ON THE BEAT: Reedley officers highlight realities of use of force

Sergeants provide insight on the use of force in policing, showcase taser demo during fifth Community Member’s Academy meeting

(Darren Fraser)
Darren Fraser
Published June 7, 2024  • 
9:00 am

REEDLEY – Near the end of week five of the Reedley Police Department Community Member’s Academy, Sergeant Tim Kelly asked if any academy member would consent to be tasered, and unsurprisingly, no one stepped forward. 

Even though the application would not be the full force of the weapon officers use on suspects, no one volunteered to be tasered; thus, Sergeant Kelly had to be content with shooting a facsimile of a suspect. When Kelly fired the taser, it delivered a loud pop. The darts lodged into the dummy suspect.

“We had suspects try to remove the darts by pulling on the wires,” said Kelly, who has been with RPD for nearly 11 years. He then pulled on the taser wires, and then pulled some more. The wires kept coming. The demonstration was reminiscent of a magician pulling an endless procession of scarves from his magician’s hat.

“They weren’t successful,” said Kelly.

He added that some suspects attempted to pull out the darts.

“It wasn’t pretty,” he said.

FORCE IS NOT PRETTY

The title of Kelly’s and Sergeant Garry Kincaid’s May 29 presentation was “Current Trends and Resources in Policing.” The description mentioned the use of force and less lethal approaches. Kincaid has been with RPD for 13 years.

For about two hours, the sergeants discussed when police officers must decide, usually in the span of seconds, when to use deadly force. They also discussed the use of non-lethal and immediate force.

“Force is not pretty,” said Kelly. He repeated this phrase often.

The presentation began with a discussion of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Kincaid reminded the audience, “When we put someone in handcuffs, that is a seizure,” he said. “When we detain someone, that is a seizure.”

Kelly said officers cannot stop or detain anyone, let alone enter a person’s home, without probable cause. But as with nearly every topic Kelly and Kincaid touched upon in the presentation, what constitutes probable cause or reasonable suspicion or even reasonableness is an amalgam of working parts; namely, the officer’s experience and their intuition, which is a byproduct of their experience.

There is also the totality of circumstances. Kincaid used the following example to make his point: 

It is 3 a.m. in Anytown, USA. A rash of car burglaries have occurred between midnight and 5 a.m. Two officers on patrol notice an individual on a bicycle pedaling not in any discernible direction but, rather, meandering from car to car. The individual is dressed in all black.

“Based on the totality of circumstances – the time, the recent burglaries, a suspect dressed in all black and not moving in a particular direction – was it reasonable for officers to think this individual was there to burglarize vehicles?” Kincaid asked. “Yes.”

CASE LAW

The two officers reviewed case laws that: allow police officers to remove passengers from vehicles without a warrant; allow officers to check individuals for weapons based on the totality of circumstances; allow officers to use force based on what an officer observes and on what is reasonable to deduce from these observations; and that prevent officers from using deadly force.

In the case of Terry v. Ohio (1968), the court sided with the police regarding an officer’s decision to search three individuals based on his reasonable suspicions and the totality of the circumstances. In this case, an Ohio police officer observed three individuals outside of a business late one evening. The three men were looking into windows. 

The veteran officer decided he would perform a pat search on the men for weapons. The search revealed that Terry (last name) was carrying a weapon. Terry sued, arguing the search was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. The court ruled that the officer had a reasonable suspicion to believe a crime either was about to occur, had occurred, or was going to occur.

In the case of Graham v. Connor (1989), the Supreme Court ruled an officer was within his rights to stop an individual and detain him, physically, based on the totality of circumstances and the officer’s experience. In this case, the officer observed an individual run into a store and then run from the store 10 or 15 seconds later. The man was carrying something in his hand. The Court ruled it was reasonable for the officer to assume the individual had just robbed the establishment. 

The officer pursued the individual and forced him to pull over his vehicle. When the individual refused to comply with the officer’s commands, the officer pulled him from the vehicle. The two struggled and the individual sued. The case law established the Graham Factors: 

One, is there an immediate threat to the officer? Two, the severity of the crime (in this case, robbery). Three, active resistance to or evading arrest by flight.

But not all case law favors the police. In the case of Tennessee v. Garner (1985), the court ruled in favor of Garner. In this case, the police officer shot the fleeing suspect in the back. In the court’s view, the suspect was not in the position to cause the officer or anyone else harm.

But, as Kincaid pointed out, officers must rely on their experience, must assess the totality of circumstances and must consider all probabilities. 

15 SECONDS

Prior to the taser demonstration, Kelly played body camera video from a police officer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The officer responded to a call about a suspicious person. The officer pulls into a gravel parking lot. There is an awning in the background and a white male is standing beneath the awning.

With his body camera recording, the officer exits the vehicle and addresses the man, who, at this point, is about 20 to 25 feet from the officer. Without answering, the man walks quickly towards the officer. As he does, he reaches behind his back. When he is halfway to the officer, the man brandishes a large knife. The officer retreats, ordering the man to stop. The man stumbles and falls backward. The man closes in. We watch him thrust his knife and the fallen officer, who now is screaming, “No, no, no.”

The video bounces as the officer attempts to avoid the thrusts. He continues to scream. The man utters incoherent expletives. It is not entirely clear if these are directed at the officer or someone else. By now the officer has stopped moving. The angle of his camera catches another individual approach. The video goes black but the camera’s audio continues to record. A gunshot is heard.

Kelly explained the entire video runs for more than 40 minutes but Kelly only played the first 30 or so seconds. The fatal assault on the officer took about 15 seconds.

Prior to playing the video, Kelly explained its graphic nature so that any academy member could excuse themselves. His reason for playing the video was to demonstrate, graphically, what police officers may encounter, regardless of the type of call – even something as seemingly harmless as an individual loitering in a parking lot.

As for the assailant, he died from the gunshot. The shooter was a civilian.

Darren Fraser
Reporter