Start with an armed robber. Throw in an overzealous armed victim, some gunfire, and an off-duty cop jumping to conclusions. It’s a recipe for a nightmare that one family is now experiencing in Atlanta.
The family of a man shot by an off-duty Atlanta police officer over the weekend says the officer shot the wrong guy.
It happened at an apartment complex on the 1000 block of Collier Road early Saturday morning.
Pedro Maldonado, 41, had just arrived home from work when his family says a man with a gun robbed him and another man of roughly $1,000. The father of four decided to take matters into his own hands.
“My dad chased after him with his gun. Went around the building,” his son, Joel Maldonado, said.
He says the thief fired two shots at his dad, one ending up in a nearby car.
As Pedro Maldonado rounded the building, he came face-to-face with the off-duty Atlanta police officer.
After hearing gunshots and seeing Pedro Maldonado running with a gun, his son says the officer opened fire, shooting his father multiple times.
“It’s something that nobody expects for it to happen. Nobody would expect something like that to happen,” Joel Maldonado said.
The story as explained by Maldonado the younger is a little hinky, but plausible. For example, robbers don’t typically mosey around in the neighborhood after a big score giving time for their victims to go scrounge up a firearm, and the armed robber Pedro Maldonado was chasing and who was said to have fired the shots seems to have vanished when he turned the corner where the off-duty officer was standing.
But let’s assume for the moment that everything Joel Maldonado has said is entirely true, as it very well may be accurate.
What can we learn from this incident as fellow gun owners?
First, it is incredibly dangerous to chase someone with a gun in your hand under any circumstance. You may be chasing Public Enemy Number One with the purest of intentions and most noble of aspirations, but the simple fact of the matter is that most people are wired in such a way to assume that the person being chased is the victim, and the person doing the chasing is the bad guy.
This is going to cloud their perception of you as witnesses.
If they are similarly well-intentioned and noble people, they may decide to step in and intervene… by going after you as the apparent aggressor in this circumstance. In the worst case scenario, this third-party actor is armed, aggressive and has some level of skill with a handgun.
He may burn you down, just as the officer did here.
Remember earlier today when we answered the question Why Do Police Sometimes Shoot Unarmed People?
Officers and defensive handgun shooters in the scenario the Atlanta officer found himself in will observe the stimuli of the sound of gun shots very near by and the sight of an armed man running around the corner at them. They are going to orient themselves through their experiences, biases and training to the unexpected stimuli of hearing shots and seeing a man with a gun in his hand coming at them. The officer is then going to decide what to do in a compressed timeframe with limited information, based on those experiences, biases, perceptions, and his training. He is then going to act on that decision, which, in this instance, was to shoot until Mr. Maldonado no longer seemed to be a threat.
Several law enforcement professionals have talked about this developing story on social media as a cautionary tale.
Your “running gunman” be a justifiably angry victim who wants to bring the bad guy to justice. Heck, he might be a plainclothes or off-duty officer. He may be 100% “in the right” morally, ethically, and legally. If a cop, he may even have department policies mandating that he try to take down a bad guy, even when out of uniform.
The officer or armed citizen standing around the corner isn’t going to know that.
All they are going to know for sure is that shots have been discharged and an armed person is suddenly running at them and they only have a limited range of options.
What would you do?
I would like to think that I’d draw my pistol to a low ready as I step to cover and yell a warning of “Stop! Drop the gun!” if I ran into this scenario. I would like to think he would then observe a fellow armed citizen, orient to the fact that I’m armed and alarmed by his presence but not directly threatening him, and immediately decide to act on this sudden and unexpected new wrinkle in this already incredibly intense moment in his life by lowering his gun and starting the process of deconfliction.
But that simply fails to happen far too often. I’d suggest that a majority of people I know who have made simulator runs in shoot houses have shot a target that was pointing a gun at them, only to notice the badge after putting several rounds center mass. In the real world, “blue on blue” shootings of plain-clothed and even uniformed officers happens with disturbing regularity.
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I might not be having my best day when shots go off around the corner and armed man I don’t know suddenly turns the corner, running in my direction.
I may observe what he’s doing, but I’ll also be orienting based on cultural biases (what I’ve seen on movies and television shows, in video games, and and in books), my personal experiences, my biologically limiting filters (I don’t see or hear as well as I did at 18, nor are my reflexes as fast or crisp) and my training. My actions may not be perfect. Heck, they may not even be good. They may be wrongly decided, and worse, wrongly decided and correctly executed.
The officer who shot Mr. Maldonado is no doubt reliving this incident over-and-over in his head, wondering if he did the right thing based upon the information he was reacting to at the time.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is doing the same thing in a formal investigation, attempting to pin down all the hard facts about this incident that they can, and then trying to determine if the officer acted reasonably based on his perception of those facts.
Meanwhile, Pedro Maldonado is lying in an Atlanta hospital in critical condition. He’s expected to live, but nothing is assured. To what extent he is able to recover from his wounds is unknown, and he is the sole breadwinner for his family (they have set up a GoFundMe to help pay bills).
So what was the correct response?
The only winning move to this “game” is not to play.