The downside of highlighting incidents like Officer Josh Herring’s incredible 3+ minutes of work avoiding a suicidal man with a knife attempting to commit suicide by cop is that people develop the unrealistic expectation that it is always possible to resolve situations this way.
People look at Herring’s incident—where an injured, slow-moving man makes a halfhearted, slow advance across an area the size of a football field, where Herring had plenty of room to operate and no one else to defend—and assume that all police officers have the luxuries of time, distance, speed, and limited aggression by a suspect that gave Herring the luxury of not firing upon Javier Pablo Aleman a second time.
It rarely works out that officers have that sort of leeway.
Officers typically encounter dangerous suspects in close quarters whether they have very limited time, distance, and options for movement.
That appears to exactly be the case in Los Angeles, where relatives of one knife-wielding suspect want officers criminally charged from shooting her after she advanced upon them with an eight-inch knife.
The video, taken from a nearby security camera, shows officers getting out of their police SUV and drawing their guns as a woman identified as Norma Guzman walks down the sidewalk. One officer stands behind a parked car and points his gun at Guzman, who continues to walk toward him.
When Guzman reaches the other side of the car, police fire. Guzman collapses on the sidewalk.
The shooting happened about 10 seconds after the first officer exited the car, according to the time-stamped footage, which had no sound.
According to the LAPD, when the officers arrived, they spotted Guzman walking toward them with the knife. One officer “repeatedly ordered her to drop the knife,” but she kept moving toward them, prompting the officers to open fire, police said.
On Wednesday, flanked by Guzman’s mother and brothers, attorney Arnoldo Casillas questioned why the officers didn’t use less-lethal devices like a Taser before firing their guns.
“Where’s the Taser? Where’s the pepper spray? Take a step back. Show some reverence for human life,” he said. “There’s no way that can be justified.”
Guzman’s son and mother filed a federal lawsuit last fall, alleging that the officers used excessive force. Guzman, who suffered from mental illness, “posed no danger or threat” to the officers or others before she was shot, the lawsuit said.
“There was no reasonable basis for them to shoot her,” the lawsuit said.
On the contrary, there was every reason for officers to shoot Norma Guzman.
She was displaying a large knife as she walked down an urban street, terrifying citizens to the point that at least one 911 call was placed to draw officers to the scene.
Guzman then advanced more than 20 yards upon officers who had their weapons drawn, and who repeatedly told Guzman to drop her knife. They held fire until the last possible second, but she never broke stride. Indeed, she appears to be target fixated upon them, and has every appearance of going after the lead officer. He finally opened fire with his muzzle just two yards from her.
Advancing on an officer with a lethal weapon in her hand, she was clearly a reasonable threat.
The use of force continuum dictates that officers should use one level of force higher than the suspect in order to gain compliance, not as attorney Arnoldo Casillas glibly suggests, less force in the form or tasers or chemical sprays that often fail to immediately incapacitate individuals who are under the influence, mentally ill, or simply determined to continue their attack.
Do I feel some sympathy for the Guzman family? Of course I do.
But it is absurd of them to expect officers to let someone armed with an eight-inch knife who is coming straight at them with every apparent intention of stabbing them get within striking distance.
These officers held off firing until the last possible second, and quite firing the second Guzman ceased to be a threat.
This was clearly a “good shoot.” Just because a police officer put on uniform and went to work, it doesn’t mean his life is any less valuable than that of someone who might attack him. He has ever right to defend that life.
Attorney Arnoldo Casillas and the Guzman family seem cynically intent on a payday, not anything resembling actual justice, and so my sorry for them is tinged with disgust.