Shootings by Tulsa police increased this year
BY AMANDA BLAND World Staff Writer
Monday, December 17, 2012
12/17/12 at 7:45 AM
Tulsa has seen an increase in the number of police officer-involved shootings this year; but the department has a similar number to other cities in the region, and officers say it's difficult to determine why shootings may increase or decrease on a year-to-year basis.
Tulsa police officers shot eight people between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17. Four died of police-inflicted gunshot wounds and a fifth fatally shot himself as officers shot and struck him in the leg.
Oklahoma City police have been involved in seven shootings, one of which was fatal, and two people have died in eight shootings involving Kansas City, Mo., police so far this year.
The number of officer-involved shootings in Oklahoma City increased by one from 2011. Kansas City saw a decrease of more than 50 percent. Tulsa's number of officer-involved shootings was four in 2011.
"We have had years higher, and it's kind of a cyclical thing," said Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan. "I don't really know how to explain it."
Oklahoma City's total jumped from three to seven in 2010 but has remained steady since.
"Nobody knows why they differ from one year to the next," said Sgt. Gary Knight with the Oklahoma City Police Department. "Some years we'll have more than what we had this year, and some years we'll have less. There's just no way to pinpoint why a certain number of officer-involved shootings happen in one year as opposed to a different year."
Three Tulsa police officer-involved shootings resulted in fatalities in 2011, a slight increase from the previous three years when two people died each year.
The District Attorney's Office has found each of the Tulsa police officer-involved shootings this year to be justified, except the recent fatal shooting of Donald Hallett on Nov. 29, which is still under investigation.
An emotional situation
Recruits to the Tulsa Police Department's training academy spend 25 weeks learning the ins and outs of police work and much of the curriculum trains rookies in the legal and practical use of deadly force, Jordan said.
"The use of force is one of the subjects that's covered more frequently and in greater detail than any subject matter in the academy," he said.
Tulsa police officers must maintain certification with the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, which requires officers to complete 25 hours of in-service training, or continuing education courses for law enforcement professionals, each year.
Many of the courses offered teach skills applicable to deadly force situations and armed confrontations, including use-of-force guidelines, Jordan said. The academy and in-service units address how and when to shoot, as well as methods for avoiding armed confrontations.
"Nobody chooses to get in a shootout," he said. "Regardless of the outcome, it's always a tragic circumstance. Unfortunately, sometimes the officer has no part in the decision-making process except to defend him or herself."
Oklahoma state statute describes the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer as justified when:
The known presence of a weapon that was reportedly used to threaten officers led to at least six of Tulsa's officer-involved shootings this year.
- Force is necessary to prevent an arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape.
- There is reason to believe the arrestee has inflicted, threatened or will inflict great bodily harm or is attempting to escape using a deadly weapon.
- If an officer, in the performance of his duties, reasonably believes the use of force is necessary to protect himself or others from serious bodily harm.
Police believed Maria de Lourdes Vazquez Hernandez to be armed before shooting her in the parking lot of a supermarket on April 20, but it was later determined she did not have a weapon. She survived her injuries and filed a civil suit against the city of Tulsa and two Tulsa police officers.
Phillip Steven Doll was shot and killed while in the commission of a first-degree burglary and was seen threatening the home's residents before lunging at officers, police said following the incident.
"It's a very emotional situation for police officers when they're involved in shootings. Nobody takes it lightly," Jordan said. "It's not like television, a shoot 'em up. It's something that we do everything within our power to avoid and sometimes we just can't.
"The bottom line is the decision for an armed confrontation never comes from a police officer. It comes from the perpetrator."
'Not a whodunit'
The investigation into an officer involved shooting begins with the Tulsa Police Department's Homicide Unit, which is the first investigative body to take on the case.
"We investigate the shooting as we would any other criminal shooting," said Sgt. Dave Walker. "That's what our task is."
One of the only differences is that the shooter is identified and on hand, he said.
"It's not a whodunit. We go from there and investigate that," Walker said.
Homicide investigators attempt to establish a timeline of events and find out the history of the confrontation between police and the subject through interviews, while crime scene investigators catalog the physical evidence. Representatives from the department's internal affairs and legal division also respond to the scene.
After the homicide unit submits its findings to the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office, a determination on criminal liability is made. Internal affairs reviews the case for criminal and policy violations.
A deadly force review committee also examines the incident.
The committee consists of a handful of officers of varying ranks and submits a recommendation to Jordan regarding the officer and implications of the incident for the department, such as shortcomings in officer training, he said.
"I look at their findings and their recommendations and act on those," Jordan said.
Shootings in 2012
Here's a look at Tulsa Police Department officer-involved shootings in 2012. In each case in which an investigation has been completed, the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office has ruled the shootings were justified.
March 20: Phillip Steven Doll, 25, was fatally shot during a first-degree burglary in the 900 block of East 36th Street. Doll had recently been named a person of interest in the fatal shooting of Natalie Anne Davis, 22. Officers believed the home's resident to be in immediate danger when they shot Doll. The District Attorney's Office ruled the shooting justified.
April 3: Officers responding to a report of a suicidal person fired on Bobby Dale Sutton, 45, who had lunged at officers with a knife inside his residence at the London Square Apartments, 59th Street and Lewis Avenue, police said. Sutton had a reported history of mental illness. He died at St. Francis Hospital. The shooting was ruled justified.
April 20: Maria de Lourdes Vazquez Hernandez, 35, survived multiple gunshot wounds after police were called to investigate a road-rage incident. Hernandez, who officers believed to be armed, was in a car parked outside Las Americas Super Mercado, 2413 E. Admiral Place. She refused to comply with police orders and appeared to be reaching for a weapon in the waistband of her pants when she was shot, officers said. The shooting was ruled justified.
June 6: Jose Antonio Lozada, 57, was shot in the hand and in the hip outside the home of his estranged wife in the 2000 block of North Delaware Avenue. Police later found Joyce Ann Lozada, 64, dead inside. Lozada is charged with first-degree murder and two counts of feloniously pointing a firearm and remains in the Tulsa Jail. The police shooting was ruled justified.
July 16: Police were investigating multiple reports of attempted armed robberies when they came upon Manuel Sanchez, 32, near Fourth Street and Xanthus Avenue. Sanchez reportedly pointed a gun at officers during a foot pursuit when police fatally shot him in the abdomen and arm. The shooting was ruled justified.
July 19: Armed robbery suspect Davano Pouncil died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a police chase. Officers shot at Pouncil as Pouncil pointed a weapon at them near 14th Street and Garnett Road. Police were attempting to apprehend Pouncil after an armed robbery at Julia Ann Donut, 11124 E. Admiral Blvd. The shooting was ruled justified.
Aug. 26: Harry James Hamilton Jr., 35, was shot in the arm and abdomen after he fired at a squad car during a traffic stop in the 100 block of South Olympia Avenue, police said. He was being pulled over for failing to yield. Hamilton is charged with shooting with intent to kill, possession of a firearm after a felony conviction and drug possession with intent to distribute and remains in the Tulsa Jail. The police shooting was ruled justified.
Nov. 29: Fugitive warrants detectives were attempting to serve Donald Hallett, 44, with a felony warrant on a shooting with intent to kill charge when he fled on foot with a shotgun. He was fatally shot by police after reportedly pointing the gun at officers. Hallett had been charged in connection to a shooting at the Motel 6 on N. Garnett Road on Nov. 20.
Here are the number of Tulsa Police Department officer-involved shootings in the last five years:
2012: 8 (5 fatal)
2011: 4 (3 fatal)
2010: 6 (2 fatal)
2009: 4 (2 fatal)
2008: 7 (2 fatal)
Original Print Headline: When officers fire
Amanda Bland 918-581-8413
A person is comforted by a friend at the scene of a police-involved shooting in the 900 block of East 36th Street South in March. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World file