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Seattle police source: What took them so long? I would have shot sooner

Seattle police body cam video of the fatal shooting of Iosia Faletogo, Dec. 31, 2018. (Seattle Police Department)

“I would have shot sooner.” That was the reaction by one police officer I spoke with after watching the recently-released body cam video from Seattle police showing the fatal shooting of Iosia Faletogo.

A number of other officers I spoke with agreed. You can see the video here (warning: graphic content).

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This local officer has years of experience on the force and walked me through some of the training that SPD goes through in order to determine if a suspect should be justifiably shot. Here is what an officer has to determine in mere seconds when they face a suspect who may be willing to use deadly force.

One: “A threat.” Did the suspect have a weapon or was the suspect themselves a deadly threat to the public or law enforcement?

Two: “The means.” Did the suspect have the ability to fire his weapon at any time during the pursuit before he even hit the ground to fire and murder police officers or anyone in the general public?

“The gun was the threat, and when the toxicology comes back, we may know more about if he, himself, even without a gun, was a threat,” the officer said. “If someone is high, for instance on PCP, you are not going to necessarily stop them with an arm bar, but yes, in my opinion, the gun and the loaded magazine was the threat. “

He added:

He could have turned at any time, or just fired while running and killed a number of officers. Also, when he was half way to the ground, while reaching for the gun, he could have flipped and killed all of those officers and we would have had the Lakewood Four situation all over again. Let’s not forget, one of those officers put up a fight too, but then his own weapon was taken from him during the fight with that suspect, before all four officers lives were extinguished by just one man. Don’t think it can’t happen. He also could have shot while exiting the vehicle. And don’t forget how dark it was. We aren’t running with the ability to create a lot of light when we are in an all out foot pursuit. We are assessing and running like hell with a utility belt on into the dark, intense, chaotic situation.

Three: “The opportunity.” Did the suspect, at any time, have the opportunity, even while running, to murder police officers or anyone in the general public? Did he have the opportunity even when he was then halfway to the ground? Did he have the opportunity while he was sitting in the car?

“The foot pursuit gave him plenty of opportunity to bait the officers to chase him, and then turn and murder them or anyone in the general public,” the officer told me.

“That is a crowded neighborhood up there and we have been sworn to protect and serve. What if he would have hijacked a car, taken a hostage, or barricaded himself in a local business? We are considering all those things while pursuing a suspect. We have to pursue suspects like this, and meet force with force. That’s what this officer did.”

Four: “The intent.” By not surrendering the weapon upon exiting the vehicle, did the suspect show intent to use deadly force against the public or other officers?

“He could have exited the vehicle without the gun and, in my opinion, the outcome would have been different,” the officer said. “There was a threat, there was a means, there was an opportunity, and he showed intent. It was a justifiable shooting and, in my opinion, the officers had the right to shoot him sooner.”

Officer-involved shooting in context

Those are the four things a Seattle officer considers in such a situation. I followed up with a few questions. Below is our conversation.

Why was the suspect shot in the head?

“To help the public understand what type of training we go through, it is helpful to watch some training videos. You can see these at Police One online. Watch the video on ‘Close Quarter Battle’ and the video on ‘Brace Contact Position.’ That is exactly what the firing officer was doing. He was in a close quarter battle and you are taught to meet force with force and aim for the head. Everything else that people think we should do looks good in the movies, but it is not the reality of our training.”

Why do you say you would have shot him sooner?

“Once they saw the gun and he was not willing to stop after being warned multiple times to give up the fight or he was going to be shot — that’s it. There is no de-escalating that situation when you are in the middle of a fight like that. If you don’t think it hurts, the firing officer actually broke his hand and tore all the ligaments in it while battling and then shooting the suspect. I hope that comes out during all the Monday Morning Quarterbacking.”

We see an officer with his gun trained on the suspect, but not firing in the body cam video. Why didn’t he shoot?

“He was doing what he was suppose to. He is the covering officer. He did not want to shoot another officer while trying to apprehend the suspect.”

Why not use a stun gun, like a TASER?

“For SPD, you don’t have to carry one, so who knows if there was a TASER even there. You have to carry a TASER, or a baton, or pepper spray. You don’t use a TASER in a close quarter battle when the suspect is a lot bigger than you, is putting up a hell of a fight and has a loaded weapon. The TASER won’t work in that situation. A baton is not meeting force with force, and if you pepper spray in a close quarter battle, you may end up spraying your own officers.”

Why not give the suspect more time to comply?

“Again, when you see a gun, and you are in a close quarter battle, and the suspect is not showing signs of giving up the fight, and he has been warned multiple times, and you have assessed he has the opportunity to kill or injure more officers or the public at large, there is no time to plead. The officers, in my opinion, should have shot him sooner. They had that right. “

We hear a voice on the video say he is not reaching for the gun.

“Suspects tell us all the time they are not doing things they are doing. Ever watch an episode of Cops? People are never speeding, using, selling, pimping, stealing, or carrying, or reaching for a weapon. In my opinion, he was fighting to get that weapon. It doesn’t matter what he said, but what did.”

What do you want the public to know?

“We will now see if we have a police chief in Carmen Best; that will do her best to back up her own officers.”

Why do you say that?

“Because the officers that justifiably shot Charleena Lyles still haven’t been placed back on patrol.”

But were they cleared?

“I know. And if she doesn’t do a better job at backing up the rank and file officers that have been cleared in a very thorough investigation like that one with high media scrutiny, she will have another mass exodus of Seattle police officers on her hands. They have the right to go back on patrol and that is where they should be.”

Anything else?

“I hope the public understands this is not personal. This is part of the job, and part of the training, and I know it can be brutal to watch. But watching a record number of police officers shot last year is brutal, too. We have a right to go home.”

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