Police_Pointing_gun

via The Force Science Institute:

DEADLY DOMESTIC. The shooting occurred in Elgin, a hamlet of fewer than 500 families that sits at a highway crossroads in the wheat and cattle country of northeastern Oregon. At 0730 that fateful August Monday in 2011, the town’s police chief was honeymooning in the Caribbean and the only other full-time officer was asleep at home when the dispatcher rousted him with the report of a domestic in progress at the residence of a local environmental clean-up specialist and general contractor . . .

At the scene, the officer found that the contractor’s wife was trying to leave him, hauling belongings out of their house, but the 60-year-old husband was angrily blocking her path. “The living room was in disarray, its floor littered with papers, articles of clothing, and other items of all kinds,” a report later noted. Tempers were hot.

The officer advised the husband not to interfere and turned to talk to the wife. Out of the corner of his eye, he then caught sight of a sudden change in the dynamics. The husband “apparently had reached down next to a reclining chair” and now stood up holding an AR-15 “in a firing grip” in a port-arms position.

The officer drew his .45-cal. Glock 21, pointed it at the suspect, and yelled at him repeatedly to “drop the gun!” He didn’t. Holding the pistol in his right hand, the officer drew his Taser with his left and discharged it at the suspect. The probes missed. The officer moved in and tried a drive stun to the neck. The suspect deflected the Taser with the rifle barrel and the officer dropped the device. Snapping, “Give me that,” the officer then grabbed the barrel of the rifle and with his left hand tried to wrest the gun away from the suspect. The older man proved surprisingly strong and maintained his grip.

Finally, when the muzzle pointed at his face for the second time during their struggle, the officer squeezed off five rounds in rapid succession from his .45. Hit with each, the suspect fell back into the recliner, “twitching and dying.”

OVERREACTION? The officer, the chief, and the town of Elgin were named in a federal civil rights suit brought by the suspect’s widow. Alleging unreasonable force, poor supervision, and inadequate training, the plaintiff demanded damages of $10.5 million.

The defendants’ attorneys, Steven Kraemer and Leslie Edenhofer of Portland, called on Emanuel Kapelsohn, a certified Force Science analyst from Pennsylvania, to help in preparing and presenting their case. Kapelsohn, a graduate of Yale University, Harvard Law School and an active reserve officer, is widely recognized as a top-notch expert witness and law enforcement trainer of firearms, tactics, and use of force, with more than 35 years’ experience.

As the case moved through its preliminary stages, two consultants hired by the plaintiff’s legal team took the position that the officer had overreacted in confronting the armed suspect and thereby unnecessarily escalated the situation to a fatal level, Kapelsohn told Force Science News. “They claimed that the officer should have left the scene when he realized no physical fight was going on,” he says.

One consultant, a CJ professor and former cop, insisted in a pre-trial report that because the suspect initially held the AR-15 in a port-arms position the gun was “no threat.” The officer, having drawn and pointed his pistol at the subject “had the drop” on him, the consultant said, an advantage he characterized as “the crown jewel of police tactics.” The officer, he said, had “complete control” of the situation.

The other consultant, an investigator and DT instructor for a security training firm, stated in his report that in order for the suspect to shoot the officer, he would have had to “engage in at least six mechanical indexes, or separate motions, to maneuver the AR-15 from port-arms to a point where deadly force could be used against anyone.” This manipulation, according to the consultant, would have bought the officer, with his gun already out and pointed, plenty of time to react.

“He made it sound like something you could time with a sundial,” Kapelsohn says. Kapelsohn considered this reasoning preposterous.

TIMED FIRING. At a shooting range, Kapelsohn’s wife videoed him activating an AR-15 in response to the buzzer on an electronic timer. “Starting with the rifle in the port-arms position, safety engaged and my finger outside the trigger guard, I moved the gun down as fast as I could and fired a shot into the upper chest of a silhouette training target about five feet in front of me,” Kapelsohn says.

“In three tries, my average time was 0.63 seconds. If I was willing to accept a head shot without bringing the muzzle fully down to the chest level of the target, I was able to do it in under half a second. Starting with the safety off, it presumably would have been even easier and faster.

“The timing included my reaction time to the buzzer, about 0.25 seconds. So in a real situation, with the suspect initiating the action and thus eliminating any reaction time on his part, he could move, point, and fire the rifle in about 0.38 seconds. With the time it would likely take for the officer to perceive the suspect starting to move, process this information, and get off his first defensive round, he might end up with a tie at best.

“And of course there would always be the possibility that the officer’s first shot might miss or might hit the suspect but fail to incapacitate him immediately.”

As Kapelsohn told the attorneys: “Once [the suspect] picked up the rifle, [the officer] was already on the losing side of the reaction-time curve, as [the suspect] could, if he so chose, shoot [the officer] before [the officer] could effectively react to stop him.”

Thus, Kapelsohn said, the officer’s unsuccessful attempts to get the suspect disarmed and then finally escalating to shooting him were not evidence of “overreaction” but justifiable efforts to eliminate the risk of himself being slain. “In the context of a domestic dispute,” Kapelsohn said, “a non-compliant individual who picks up and then refuses to relinquish control of a rifle to a police officer is a deadly threat.”

In addition to the video demo, Kapelsohn in his extensive report to the defense team referenced a variety of other material from his Force Science training, including studies explaining the inevitability of officers firing multiple rounds in life-threatening situations, the auditory and visual exclusions that can explain why officers may not recall all details of a shooting, and the nature of falling patterns that enable a suspect to continue being a threat even while going down from lethal wounds.

IN COURT. When the civil suit went to trial last January in the U.S. District Court in Pendleton (OR), Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan did not make it easy for Kapelsohn to get some of his information before the jury.

She would not permit his video to be shown, for example, ruling enigmatically that it was not “realistic” because an electronic timer had been used! Nor would she allow the suspect’s AR-15 (or any other AR-15) to be brought into the courtroom so that Kapelsohn could demonstrate with the actual gun or type of gun involved.

She did, however, permit him to testify about his tests and to use a molded-plastic, red training rifle to show a crude depiction of how fast the suspect could have brought the AR-15 from port arms to firing position, thus countering claims of the plaintiff’s experts that the officer had been in no danger initially.

The trial lasted four days, with Kapelsohn the last defense witness. The jury was out just one hour, including the time it took to select their foreperson. When they returned, they brought in a verdict in favor of the defense.

More than three years had passed since the shooting. During that time, the chief and the involved officer resigned and the town of Elgin eliminated its police department. The community now pays for contract police service through the county sheriff’s office.

Emanuel Kapelsohn can be reached in Fogelsville, PA, through his firm, The Peregrine Corporation: phone 610-360-7053; email peregrine@ptd.net

69 Responses to Force Science: Can an Armed Suspect Holding an AR-15 in a “Non-Threatening” Position Outshoot an Officer with His Gun Drawn?

  1. An armed government thug aiming a pistol at a man is a deadly threat and he should have defended himself. Too bad.

      • Nah. The only way for civilians to go home safely at night is to preemptively deal with dangerous government goons.

        • If that’s how you perceive gun owners, you ought to read the majority of the comments here.

        • that is even more ignorant than the crap that comes from the anti’s moths. Preemtive, as in shoot on sight just in case. just plain ignorant.

        • Mellow, guys, Tranny is just full of it, if he really believed half of what he spews, he’d be in prison.

        • Yeah, LarryinTX, tranny’s probaby in reality an anti-gun statist. posting to make gun owners look like ignorant hateful, hatefilled anti-government psychos, and he does it very well.

          In this case, the cop looks justified in defending himself, as long as what was shown as evidence was accurate.

    • You do realize that the man was unlawfully imprisoning his wife at yet time, right? He was committing a felony against his wife and pulled a gun on the officer responding to his wife’s distress that he had caused.

      I guess you support the idea of wives as property.

    • Absolutely. I’m surprised that he even tried as hard as he did to talk the suspect down. I mean, taking one hand off the gun so you can draw and fire your taser? I wouldn’t have even done that. Once the guy actively retrieves his AR in response to the police presence, he becomes a deadly threat.

      • I agree with that. The officer was identified and recognized, on the premises doing his duty, when the AR came up it was clearly a threat. I would have told him to drop it once, while drawing. When the sights came on him, if the AR was not on the ground, I would have fired.

  2. I don’t have that issue but I have experienced it and I believe it is hack. Give them 24 hours to fix it.

  3. During my CCW class in Colorado our range officer was a County Sheriff. If I remember correctly he had been teaching for 20 years and on the job for longer. He employed a drill to show us this exact scenario with him standing to the side with his 1911 at his side in a loose grip, and one guy standing ready, barrel on target, finger on trigger. His instructions were simple, “When I move empty the mag into the target. Try and talk me down and keep telling me to put the gun down while you wait.” My friend managed to fall only 2 shots behind, a loss by any standard. After talking with him about reaction times and as mentioned above about initiating action, the sheriff admitted in all the time he had taught the class he had only ever seen a tie. Guys in this type of situation a tie is still a loss. When that bullet’s in the air all bets are off.

    • I want to make sure I understand exactly what happened in this drill. The deputy was playing the role of a non-compliant agitated armed person, correct? And he had his handgun in hand but down at his side pointing at the ground. Your friend was playing the role of a person or LEO trying to talk down the non-compliant agitated armed person and already had their handgun in hand pointing at a target (in lieu of pointing it at the deputy since you cannot shoot another person during a drill of course). Thus, the deputy (playing the part of a non-compliant agitated armed person) was able to raise his handgun and put two shots into a target before your friend could simply squeeze the trigger on his handgun which he was already pointing at a target?

      If that is the case, that is indeed quite interesting.

      • Action is faster than reaction.

        This is yet another way Hollywood has corrupted mass understanding of the dynamics of gunfights.

        • Remembering that every reaction goes thru an OODA loop–observation, orientation, decision and action–the reaction will always be behind the action. Training reduces reaction time, as does adrenaline, but you are still behind at the start. Thus, trainers often recommend that if you are being assaulted/robed/mugged, taking an immediate, violent action will often catch the offender totally off guard and unable to respond quickly or effectively.

      • Exactly. And yes my mistake on clearing up the orientation of everyone obviously the rules of safety were followed and no one was used as a target. After seeing this demonstration in action I have used it a few times to teach friends on the range. The reaction is always something like “Wow I didn’t know you could move that fast.” As the commented below me stated so well this is a byproduct of Hollywood gunfights where the good guy can always fire first even after losing the edge. The moral of the story is the person with actionable intent always has the advantage, or action beats reaction every time.

      • Demonstrate reaction time by having the actor hold a dollar bill by two fingers while the reactor holds two fingers apart, ready to snatch the dollar bill when it is released.

        It’s very easy for a dollar bill to pass through the reactor’s fingers uncaught after it’s released by the actor.

        I could explain this more clearly, but I think most people have tried this, most likely on a bet.

  4. good shoot by the cop and predictable “lottery” try by the widow. Who wouldn’ve divorced the guy and held a grudge against him for life if he hadn’t got SOS and got hisself killed.

  5. I call police out when they use excessive force or shoot someone when a taser or less lethal means would’ve sufficed, but I don’t think I would’ve gone for my taser let along try to wrestle the rifle away. The husband was already showing aggression by trying to prevent his wife leaving and picking up the AR only raised the tension. IGOTD awarded posthumously!

    • Unfortunately, yeah.

      Standard police procedures pretty much force the officer to draw on the man, so pulling out the rifle started the core incident.

      I guess it would be easy to say, “If the officer had just left the scene nothing would have happened.” But if the officer was still assessing if there had been any felony assault, or other serious offenses, he probably couldn’t have left yet.

      This really does seem like the only thing the officer is guilty of is being called out there to do his job.

      • Not to mention what hell there would’ve been to pay if the officer HAD left and then a fight had broken out between hubby and wife.

        • Ya. I have heard a few cops say that it is pretty much SOP for them to insist that one party leaves and spends the night somewhere else that night so tempers can cool to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    • Attempting to taze a guy with a real firearm seems foolish, or an admission that you thought that the other guy wasn’t really prepared to shoot. The attempted tazing(s) and the wrestling over the gun would seem to show that the cop wanted to try less-than-lethan means.

      A very messy situation, but at the end of the day, anyone pointing a firearm at a cop is very likely to get shot.

        • If I read the article right, it said the AR barrel pointed at the cop’s face twice before he shot.

        • Sounds like he didn’t point it at the officer until the struggle ensued. Perhaps it was inadvertent but the guy still intensified the situation by grabbing the AR and no doubt refusing to put it down.

      • Did he point it at the cop’s head, or was it just swinging all over in the struggle, or is the cop doing the standard lying/embellishment to justify a shoot?

  6. “More than three years had passed since the shooting. During that time, the chief and the involved officer resigned and the town of Elgin eliminated its police department. The community now pays for contract police service through the county sheriff’s office.”

    How does the saying go? You beat the rap but not the ride. If its good enough for everybody else its good enough for cops too.

  7. Morale of the story? When you pull an AR on a cop plan on shooting him immediately because you will have an advantage and if you don’t shoot first, he will.

    • Moral not morale. But seeing as you can’t spell the word it doesn’t surprise me you have no clue as to its meaning.

      The moral of this story is that once you’ve created a situation that requires a cop be present, don’t escalate the situation to the point the cop has to shoot.

      If you pull a rifle on a cop and shoot him without hesitation you are going to prison for murder. Might as well have advised the dummy to go ahead and shoot his wife as well. Witnesses, after all.

      • Or, once your wife has decided to leave, don’t commit a felony by forcibly perfecting her from leaving. At best this will be fodder against you in court. At worst a cop will be involved, at which point you will let her go, be arrested, or be shot.

  8. “Starting with the safety off, it presumably would have been even easier and faster.”

    Mr. Kapelsohn,

    Please don’t “presumably” in studies designed to collect, and report, data…especially to courts.

    Thank-you.

    Signed,

    Expert Witness in Days Past

    PS: How hard would it have been to actually test rather than drop in a “presumably”?

  9. In the context of just the confrontation of the officer and the man, it seems like a ‘good’ shoot. The cop tried multiple LTL methods before escalating to deadly force, putting himself at personal risk multiple times. Kudos for that (and I’m the first in line demanding accountability and restraint for armed agents of the state).

    The questions that make it murky are: Did the woman call the cops? Was the man violent before the cop got there? Barring the way is one thing, but it certainly is not imminent violent force. If it was a simple argument, why did the police need to be involved? The mere presence of an officer can be all that is needed to escalate the situation. Domestic situations are never easy, but unless there is violence, I don’t see the immediate need to bring armed agents in to make things worse.

    • Well, I doubt the cop wanted to be there, so my guess is that somebody called him. He did not respond to a shooting situation, as his gun was holstered and he did not bring the shottie or whatever. I suspect that if it had been the woman who came up with an AR, the resulting actions on the cop’s part would have been the same. Being the only cop in the area has to be tough.

      • Do tell. Tiny two cop town and nothing remotely cool has happened to give Barney (who is in a starter small town job as a short stop to the bigtime) a hardon in weeks. Cop is off duty and asleep at home.

        So who called 911 and why was Barney dispatched rather than the Deputy already on duty? Typically because the small town is too cheap to reimburse the Sheriff.

        So groggy cop shows up and escalates the situation by swinging his tool around “taking charge of the situation”. Citizen gets ventilated.

  10. Justified use of deadly force. The house clearly showed evidence of a domestic dispute. Therefore, the cop had to determine if it had already turned violent. The husband’s producing a rifle was an attempt to intimidate the cop who had interrupted his attempts to stop his wife from leaving. The cop bent over backwards, risking his own life, in trying to avoid shooting him.

    I’m not sure the wife was looking for a windfall. I’ve read that, when a wife calls the cops on an abusive husband, what she wants is for the cops to fix her marital problems. That, of course. is beyond their capabilities. All they can do is arrest the guy or use force against him if he continues his aggression. At that point, it’s not unusual for the wife to turn on the cops.

  11. I have run similar drills with students using airsoft. The bag guy always wins because action beats reaction. It was a justifiable shoot

  12. “They claimed that the officer should have left the scene when he realized no physical fight was going on” ? And if he had, would the wife be alive today? Or would he have just beaten her senseless, thus allowing her an opportunity to sue the department for malfeasance. It’s really a moot point, all this Monday morning quarterbacking four years later. But the issue of reaction time is a valid topic of discussion. Many moons ago when I received my law enforcement training, we were shown, and we then demonstrated it ourselves, that the hand is quicker than the eye + brain processing + reaction time. Sadly, we recently had a similar incident in our county seat that illustrates the heartbeat rate of reaction time. Two officers responded to a suicide attempt. They tried to talk the man out of it, but he kept pointing the gun at his head and then at them. It reached a point where one of the officers feared enough for their own lives that he shot the man dead. I guess the victim got what he wanted, but now the officers have to live with the aftermath. Need more proof? Several decades back, one of my brother’s fellow officers drew and killed a perp while he was pointing his gun at her. The bullet struck his outstretched gun hand and went into his heart. No question it was justifiable. In theory, the perp had her dead to rights, yet he’s the one who died.

    • “Two officers responded to a suicide attempt.”

      Well we already know how that ends. Any time the police show up when someone is suicidal, the supposedly suicidal person always ends up with a bullet (or several) in them. It’s a matter of ego, the cop mentality is essentially “If anyone is going to kill someone, it’s going to be US!”.

  13. Ralph is a genious. …as long as he meant to shoot her with the dumbass’s AR. Unless he had a body cam. Which if he did……why is this even a discussion. Black folk are shot for far less than “brandishing” weapons.

  14. I remember when this went down. the department dissolved really fast. Union County SO was already strapped due to low pay and a sparsley populated county that’s pretty big.
    It was ruled a good shoot fairly soon after.

  15. I use firefox and have no idea what ads you guys are talking about. I did, however, abandon IE because of ads slowing the site to a crawl. I don’t have an ad blocker other than what’s in the browser.

  16. The only thing I got out of this is the 60year old guy was surprisingly strong. This old guy is still “surprisingly” strong too…don’t let the grey hair or old man mustache fool you. And if you pull a gun on a cop shoot him(or her).

  17. If the man was a lethal threat, why didn’t he try to shoot the cop when the copy was doing firing the taser or trying to tase him up close? Why didn’t he then shoot the cop when the barrel supposedly was pointed at the cops head on TWO different occasions? Clearly he had no intention of harming the cop.

    Yes, him picking up the rifle was stupid. If you’re not planning on shooting them, even thinking about a gun near a cop is a bad idea because they will always shoot first and shoot to kill, because they know that even if they make a bad call they will suffer no consequences. The guy was an idiot, but the cops life was clearly NOT in danger or else he would have been dead with all the chances he gave the guy to shoot him.

    • Maybe he forgot to charge the rifle, maybe he had the safety on, who knows? I certainly agree that the cop firing a TASER should have been an action point, forcing an instant decision to shoot the cop or drop the gun, seems the boy wasn’t thinking real straight.

  18. If the bitch wants to leave, why stop her? Help her with “her” stuff and remind who paid for it all and not come back. Dumbass…

    • Gotta watch the assumptions. Could be she was the one with a job for the last 5 years while he drank. In which case, letting her escape would be bad.

  19. Should never have tried to bring the taser into play. Lucky that didn’t get him killed- it is not a reasonable response to an armed threat unless backup is present. It’s not as if the guy was just walking around with the rifle minding his own business, he picked it up for a reason.

    And the widow’s response is typical. The spouse will call the police and then attack them the moment their back is turned.

  20. I am conflicted about this. I know we have cops for a reason. But since when do we forfeit our rights IN OUR OWN HOMES just because a police officer shows up? Was the cop justified…probably legally so….but I definitely think it could have been handled differently and with a different outcome. I think this is a training issue….or lack thereof. It is a very sad situation. But I still think in our own homes, our rights should not be forfeit just because a policeman shows up at the door. Hence better training/tactics. Just my thoughts.

    • While I agree, there is such a thing as being an ass. I still have the right to refuse a search, to refuse to incriminate myself, etc, but when a cop is present in my home, there is no reason for me to pick up/draw a firearm unless he asks me for armed assistance, or I intend to shoot him. I would expect him to react based on that concept, which has nothing to do with any of my “rights”. He was reacting to an armed threat, not violating someone’s rights.

  21. Yeah, sorry I don’t buy it. Kapelsohn may have been able to react that fast because of his training. That doesn’t mean the husband would have been able to react as quickly. I doubt some schmuck without any king of training would react as fast. An objective test would use someone with the same training or lack thereof the husband.

    • “That doesn’t mean the husband would have been able to react as quickly.”

      The husband wouldn’t be reacting. It doesn’t matter how slow his reflexes are if he decides to shoot first.

  22. I am surprised that the case even made it to court given how it seems the cop did everything possible to deescalate the situation. Forcible command to disarm while drawn on -> Stun Gun -> Taser -> Trigger finger. I mean short of baton and mace there aren’t many more less than lethal options on a duty belt are there? I guess, unless of course, you buy in that the stand off should have only taken place AFTER the deceased killed his wife then barricaded himself in the house.

  23. I would agree. I wish they would ditch the current ad structure and just use ads that are relevant to the site and it’s audience. If they did I would turn off my ad blocker so ttag could get some ad revenue from my visiting the site.

  24. The mistake the cop made was going to a domestic disturbance alone. Most of the time the police officer/s are shot by the wife (who called the cops on her abusive husband). first priority is to separate and cuff them both, second figure out whats going on.

    If the husband reached down to grab the rifle…. reaching for it is enough for me. I think it was amazing and it showed extreme restraint on the cops part to “try and taze and/or wrestle the rifle away”. IMHO that was dumb. My guess…. the cop personally knew the man holding the rifle. He considered him a non-threat, but had to draw due to proceedure. He did his best to avoid shooting the man, but when fighting he probably sensed that the man’s patience was running out, and if the barrel did get pointed in his direction, he only had one choice.

    • You are forgetting/neglecting one of the givens in the situation, a two-man department with the other man gone on his honeymoon, not available. The cop was alone, there was no backup available. Likewise, “procedure” would be rather unimportant to the only officer available.

      Try to imagine what might have happened if the guy had killed the cop, instead! Now he’s a cop killer on the loose with an AR and no cops anywhere to be found.

  25. I’m surprised the leo didn’t catch a butt-stroke to the face when grabbed the rifle barrel. If I were in that scenario, it would have been butt-stroke, followed by another until the barrel was free. Except I’m not in the business of combatting leos. Because the only outcome I see for this kind of confrontation is someone taking a dirt nap.

  26. Clean shoot. I asked my Dad 25 years LEO and he said “I can’t believe he tried to taser him, I would have shot him as soon as he picked up the gun.” You have 1 second to react to a suspect that has a rifle that will blow through department issued vests, what would you do? Many police shooting in recent news have been bad, but not this one.

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