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Officers forced to confront ‘selfish’ act of suicide by cop

Early in the morning on Feb. 8, a Seattle police sergeant came face-to-face with a man who wanted to commit "suicide by cop." According to a department spokesperson, it is a scenario that officers encounter quite often and are trained to deal with. (Photo: AP)

Seattle police Sgt. Gabriel Shank had never shot anyone before.

But standing just steps from the door of the East Precinct on Seattle’s Capitol Hill he came very close.

“There were three opportunities were he actually had taken one step at me,” he said. “Each time I thought for sure I was going to have to pull the trigger.”

It was early one morning in the middle of 12th Avenue and Sgt. Shank was face-to-face with someone determined to commit suicide by cop. The man was armed with a knife, which he used just moments earlier to cut his left forearm so deep that the gash exposed his bone.

He told Sgt. Shank to kill him.

“He wanted to die at that moment.”

It is a situation that happens not infrequently for officers, according to Det. Renee Witt, a Seattle Police Department spokesperson. A similar incident happened on Jan. 29, when a man brought a gun to the Southwest precinct and put it to his head.

“We see these quite often actually,” Witt said. “You know, our officers are trained to deal with people who are in distress.”

Back in front of the East Precinct, Sgt. Shank radioed to his colleagues, who were inside just feet away.

“One-Charlie,” he said. “I have a man at gunpoint with a knife in his hand.”

Police Sgt. Susanna Monroe ran outside.

“Sgt. Shank had his gun out and I saw this person standing in the middle of the street,” she said. “It was very obvious he was crouched, ready to start running at us.”

With his gun drawn, Sgt. Shank tried to talk the man down.

“‘Man you don’t want to do this. This is a bad idea,'” he said. “‘I don’t want to (kill you).'”

After “what felt like forever,” the man began to lose consciousness and dropped to the ground. He had lost a lot of blood and was rushed to Harborview Medical Center for treatment and a mental health evaluation.

It wasn’t until after he filed his report that Sgt. Shank had time to reflect on what just happened.

“He targeted me because I was a police officer and he knew that I had a weapon and he also knew that I would defend myself,” he said. “That’s the hardest part that I have, is that he targeted me just because of something that I do.”

Although she said she felt empathy for man, Sgt. Monroe called his act selfish.

“It’s horrific that he would force that on somebody else – to take his life.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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