A dramatic incident unfolded during a hostage standoff in Baltimore when a SWAT officer was told by his supervisor to walk into a room and execute a hostage taker.
The sergeant’s instructions are unequivocal. “I want you to walk in there and kill this guy,” he tells the shooter, Zachary Wein, who is a 14-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, and an eight-year veteran of the SWAT team.
“He’s high on drugs. He can kill the girl at any second,” the sergeant, who police officials declined to identify by name, continues. “I don’t see any need for less lethal.”
A bald lieutenant asks if there aren’t some other negotiating tactics available.
There are not.
The exchange is captured on body-worn cameras just seconds before Wein shoots Reno Owens in the head at 7:41 a.m. on Friday, March 24. Owens, a 39-year-old African-American man with no fixed address, was sitting on a bed with two children, aged 1 and 4 years, in his arms. He had a butcher knife with an eight-inch blade. He was talking crazy.
Police showed the video to members of the press today, but forbade audio or visual recording of it, save for a short clip of the SWAT team heading up the stairs. They will not release video publicly, according to spokesman T.J. Smith, in order to protect the children from discovering the video, years from now, and being re-traumatized.
Police officials emphasized that the decision to shoot Owens was absolutely justified, given the knife, the little children, screaming for help.
“To say it’s a justified police-involved shooting… doesn’t do it justice,” Davis said. “I commend this action.”
“The situation was always a deadly force situation,” Smith explained. “It’s a matter of getting the right equipment there.”
“The M4 is a precision long gun instrument,” Davis said, speaking of the rifle Wein used to kill Owens. It is just the thing for putting a bullet between someone’s eyes at 10 paces. The sidearm, especially in a patrol officer’s hands, would be too risky for the children.
At this range, Officer Wein had to make a single precision shot at very close range at a very small target without being able to aim directly at where he wanted his bullet to strike. The mechanical offset of an M4/AR-15 rifle’s most common sight heights (assuming an iron sight co-witness) is about 2.6 inches, meaning that the he’s going to have to aim over where he wants his bullet to strike. To accurately put a round in the triangle formed by the hostage-taker’s eyes and nasal cavity, Wein probably had to aim at the center of Owens’s forehead, just above his eyebrows.
I’ve practiced this same shot many times in different classes, and I’m sure that in his eight years on Baltimore SWAT, Officer Wein ran the same or similar hostage rescue shot hundreds if not thousands of times. It’s a whole different thing to shoot paper, of course.
Officer Wein was forced to take a life to save the lives of two innocent children. It’s a horrible order to be given, and I hope that he’s able to move past the trauma of being forced to take a life without any long-term effects.