The killing of Kajieme Powell

Kajieme Powell was a mentally disturbed man who was shot dead on the streets of St Louis by police on August 19, 2014, just four miles from the place in Ferguson where Michael Brown had been killed just 10 days earlier. Powell was reportedly carrying a knife and acting erratically and talking to himself and had taken some items from a store without paying for them. Here is what St. Louis police chief’s version of what happened.

Two arriving officers ordered Powell to get down, but he became more agitated and walked toward them, reaching for his waistband. Witnesses told police the man was yelling, “Shoot me, kill me now,” during the encounter, Dotson said.

The officers drew their weapons and ordered Powell to stop. He did stop, but then pulled out a knife and came at the officers, gripping and holding it high, Dotson said. They ordered him to stop and drop the knife. When he got within 2 or 3 feet of the officers, they fired, killing Powell.

“This is a lethal range for a knife,” Dotson said.

But as is often the case these days in public places, someone was recording the events and what the video shows is different. Meanwhile a suppressed dash cam video that was later released resulted in the exoneration of a young black man and the indictment of two police officers and a guilty plea by a third in the beating of the man, further illustrating the benefits of requiring police to wear video cameras at all times that send images to be stored in the cloud. [WARNING: The first link contains the video that shows the shooting of Powell and is disturbing and the second link sows the beating.]

Powell was clearly more than 3 feet away and he did not have his hands high but rather had them at his sides when he was hit with a barrage of nine bullets.

No doubt police have stressful jobs. No doubt they fear for their own lives. But Powell was not an immediate threat to anyone but possibly the police who arrived there. Have they no way of dealing with a clearly disturbed man with a knife other than shooting him multiple times? Recall the vastly different reaction of police who talked down another mentally disturbed man who actually threated them with a rifle. Unlike Powell, that man was white.

Meanwhile PZ Myers links to another story where the police in Ferguson showed utter contempt for a makeshift memorial that had been created at the site of the Brown shooting.


  1. Jean says

    I saw this on the Rachel Maddows show and they stopped the video before the shooting started which is good and all I wanted to see. To me that looked like someone wanting to commit suicide: making sure that he is seen stealing and that what he stole is plainly visible afterwards and then waiting for the police.

    That’s just my impression so it doesn’t mean anything and I don’t have any evidence. But what I also saw was that when the police arrived and the argument started, he looked behind and it looks like he moved so that the people watching and filming were not in the line of fire. Again, only my impression.

  2. says

    Why didn’t the cops pursue a non-lethal option?

    If there were multiple cops and they were mobile, and the suspect was cornered, there was no need to advance on him at all; they could have maneuvered around him and stayed out of reach (rendering his knife ineffective) until they could deploy pepper spray or a taser or – “serve and protect” by talking him down.

    Cops want to be treated like heroes; well, then – be a hero and don’t be one of a group of guys with guns blasting holes in a guy with a knife. There is simply no way that’s heroic. If you’re wearing kevlar (as most of them are) you’re 80% immune to knife damage unless you’re dealing with a trained knife-fighter, and – yeah – in that case it’s time to step back and say, “hey, man, you look like you know how to use that knife. so I’m not gonna rush up on you and try to take it away from you. you’re narrowing my options down to shooting you or waiting till my partner gets the taser out of the car. how do you want to proceed?”

  3. Henry Gale says

    Marcus said:

    Why didn’t the cops pursue a non-lethal option?

    If there were multiple cops and they were mobile, and the suspect was cornered, there was no need to advance on him at all; they could have maneuvered around him and stayed out of reach (rendering his knife ineffective) until they could deploy pepper spray or a taser or – “serve and protect” by talking him down.”

    Did you watch the video at all? They didn’t advance. The suspect walked in a quick and determined manner towards the police. In fact, the officer who shot actually stepped back prior to shooting. The fact that the suspects hands were at his side means nothing. No one knows what are in those hands.

  4. lorn says

    A person with a knife is a clear and obvious threat. That he pulled out the knife as he advanced is clear intent to use the knife. Minimum reaction time for any action is roughly a third of a second. Actual ability to stop an attacker with a gun is quite limited. Cases where people were shot multiple times and continued to advance are pretty common. Cases where they continued to advance and stabbed, sometimes killed, an officer are not unknown. Certain cases are very well documented. Police are pretty much universally behind a standard of getting to go home in one piece. A single stab well placed, by training and design, or luck, may mean you bleed to death in a couple of minutes. A punctured artery is deadly. Bleed times before loss of blood pressure cause unconsciousness may be under two minutes. Death from blood loss from a sliced brachial artery can be four minutes, femoral artery two. There are many variables but those estimates, according to some sources, are fairly conservative. Police are not going to willingly take that chance. Their training doctrine, the rules, say they aren’t allowed to.

    So what are they going to do. The general consensus, backed by long study of human anatomy and process, is that against a determined attacked the best chance of stopping a person is to apply a mass of fire to the center of mass in the hope they destroy their ability to advance and cause harm before they get too close. Forget all the comic book stuff about shooting to wound. Head shots, leg and shoulder shots are not reliable. Every shot is a shot to kill and there is no time to make subtle distinctions. You fire until the target is clearly and obviously no longer a threat.

    When deciding how you are going to act remember that this event typically happens with little warning and is over in a few seconds. And any action is performed under stress and in less than conditions. You are allowed just a very few seconds to assess the situation, pull your gun, identify clear sight lines, and stop the individual. And every little thing done, or not done, will be harshly judged by masses of people who know next to nothing about what is involved or required.

  5. lorn says

    Two points:

    Depending on the training and doctrine of the department backing up may or may not be an option. Even with departments that say it is a strong option there is recognition that it can cause problems in and of itself. Backing up involves either doing so blind, risking stumbling over something or backing into an unacceptable situation, or taking your eyes off the suspect. It also means constantly reassessing the sight lines for hazards that might preclude firing the weapon in good time. It also risks that people will be drawn to the scene and interfere, become hostages, or get in the officers sight lines. It risks the police loosing control and the situation becoming more dangerous.

    Some within the police community, after careful consideration, consider it better for everyone concerned if the situation is contained to one location and a limited time, before more people can become involved and/or placed at risk.

    Generally police like to have at least two officers with clear sight lines and ready to fire covering each other. The idea is that if one has their sight line blocked, perhaps by a bystander moving into it, the other can still cover the suspect. In some departments only when a third police officer arrives will there be someone to give the “less lethal”, less lethal because they still sometimes kill, options a try.

  6. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    A very clear case of suicide by cop and it all happened staggeringly quickly. From the 1.38 second mark to the 1 minute 42 second mark. Four seconds. With the suspect approaching within striking distance, arms length from them having explictly stated : “Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me now m**** f****rs!!”

    The suspect ignoring the repeated pleas of police and one of the bystanders to “Drop the knife!” (Said clearly at least 2 times by the officers and I think once from the crowd too.)

    Putting the corpse in cuffs afterwards was certainly strange – maybe done to stop the death throes causing some sort of harm?

    Could’ve tased him? Maybe. But tasers aren’t always 100% reliable and instantly stopping suspects bent on murder incl. cop-killing murder.

    Sad but I really don’t think you can blame the police on this one.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    IMHO, the two cop first responders put themselves in a bad situation, but once they were in the situation, they did the right thing. Once they were within about 5 ft of a guy with a knife who is advancing contrary orders, you have to shoot. Anything else does put the cop’s lives at risk. White or black guy I expect no different here.

    There was some discrepancy between the initial report and the video. However, it’s my understanding that the police chief personally released this video, and did so very quickly. The report inaccuracies seem like just a honest mistake to me. It doesn’t change whether the shooting was justified. This is actually a very welcome change with the police being so forthcoming, open, and forthright, compared to my understanding of Fergusson.

    Now, what should have happened, and what I expect would have happened if the guy was white, was that the first responder cops would not have gotten so close so quickly. They would have waited for backup which was obviously on the way, and which was going to arrive within a minute. With half a dozen cops (or more), new options open up for trying to handle the situation more safely and with less chance of killing the guy. (Such as: Keeping a distance. Getting non-cops out of the area. Containing the situation. Trying to talk him down. Etc.) Instead, the first responder cops approached to a close distance with guns raised before backup got there. That needlessly escalated the situation when the guy didn’t appear to be a threat. That’s not criminal, but I would like to see some better training.

    Also, to the idiot above saying that Kevlar is knife-proof. Really? And even if the cops were in a knife-proof vest, that’s just a vest. Lots of exposed body still. You can still get stabbed in a bad spot and die within minutes. For example, with a good strike to the femoral artery, you are dead in minutes from blood loss.

    This is also why you don’t shoot to wound – it’s impossible to safely shoot to wound. If you shoot for the legs, you might still hit something important, and they’ll bleed to death in minutes. Shooting someone is always a potentially lethal decision, which is why you shouldn’t shoot someone unless you fear for your life, both morally and legally. Shooting someone in the leg is risky for your own life, and if done at such a long range that you are not at risk, then you are needlessly risking the other guy’s life.

    Why not use a taser? I’d love to see that option employed actually, but it’s not safe to do for the cops when it’s just one or two of them. Miss, and he can knife you. However, if the first responders waited for backup, then that’s plenty of cops to have guns trained on the guy, and a few more to try tasers. Again, just one tactic of many that could be used if the first responder cops didn’t needlessly escalate the situation before backup arriving.

    At least, that’s how I see it IMHO. Shit sucks, but overall I see rather good behavior from the cops, both during and after, relative to other recent news. Still wish they would improve though (as mentioned above).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *