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Sacramento police shoot, wound man after possible ‘suicide by cop’ attempt

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014 - 1:01 pm

Sacramento police shot and wounded a man late Monday morning, the third officer-involved shooting in Sacramento County in a little more than a week attributed to possible attempts to commit “suicide by cop.”

Monday’s shooting in Upper Land Park occurred during a domestic-violence call that escalated, Sacramento police said, when the suspect became aggressive with officers, acted as though he had a weapon and even urged officers to shoot him.

The man, identified only as in his 20s, was taken to a hospital with serious injuries, police said. He initially was expected to survive, but by Monday evening his injuries had become life-threatening, authorities said.

The shooting came less than 48 hours after Sacramento police officers fatally shot a man aboard a Regional Transit light-rail train downtown. That man, too, asked officers to shoot him, police said, and concealed his hands after having made threats about possessing a knife.

One week earlier, Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a Ryan Shannon on an Antelope street after he brandished what appeared to be an assault rifle and a handgun. The weapons later were determined to be realistic-looking airsoft pistols, officials said. At the man’s home, authorities found written material suggesting that he “wanted to end his life.” Shannon’s husband, Sal Shannon, told The Sacramento Bee that Ryan was a good man who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving time in the U.S. Marines and was having trouble getting help.

Despite this month’s apparent cluster of suicides by cop, local law enforcement officials said they have not seen an overall uptick in the number of such incidents. Their observations are anecdotal, because such cases are not officially counted and tracked. However, studies have estimated that as many as 46 percent of officer-involved shootings fit the profile.

On Monday, Sacramento police responded to the 100 block of Seavey Circle, south of Broadway and west of the Old City Cemetery, about 11:30 a.m. after receiving multiple calls of a man abusing a woman. Among the callers was the suspect himself, who said he was “armed and dangerous” and that police needed to “get out here,” said spokeswoman Officer Michele Gigante.

Two officers in a patrol car pulled into the parking lot and contacted a man who matched descriptions given by callers. The man was aggressive with officers and acted as if he had a gun, with his hand hidden in his coat, Gigante said. He ignored multiple commands to show his hands and repeatedly told police to shoot him, she said.

At one point, the man began to walk back toward an apartment building, and one of the two officers retrieved his AR-15 rifle out of the patrol car. When the suspect came back and continued to act as though he had a gun, the officer fired, striking the man.

Gigante said the rifle was an appropriate weapon for the situation because it is far more accurate than a handgun. The shooting occurred within the Marina Vista public housing complex, which is home to many families, including small children. Nobody else was injured.

Police interviewed multiple witnesses, who gave “very consistent” accounts of the confrontation, Gigante said. Officers also confirmed the domestic violence before officers’ arrival, she said. She was not clear whether the man was a resident of the complex but said he at least stayed there occasionally.

Officers later learned he did not have a gun, Gigante said. However, based on the suspect’s call to 911 and his behavior with officers, she said it is possible that he intended to die at the hands of police.

“It’s sad. This is two now,” she said, referring to Saturday night’s shooting by police. “It’s putting everybody at risk in situations like this.”

The shooting drew dozens of residents out from their apartments to the crime-scene tape. Multiple residents reported hearing three gunshots. Some expressed concern about the officer’s decision to use deadly force in broad daylight when children could have been around.

Tasha Brown said she left work early when her mother called to relay what had happened. She was concerned about her 9-year-old son, in school at nearby Leataata Floyd Elementary School, but did not want to pull him out early only to walk him by a crime scene.

“I don’t want to have to explain that to him,” said Brown, 29.

Like many other residents, Brown said the housing complex is relatively quiet – a far cry from the decades when Seavey Circle was considered among the city’s most dangerous areas. She’s lived there for about five years but is considering a move after Monday’s scare.

“If I’ve got to come home from work to make sure my kids are protected, yeah, I’m going to go,” she said.

But Keisha Hendricks said she was not concerned by the officer’s decision to shoot, given the circumstances described.

“The same story you told me, a lot of people told me,” said Hendricks, 23, after a Sacramento Bee reporter conveyed the official account from police.

The phenomenon of suicide by cop has increasingly been documented and studied in recent decades. In a 2009 article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, three researchers estimated that more than one in three officer-involved shootings fit the criteria of suicide by cop. Their study was based on data from more than 90 police departments in the United States and Canada during an 11-month period spanning 2006 and 2007.

Kris Mohandie, a police and forensic psychologist and one author of the study, said he expects that the rate of suicide by cop has not changed much since the 2009 article. In any officer-involved shooting, suicidal intentions should be considered as a motive, he said.

“Most people don’t continue doing things that are likely to draw deadly force” unless that is their intention, said Mohandie, who is based in Pasadena. “Most people know what they’re supposed to do when the police have their guns pointed at them. You wouldn’t be noncompliant, you wouldn’t be aggressive because you know what would happen.”

Fewer than 20 percent of suicides by cop are planned, Mohandie said. Instead, most are “spontaneous” actions by people already in distress and searching for a method, he said. An interaction with law enforcement might be what triggers that course of action.

The power of suggestion plays a factor, too, Mohandie said. Without knowing the details of each incident, he said Sacramento’s recent cluster could include “copycat” incidents.

In addition, Mohandie said there is a correlation between suicides by cop and people with undiagnosed or mistreated mental-health issues, which also could include drug abuse. Law enforcement training for better handling those with mental illness is important, he said, but often won’t prevent suicide by cop.

“(Officers) could do everything right but at the end of the day, the individual takes those choices away from (them),” he said.

Mohandie said it is important for suicidal people to reach out for help, rather than resorting to an act with great repercussions.

“There is help out there. These feelings will pass,” he said. Suicide by cop, he added, is a “terrible mistake that affects many people’s lives … and puts law enforcement in a bad position in terms of traumatizing officers involved, as well as the sadness and grief and trauma of the people left behind.”


Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.

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