so to decide how to respond to a potentially deadly threat. “You don’t want to box your personnel into a corner as far as options when it comes to their lives,” Hanson said.

Despite concerns over officer safety, both Eureka and Arcata have more restrictive policies in place.

The Arcata Police Department’s policy begins by noting that “shots fired at or from a moving vehicle are rarely effective” and says officers should “move out of the path of an approaching vehicle instead of discharging their firearm at the vehicle or any of its occupants.” The policy states that officers should only fire on moving vehicles if they “reasonably believe” there are no other reasonable means to avert the threat, or if “deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at” them or others.

Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills said his department’s policy is in a bit of flux right now, as he’s currently in the process of updating and revising its entire 700-plus pages of policies and procedures, a task he says hasn’t been done in years. The current policy, Mills said, states that “shots fired at or from moving vehicles are rarely effective and generally discouraged,” but allows provisions similar to Arcata’s policy that officers can open fire on a moving vehicle if there reasonably appear to be no other means to avert the immediate threat to themselves or others. But Mills said this is one portion of EPD’s policy that he is changing.

The new policy, he says, will state that shooting at or from a moving vehicle is “generally prohibited” and state that “officers shall move out of the path of a moving vehicle rather than discharging a firearm” at the vehicle or its occupants. But, Mills said the policy will allow officers to open fire if there are no other “reasonable means” to protect themselves or others from an immediate threat.

Mills said that, in his decades-long career, he’s seen very few instances when shooting at a moving vehicle has been effective. “Stable targets are hard enough to hit,” he said, adding that there’s also an increased chance of hitting unintended targets. But Mills said he didn’t want to go so far as to completely prohibit the practice.

“Unfortunately, in our profession you have to consider all of the potential circumstances that might arise,” he said. “There may be a circumstance out there where an officer has to use his or her discretion but, by and large, I don’t want them shooting at or from moving vehicles. This isn’t the wild west.”

See the full sheriff's office press release below:

UPDATE

Deputy Scott Aponte a 7 year employee of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is the deputy, who fired his duty weapon on 12-15-2014 at the female driver of the vehicle. Deputy Aponte returned to full duty at the end of January, 2015. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office shooting review committee reviewed this incident. It was determined, Deputy Aponte did not violate any policies or procedures of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, regarding discharging his firearm while on duty.

The female suspect, who was shot by Deputy Aponte has been identified as 25 year old, Andrea Frances Hunsucker. Hunsucker was struck one time on her left wrist by Deputy Aponte’s firearm. Hunsucker has since been discharged from the out of area hospital, where she was being treated for her injury to her wrist.

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office will be requesting a warrant for Hunsucker’s arrest for felony reckless and evading a peace officer in a vehicle. Hunsucker is currently on the City of Eureka’s most wanted list for 6 separate arrest warrants .


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The investigation into last night’s officer involved shooting in 2300 block of Chapel Hill Road in McKinleyville is still ongoing. Sheriff’s Office Detectives and members of the countywide Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) are currently investigating the incident. CIRT consists of investigators from the District Attorney’s Office, Eureka Police Department, Arcata Police Department, State Department of Justice and the California Highway Patrol.

The male suspect, Michael Lawrence Barrett (age 23) remains in the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on a no bail warrant for Parole Violation out of Los Angeles. The unidentified adult female remains in a hospital, out of the area, with a non-life threatening injury to her hand. Investigators are still trying to confirm her identity due to her not cooperating with law enforcement. Neither Barrett nor the Deputy was injured.

The Deputy involved in the shooting is not being identified at this time and remains on administrative leave per the Sheriff’s Office Shooting protocol which is standard procedure in a case such as this.

Barrett and the unidentified female have not been charged with a crime at this point pending the outcome of the investigation.

Further information will be released as it becomes available.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at (707) 268-2539.


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On 12-15-14 at about 9:00 p.m., a Humboldt County Sheriff Deputy attempted a traffic stop on a vehicle on Azalea Rd. near Chapel Hill rd. McKinleyville. The solo Deputy had observed a black SUV and learned that the vehicles registered owner had a felony warrant. The vehicle initially failed to stop and continued to drive in the 2300 block of Chapel Road. During the traffic stop the suspect vehicle pulled down into a private driveway with the Deputy following. At this time, the suspect vehicle attempted to drive back out of the driveway towards the Deputies location, at which time shots were fired by the Deputy Sheriff. During the suspects attempt to evade the Deputy, the suspect vehicle had struck two parked vehicles in the driveway. An injured female inside the vehicle has not yet been identified. The adult female received an unknown type of hand injury and was transported to a local hospital for treatment. A male suspect fled from the vehicle and ran into a wooded area. Information was gathered that the fleeing male suspect may have been armed at the time he fled. A search of the area was conducted utilizing Sheriff Deputies, and responding officers from Arcata Police Department, Eureka Police Department and the California Highway Patrol. A Fortuna Police K-9 Officer arrived and assisted with the search. After several hours of searching, the Police K-9 located a male suspect hiding in the wooded area. The male suspect, Michael Lawrence Barrett (age 23) was arrested and transported to the Humboldt County Jail and booked for his no bail charge for the Parole Violation warrant.
A County wide Shooting Investigative team has been activated and is currently investigating the incident and conducting interviews with all of the involved subjects. The Deputy has been placed on administrative leave per the Sheriff’s Office Shooting protocol. 

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