This post will attempt to explain why the San Francisco Police Department’s shooting of Mario Woods was justified. The video of the shooting can be found here… (Warning: it does show him get shot)
Before we get started, please read my earlier post titled Why Cops Shoot People With Knives. That information is important in this case.
In the case of Mario Woods, he had allegedly stabbed a family member and police were flagged down by a witness who saw a man (Woods) matching the suspect description and still holding the knife. Police responded and Woods refused to drop the knife and surrender. Bean bags and pepper spray were then apparently used but were ineffective.
I’m not sure if the officers were carrying Tasers or not but it’s irrelevant, as the Taser X26 (the most common model carried by police) has a maximum range of 15 feet, but an ideal range of 7 feet. That’s well within the danger zone of a knife (21 feet). They were under no obligation to expose themselves to further danger by trying to get to the ideal 7 feet needed to tase Woods, especially after bean bags and pepper spray couldn’t convince Woods to comply with the lawful commands to drop the knife and surrender. (Update: I recently learned that SFPD officers are not issued tasers so this wouldn’t have been an option even if they wanted)
It’s important to understand that since Woods was the suspect in a stabbing (which is a felony) the police were duty-bound to 1) prevent him from assaulting anyone else, 2) prevent his escape and 3) arrest him.
Preventing his escape is an important aspect to this case. They have Woods backed up against a wall which is good. They have something of a semi-circle formed around him as well. They are duty-bound to protect the public that are witnessing this event and to prevent Woods’ escape. So all things considered, they’ve done a great job so far. They tried less-lethal means of disarming him to no avail and they have him surrounded.
And at this point, they are doing nothing but holding their ground and continuing to issue lawful commands to drop the knife and surrender. It’s Woods’ actions that force their hand. Woods begins to walk to his right (our left) and one of the officers, in an attempt to contain him, moves into his path. Again, it’s important to remember that Woods does not have the right to just walk wherever he wants to. He’s been told he’s under arrest and he continually refuses lawful commands to drop the knife and surrender. If he had simply remained stationary, the officers likely would have stayed right where they were as well. If he had dropped the knife and surrendered, he would have been safely arrested.
But that’s not what Woods did. As Woods walked towards the officer, all while refusing lawful commands to stop, drop the knife and surrender, that officer was reasonable to believe that his life was in danger from Woods as Woods was close enough to potentially stab the officer if he suddenly sprinted towards the officer. The other officers there were also reasonable to believe that their fellow officer’s life was in danger which justifies them shooting as well (which also explains why Woods was shot so many times, as 5 officers firing a few rounds each adds up quickly).
That’s essentially it. When you advance towards an officer, whether lunging or not, and you’re around 8 feet away from him, while holding a knife and refusing to drop it or surrender, it’s reasonable for an officer to believe his life is in danger and put a stop to the threat on his safety. And I’ve got a strong feeling the grand jury will agree in this case.
Many will say the officers could have done something differently, but my question is, what specifically do you have in mind? They tried bean bags and pepper spray and those things were ineffective. Should they have simply let him keep walking, wherever he pleased, and run the risk of him escaping or taking someone hostage? Should they have let him actually start stabbing them before they took action?
How about this, instead of always asking what the officers could have done differently, let’s turn that question around and ask what Woods could have done differently. For one, he could have chosen to NOT stab a family member (allegedly). Two, he could have dropped the knife when lawfully ordered to. Three, he could have stopped walking towards the officer when lawfully ordered to stop. Any of those things definitely would have led to a result that didn’t see Woods in a body bag.
Indeed, Woods would still be alive if he had listened to the advice from the woman on the video screaming like a banshee: “JUST DROP IT!”