Protect and Survive: Officer-Involved Shootings on the Rise

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office has its own gun range, which also has hosted "Best of the West" SWAT competitions. (Photo by Lora Schraft)

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office has its own gun range, which also has hosted "Best of the West" SWAT competitions. (Photo by Lora Schraft)

Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University who has more than three decades of experience in the field of criminal justice, says the Supreme Court has intentionally provided cushion for law enforcement through rulings such as Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor. The decisions allowed for “all kinds of room for subjectivity” in what constitutes a threat, Weisberg says, but also puts the onus on law enforcement to prove suspects showed an “imminent proclivity of inflicting grievous harm on someone.”

Almost a decade ago, SJPD modified its Duty Manual—the police Bible—to come into line with what were then considered national law enforcements’ “best practices” for use of force. Rather than have officers escalate force in steps—from verbal commands to using their hands, pepper spray, a baton, Taser and as a last resort a firearm—police were given more latitude to make snap judgments on the best way to gain control of a situation. The current policy is referred to as a “continuum of force.”

Both the San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office put cadets through an academy, where they must meet proficiency marks for firearm accuracy, as well as pass a test on how and when to escalate a use of force. After that they have bi-annual range tests to continue using their firearm, and annual “carbine” certification tests if they want to have the ability to carry more deadly automatic rifles.

SJPD Lt. Jason Dwyer teaches the use-of-force block in the academy, which, he notes, has the highest cut score. Cadets are given two chances to pass. If unsuccessful on the second try, after additional training, the cadet is “terminated” from the force, Dwyer says.

“It’s up to the officer to select the tool they would use or level of force they would use for a situation,” he says. “You basically use the most reasonable choice based on a situation. It’s heavily rooted in case law. People can Monday morning quarterback forever, but the officers involved have to make that decision in a split second, and thankfully the courts recognize that.”

Pamela Meanes, president of the National Bar Association, the largest organization of African-American attorneys in the country, says over-aggressive use of force and the militarization of law local law enforcement agencies has redefined “protect and serve.” Her organization is in the midst of a year-long project to expose police brutality in 25 regions across the country, including San Jose.

“As the National Bar Association has traveled around, there is no question that there has been a line drawn between police and the community that hires it to protect it, especially in minority communities,” Meanes says. “They feel like the police is not there to protect them and serve them.”

Sheriff Laurie Smith, who oversees a 1,300-person department with about 550 active patrol officers, and other law enforcement professionals reached for this story take umbrage with that notion. Smith’s office has had 11 officer-involved shootings since the beginning of 2009, and despite saying there has been internal discipline for officer-involved shootings in the past, she appears to have no regrets on her officers using lethal force.

“I laugh at movies when someone is pointing a gun at the cop and the cop says, ‘stop,’ and the cop gets shot,” Smith says. “They do that all the time in the movies. It’s not realistic. We have to make sure that we’re safe.

“Our deputies do not get paid to get killed.”

However, the number of people dealing with mental illness who are shot by officers complicates the narrative. A lawsuit against the county Sheriff's Office was filed just last week by the family of Andrea Naharro-Gionet, a 61-year-old woman who suffered from mental illness and was shot to death last November after allegedly advancing on officers with a knife. The DA has not yet released its report on that incident.

SJPD created its Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT program, in 1999, and it has become part of the standard training for all new recruits. According to the OIS incident reports published by the DA’s office, it appears more than a third of the 20 incidents involved a suspect who suffered from some form of mental illness, ranging from depression and suicidal thoughts to carrying out a psychopathic active-shooter scenario.

“A lot of people on the streets have mental illness issues, and quite frankly I think law enforcement is encountering more people with mental illness,” Smith says. “We train people how to deal with people with mental illnesses, but that doesn’t mean the threat doesn’t come quickly.”

She adds that while these individuals are dangerous to the community and officers, that doesn’t necessarily mean their crimes should land them in jail or prison.

“I have been told that we run the largest mental health facility in the county: the jail,” Smith says. “And we have excellent, excellent treatment. We have one of the [best] mental health facilities; other counties—Alameda County, San Mateo County—send us their seriously mentally ill because we have that kind of facility.”

The only solution, Smith surmises, is to create more treatment facilities and beds for people who are suffering from mental illness.

In the case of 19-year-old Diana Showman, San Jose police officers were forced to respond to a 9-1-1 call Aug. 14 in which she threatened to kill her family and said she had an Uzi. The weapon, in fact, turned out to be a black power drill. Showman, who suffered from bipolar disorder and was actually home alone at the time of the incident, walked on the lawn and repeatedly aimed the drill at surrounding officers. Officer Wakana Okuma, a 13-year veteran of SJPD who was CIT trained, fired one round and killed her.

The DA is in the process of completing its investigation on whether Officer Okuma will be charged, and Rosen tells San Jose Inside the initial facts seem to justify Okuma’s use of force.

“There are a lot of mentally ill people that are not receiving appropriate mental health treatment, for a variety of reasons,” Rosen says. “They refuse it or their family is ashamed, feels shameful about the person receiving treatment, and the person ends up decomposing.

“I think that’s a really hard situation for officers. Sometimes they know the person they’re dealing with is mentally ill. Sometimes they don’t. And even if they know the person they’re dealing with is mentally ill, that doesn’t make the person less of a threat.”

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Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

29 Comments

    • Wow, josh you and SJI have hit rock bottom with this article. If a criminal kills another person and then confronts police and points a weapon at officers what do you expect. I can give you a dozen examples when an officer is put in a deadly situation and had to act with deadly force.

      San Jose Police is moving up in shootings ( and city homicides) because they are being shot at and assualted more thanks to Chuck and Sam due to measure B. Criminals know there is no police force so they are running free to commit more crimes which result in confrontations with police which turn deadly.

      This should read : Josh Koehn is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper (and a member of the Mercury News)

      Who hate the ” Who use to be one of the best police department s in the country”

      • So explain how did that guy who killed 11 people in a movie theatre and had weapons and bombs end up taken alive? No excessive or deadly force used?
        Yet a 13 year old in santa Rosa was shot multiple times and he didnt kill anyone!
        Animals aren’t even killed with as many bullets as officers put into human beings!
        Cops need to be held accountable. ..they make a choice to kill rather than save a life! Those are choices grown adults make…yet try and teach children about wise choices being positive?
        We need people who care in government positions to make changes to rebuild, restore trust and safety for all!

    • JOSH AKA SJ MERCURY NEWS, SAD YOU EVEN POST THIS TRASH AND LET CINQUE POST THIS. I THINK YOU WANT THE VIOLENT PROTEST TO OCCUR SO YOU Have something to print.

  1. According to publicly available newspaper accounts, Castillo shot someone in a San Jose gas station, then kidnapped an old lady and shot her dead execution style. Allman took a semiautomatic weapon and killed several people at the Cupertino cement plant before getting into an armed standoff with the police. If the suggestion is that police have a pattern of engaging in foul play and using excessive force, at least two of the examples cited in this article’s picture gallery do not support that hypothesis. Those guys were known maniacs when they confronted the police. The people second-guessing the police in this article do not have to get into armed standoffs with maniacs as part of their jobs. If they did, they would s**** their pants or get killed or both.

  2. LaDoris, the faux Independent Auditor like to trumpet that she’s a retired Judge… But apparently she doesn’t grasp the chasm of difference between civil and criminal law- beyond a reasonable doubt versus preponderance of evidence. That is why civil cases are settled, regardless of Duty Manual policies or Supreme Court decisions. It’s sad that she and the local media intentionally misinform the public with articles such as this. Josh, the NBA and several others imply that police are supposed to “Protect and Serve”… Maybe you should research where that comes from. Is it a legal standard? A mission statement? Is it a policy? No, it’s a motto written on LAPD police cars and because of Hollywood, people seem to think its a justification for anything they don’t like the police doing- imagined or real. I guess the police should just be like Robocop and follow a prime directive given by whomever happens to be in their 15 minutes of media spotlight.

  3. Josh,

    While I do believe this is one of the better pieces you have written in recent times, I don’t understand the timing nor the message. Call me dense, but you went in a few complete circles here and ended with Judge Cordell’s most prized pet project, putting cameras on cops, and I can’t pinpoint what you were trying to get at.

    I do take issue with some of the previously mentioned examples (Paul Ray Castillo, Shareef Allman), but most of all I take huge issue with the addition of Jonathan Wilbanks’ photo being included with those on the first page. Wilbanks not only murdered an innocent person (after committing multiple armed robberies), he tried to murder a San Jose police officer and was very narrowly thwarted by the officer. Wilbanks should not be alive, plain and simple. To use his photo in any capacity, knowing what he did (along with Castillo) to illustrate your story is classless.

    As a follow up to this article Josh, you may consider the famed Hollywood shootout, where the officers were outgunned by the two bank robbers due to archaic policies and political assumptions governing law enforcement. Lastly, consider this fact – numerous municipal police agencies in the bay area have an AR-15 in every single patrol car, even our state level police who mostly focus on vehicle code enforcement carry them in nearly every patrol car. Yet, there is outrage when certain police departments receive AR-15’s from the government? Why is this?

  4. When society allows a limited thinker to believe she is highly intelligent, you get:

    “All of these shootings were within policy. That is a decision made by the department… For some of these shootings there have been substantial payouts to the victims and their family members. If the shootings are within policy, why is the city paying?”

    — To adjudge a shooting as within policy it is only necessary to consider the reasonableness of an action against written guidelines. This is something police departments do well. But the action taken by an officer(s) is only one-half of a shooting incident, the second half being the reaction, an element far too arbitrary and unpredictable to be governed by hard and fast rules (especially for a government cowering in fear of its ignorant and uncivilized masses). Would Ms. Cordell advise leaders in Ferguson, Missouri to announce, when it is inevitably revealed that the shooting of Michael Brown was within policy, that the city considers the matter closed for further discussion? I think not, and Ms. Cordell, it seems, doesn’t think at all.

    “Why wouldn’t you want to wear them unless you’re not following the rules?” Cordell says. “If you’re behaving, you want the cameras.”

    — It’s laughable that a former judge who spent a good deal of her time crafting “justice” within the isolated confines of her chamber — out of reach of the jurors and general public, would equate police reluctance to being constantly monitored with the intention to break the rules. Perhaps what’s needed is for her to set an example by having the conversations in her office and on her phones recorded and uploaded (for public inspection) daily? After all, if she and her staff are 100% objective and fair, and if her “clients” are telling the truth, why, to use her reasoning, wouldn’t they want to be monitored? After all, the IPA has demonstrated itself to have considerable effect (mostly negative) on the reputation of its police department, so it can’t be said that what goes on in there isn’t of interest to the public.

  5. I don’t know why SJPD shoots to kill. I know they have to protect themselves and take many risks in their job. Not every individual needs to be shot, in some cases where the person is shooting at them, I can see them shooting. My son is in the above pictures. Thank God he survived. My son wasn’t the driver he was the passenger. When the cops shot they shot through the passengers window, if he didn’t duck down in time they probably would have killed him. The bullets grazed his thumb. What I don’t understand is why do SJPD shoot to kill and always get away with it.

    • Patricia,

      In Law Enforcement, officers are not trained to “shoot to kill”. That is a misnomer perpetuated by film and the media. Regarding incidents involving deadly force, officers are trained to eliminate/stop and overcome whatever deadly threat they are being presented with. What level of force that entails is based upon the facts & circumstances surrounding the incident and these facts and circumstances are largely based upon the officer’s level of training and experience.

      • If thats true…then how could someone be a threat when there back is turned?
        To act in fear is DANGEROUS for Society and our Children.
        Killing is about Power and Control!
        Yet people are blind or just have no compassion these are human beings and assume they deserved it…before getting the facts!
        Just the same for officer who gets killed…it was a job they chose and knew the danger, so when they die its just part of their job?
        WRONG! EVERY Life Matters…and the ones Left Behind like Children have to suffer these consequences!
        People need to Respect Lives Stolen and have Compassion for the families grieving. Badge or No Badge!

        • Laurie,

          I understand your emotions and while I agree with some of your sentiments, our perspectives are very different.

          Someone can be a threat when their back is turned in many different instances. Most law enforcement agencies have policies which permit deadly force when the facts and circumstances would lead an officer to believe the person poses an ongoing threat to the lives of not only the officer, but other officers and any member of the public.

          Here are a few examples of a person who would continue to pose a threat when their back is turned –

          Someone who just shot at you and has now turned away to take cover or retreat to a position of advantage.

          Someone holding an edged weapon (knife, saw, hatchet, etc) who turns their back to an officer and advances on another officer or member of the public in a threatening manner with that edged weapon.

          Someone holding a deadly weapon who intentionally turns their back (while disobeying lawful commands) and attempts to advance on an officer.

          Someone who has been part of an ongoing violent crime (or spree of crimes), is armed or believed to be armed (based on real facts), and makes a threatening movement toward an officer or member of the public while attempting to flee from capture.

          Unfortunately, Laurie, all of these situations are hypothetical. When force is used, deadly or otherwise, it is often during a rather chaotic event where everything is not black and white. The dynamics of the chaos are not predictable and human instincts become a strong determining factor when people are presented with the possibility of being gravely injured or possibly even killed.

    • Patricia, Steve is correct.

      Cops shoot for the largest part of the target…. the torso. They shoot to STOP. But in many cases they shoot too much.

      This is a problem cause by a lack of training.

  6. Jack Slade Here!

    SJPD is overloaded with people who lack skill and common sense. Poor education, poor training, poor supervision and leadership has resulted in everyone doing what they want with DA Rosen who rubber stamps the killings. He is afraid of them after the rigged drunk driving arrest of the San Jose city councilman. His office is loaded up with Retired SJPD people. It’s so toxic that the DA’s office tried to cover up one of their substance abusers let go by SJPD after she seriously injured a person in a drunk driving accident where she was spirited away and the two investigating officers fired. They were later rehired and one of them later resigned and was charged with child molestation. The Drunk ex SJPD then DA Investigator’s father was a LT. on SJPD and later in charge of the DA’s SJPD’s Investigators. The poor injured girl and mother in the aforementioned accident had to move into seclusion and the California Attorney General had to step in and prosecute the Drunk Driving. Now I know it sounds unbelievable but there are 72 such incidents of morally bankrupt criminal behavior by these thugs.

    Thank God for all the measures that have taken away their control over their outrageous Pensions. For that kind of money you should get top notch stable people.

  7. Looks like someone didn’t get all the facts straight before posting accusations.

    “Cupertino suspect died of self-inflicted gunshot, Santa Clara County coroner finds

    PeninsulaPress.com

    October 6, 2011

    UPDATE, Oct. 11, 3:45 p.m.: The Santa Clara County coroner’s office has concluded that Shareef Allman died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the temple, not from bullets fired by county sheriff’s deputies, the San Jose Mercury News reports.”

  8. Jack Slade Here FOOLS
    Now you have a revealed thug on SJPD who has broken bones using three from the ring style. One expose after another. Don’t you understand hiring psychologically ill people who want POWER OVER PEOPLE is an error in judgment. These people are sick and you can’t just look at them to determine it. You have hired child molesters, homosexuals and criminally inclined people just to fill squad cars. You will pay big judgments for these people who you have accumulated for 30 years. Drown Sam “The Licking v. San Jose scammer. Have you unloaded your Baseball Stadium parcel yet, scum.