Bad police tactics—more than likely the result of poor training—helped lead to the death of man with apparent mental health issues on a bus in Oklahoma City last month.
NewsOK.com has the background of this sad turn of events.
Police received a mental health call before the incident about a man praying at a southwest Oklahoma City church and banging his head on the ground. Police responded and found Chavez-Angles apparently upset about an impending divorce, Police Chief Bill Citty said.
An officer took Chavez-Angles to St. Anthony Hospital at 1:35 p.m. He was discharged from the hospital two hours later, at 3:35 p.m.
Soon after, police received a call about vandalism near NW 11 and N Walker Avenue. Witnesses reported seeing a man running from a vandalized vehicle with a large rock.
At 4:30 p.m., Chavez-Angles phoned his wife and let her know he was trying to get a ride home. Five minutes later, police received a report of a kidnapping. Chavez-Angles had gotten into a car with two women, who called 911 from the car, Citty said. Other witnesses also called police to alert them to the apparent hijacking.
Chavez-Angles jumped out of the car in the 900 block of NW 23 and ran into an O’Reilly Auto Parts, 2400 N Western, where he locked himself inside, police said. The manager ordered Chavez-Angles out of the store and watched him get on the Embark bus. When police arrived, they followed the bus west.
Chavez-Angles is shown on bus surveillance video boarding and stuffing bills into the bus meter. He appears anxious and demands the driver not stop the bus, eventually offering the driver all the money and credit cards he’s carrying.
The driver attempts to maintain control of the situation while driving the route, but Chavez-Angles jumps atop a luggage rack near the front of the bus and pulls free a fire extinguisher.
The driver stops the bus and orders everyone to exit. Once cleared of passengers, police officer Heather Lane boards the bus with her service weapon drawn…
That’s the moment where everything went to Hell.
Officer Lane entered the bus with her gun drawn and extended in front of her. This was a poor decision from a tactical perspective. You do NOT lead with your gun.
I should also note that as she stepped into the bus with her muzzle held level, she pointed her handgun directly at the bus driver.
Lane had poor position, and instead of leaving her sidearm in her holster or holding her weapon in a retention position, she led with it. She learned very quickly what some friends of mine who have attended ECQC (extreme close quarters) defensive fighting classes have told me: in situations like this, you do not have a gun, y’all have a gun.
Lane very nearly had the gun stripped from her hands by Chavez-Angles in the first seconds of the encounter. It was only a matter of dumb luck that the bus driver wasn’t shot as Lane and Chavez-Angles struggled for control of the handgun and a shot was discharged.
The bus driver had the good sense to realize a complete train wreck in the making and fled from the bus just as soon as Chavez-Angles and Lane cleared past him in their struggle for the gun.
Officer Daniel Carli hears the shot and Officer Lane’s scream for help and rushes on board in support of Officer Lane with his gun at the low ready in a two-handed grip (right corner, below), and encounters the scene of Chavez-Angles struggling with Officer Lane for control of her sidearm.
Chavez-Angles and Officer Lane go to the floor of the bus still fighting for control of her handgun, which malfunctioned as it was fired moments before and is—apparently unknown to all three actors on the bus—thankfully unable to fire at the moment. Chavez-Angles pulls Officer Lane on top of him as he struggles for the weapon. Officer Carli pulls his handgun back to where he can better control it as he steps forward towards the scrum (below).
Officer Lane either falls, rolls, or is pushed off to the left in her struggle with Chavez-Angles, and Officer Carli moves in. He’s not in the perfect retention position that academy instructors would prefer, but he’s clearly cognizant that he needs to control his weapon and avoid getting it entangled as he attempts to save Officer Lane.
Officer Carli goes so far as to pull his gun up and turn his body slightly away from Chavez-Angles when it appears his gun arm could be kicked or entangled.
In the now three-way ground fight, you see a quick flash of light as Lane’s weapon-mounted light—which had been activated early in the struggle—flashed as the gun turned in to point directly at Officer Carli. His life in perceived imminent jeopardy with the muzzle of Officer Lane’s gun pointed at him, Officer Carli thrusts his muzzle down and fires a volley of what sounds like seven shots into Chavez-Angles. The suspect immediately stops struggling and his body slowly relaxes. It seems likely that he’s taken at least one immediately effective central nervous system hit to the head.
As Officer Carli begins pulling away from Chavez-Angles and Officer Lane, we get a lens flare from the weapon-mounted light on Officer Lane’s pistol; it was pointed directly at Officer Carli when he opened fire (below).
Officer Carli takes his finger off the trigger as Chavez-Angels’ body slowly relaxes, and he points his sidearm down.
After determining that Chavez-Angles is no longer a threat, Officer Carli holsters his handgun. His left hand is controlling the muzzle of Officer Lane’s pistol, pointing it towards the seat in front of him, in what is the closest thing he has to a “safe direction” under the circumstances.
Safely holstered, Officer Carli then carefully disentangles the handgun from the grip of Officer Lane/Chavez-Angles and places it on the seat behind him to attend to Officer Lane, the weapon-mounted light still blazing.
Officer Carli then assists Officer Lane to her feet, and sends her off the bus.
As Lane moves forward, Carli immediately retrieves her handgun and follows her off the bus to preserve what is now a crime scene.
Once Officer Lane is off the bus, her sidearm his left hand, Officer Carli takes cover behind the wheel well of the bus and draws his still-warm firearm to cover Chavez-Angles and await backup.
Only 30 seconds elapsed from the time Officer Lane led with her gun until Officer Carli was maintaining the integrity of the crime scene.
The incident is still under investigation and both officers are on administrative leave.
I do not see anything to suggest a crime by either officer and find it very unlikely that either will face criminal charges. Mr. Chavez-Angles, whatever his mental condition, was clearly the aggressor here, and his attack on Officer Lane ultimately led to his sudden demise.
Even highly-trained people never react perfectly to their training. That allowed, I’m unable to find any significant errors in the way Officer Carli responded to this horrific situation. He responded with precisely calculated and reasoned movements throughout this unfortunate situation.
I wish I could say the same for Officer Lane, but I cannot.
Her decision to extend her duty handgun put it in a position where it became available to Chavez-Angles, and was the catalyst in turning this from one where a distraught and unstable man was facing probable kidnapping/carjacking charges to one where he died. Keep in mind that another Oklahoma City officer had taken Chavez-Angles into custody without incident just three hours before.
It’s clear that Officer Lane made a very poor decision that was probably the result of poor training. Though she broke no laws, she clearly needs more firearms retention training before being deployed again.