Surely we can do better?

Yesterday’s issue of the Plain Dealer had this tragic news item.

Deputy kills man holding gun to head

Authorities are investigating after a Wayne County Sheriff ‘s deputy shot and killed a man during a confrontation Sunday morning in the downtown area of Apple Creek. Deputies responded about 10:50 a.m. Sunday after receiving a call for assistance from the Apple Creek Police Department, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office said in a post on Facebook. Deputies learned that a man armed with a handgun was behind a downtown business and threatening to shoot himself, the sheriff’s office said. Over the course of 34 minutes, law enforcement tried to de-escalate the situation. The man continued to hold a gun to his head and told authorities they were going to have to ”shoot him.” The man approached a deputy who told him multiple times to stop and drop the gun, the sheriff’s office said. The deputy fired one round from his rifle, hitting the man.

The man was holding a gun to his own head and threatening to shoot himself so the police shot him? I understand that a man advancing towards you with a gun is dangerous even if he is pointing it at his own head, since he could suddenly point it at you. But is shooting to kill the only option in such a situation?

This illustrates how the police in the US are poorly trained when it comes to dealing with deeply troubled people, treating them as if they are indistinguishable from violent and dangerous criminals.


  1. says

    We had to destroy the village in order to save it.
    They had to shoot him to protect him, his life was in danger.

    I do not recommend trying to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand but in this case, shooting to kill makes no sense. Maybe the cops wanted to make sure there were no witnesses?

    Cops call this “suicide by cop”.

  2. says

    police in the US are poorly trained when it comes to dealing with deeply troubled people

    The US also has this bad habit of giving deeply troubled people badges and guns and telling them they’re cops.

  3. ridana says

    This is not a unique story. When a gun is involved, it seems that cops are more than willing to kill people who are threatening to kill themselves. Sometimes there doesn’t even need to be a gun.

    I don’t think it’s so much that cops need better training, but that they need different training. Take this case, where the officer was fired because he didn’t shoot and was trying to talk the guy down (other cops came and killed him anyway). He was told that he failed to respond to the threat. “The unfortunate reality of police work is that making any decision is better than making no decision at all.”

    And there’s the problem: the failure to see that talking instead of immediately shooting is a decision, and often the correct one.

  4. Ron T says

    What can they do better? I’m not against criticizing how they handle the situation, but what is your solution to a man wielding a gun in a threatening manner and walking at police with it?

    Using a little empathy and putting my self in the position of the police, I don’t think there was much more to be done. They tried to deescalate, and when the man came at them with a weapon they had to react for their own safety and the safety of others. Would the man have used the gun on them? Probably not but who can know the mind of someone in his state. There are too many variables that put other people at risk when someone wants to commit suicide by cop. If there was a way to neutralize him without risk of putting others in immediate danger then I’m all for it.

    Also “The deputy shot the man in the arm that was holding the gun, according to a press conference with the Wayne County Sheriff. The bullet then traveled through his arm and hit him in the chest” So they didn’t “shot to kill” as you are claiming.

  5. Holms says

    I actually more or less disagree with you on this one, Mano. If a visibly unstable person with a gun approaches a police officer, I would think it very reasonable for the officer to assume that they were at risk of being shot. This of course would depend on factors perceived by the officer, such as agitation, which we cannot presume to know when reading about this at our desks. Of course it is also possible that the officer was precipitous, but we don’t have the information to conclude that, either.

    And yes, if the officer is going to shoot at all, aiming for the center of mass truly is the only option that is reasonable. Aiming to injure, and other such half-measures, have a lower chance of ending the confrontation and a higher chance of going awry in some way.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    is shooting to kill the only option in such a situation?

    Yes. Next question.

    They tried de-escalation for over half an hour, and he was advancing on someone while in an agitated state and armed. A single shot in response which successfully resolved the situation sound like very good training to me. He deliberately gave them no other choice.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    Borked blockquote, sorry.

    Threatening to kill yourself should be the only capital crime: discuss.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Here is an example of a far more dangerous situation where the police managed to de-escalate the situation without a shot being fired. The man seemed to be deranged and was carrying an assault rifle on a public street and threatening to shoot other people, not himself. The police shut down the street and talked to him from behind protection until he put down his weapon.

    The idea that half an hour of negotiation is enough before you shoot someone is absurd. We are talking about someone’s life here. It takes time to talk down someone in such a disturbed state and it requires people who are trained to negotiate with people who seem suicidal or highly disturbed.

  9. says


    The situation changed the moment the man started walking toward the police.

    We’ll never know for certain, but in these suicide-by-cop the person with the gun lacks the nerve/will to pull the trigger on himself—else he would have done so in the quiet of his home—so needs to force police officers to do what he cannot.

    Tragic? Of course, but I have to side with the police on this one.

    Jeff Hess

  10. sonofrojblake says

    The idea that half an hour of negotiation is enough before you shoot someone is absurd

    You’re absolutely right, that’s absurd. Who suggested it?

    You appear to have formed an opinion that is difficult to shift even in the light of evidence and reasons.

    They didn’t negotiate for half an hour then think “oh sod this, let’s kill him”. That would be absurd, and evidence of impatience and perhaps bad training. They also didn’t simply go “he has a GUN!!1!!1!” and immediately pepper him with bullets (I’m guessing he was white -- the story doesn’t say). They negotiated for over half and hour and then the situation changed.

    They talked to him and tried to get him help “as he roamed the downtown area, the sheriff’s office said”. Roamed the downtown area with a (you have to assume) loaded handgun threatening his and others’ safety. And when he walked towards a deputy, the guy told him to drop the gun. And when he approached within forty feet (where a handgun starts to get potentially dangerous to others), he was warned he’d get shot. And when he kept coming, the deputy fired precisely once. That, to me, sounds like a pretty well trained officer put in a horrible position by his homeland’s fucking stupid gun laws. Spare a thought for the guy. He now has to live with having killed a 60 year old man who was literally asking for it. That’s horrible. Suicide is so often such a disgustingly selfish act.

  11. says


    The idea that half an hour of negotiation is enough before you shoot someone is absurd.

    You’re absolutely right, that’s absurd. Who suggested it?

    Uhh…you did. Are you seriously that thick? (That’s a rhetorical question. I’ve seen enough of your comments over the years to know the answer.) Here’s what you said in comment #6: “They tried de-escalation for over half an hour.” You mentioning this implies you thought this was a relevant point and, given that you thought the shooting was justified, that indicates you thought this to be enough. If you don’t actually think this was relevant or enough, then you should not have mentioned it and it’s your fault for being a poor communicator.

  12. Mano Singham says

    It should also be borne in mind that every report about this incident that I have read has come from the police and sheriff and we know how they would never say things just to exonerate themselves, right?

  13. Holms says

    It is true that we do not necessarily have all relevant information, and so it is possible that unpleasant details are being kept from the public. But it is also possible that the details we have been given are true and without any omission that would change our assessment of the situation. And based on the information available, it seems to me that the situation was stable while the guy stayed where he was, but he then forced the issue. There is nothing a police officer can do if a person is determined to die at an oficer’s hand.

  14. DonDueed says

    Were there any less-lethal weapons (such as a taser) available on the scene? If so, why weren’t those tried first?

  15. marner says

    Not sure that firing electrical current (such as a taser) at someone holding a gun is a really good idea.

  16. Onamission5 says

    Several years back, a couple counties over, the parents of a mentally ill man who was having a health crisis called 911 in hopes that EMT’s would be able to successfully take their son to the hospital where they had failed. The police arrived instead and thus he was shot in his own living room for threatening himself with a butter knife.

    I tried to look up the details to ensure accuracy but unfortunately there’s too many “cops kill mentally ill man holding knife” stories so the local one from years back is buried.

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