Killing of suspect with box cutter may have been legal. But was it necessary?

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The weapon used by Pralith Pralourng, on display at an SFPD town hall meeting today
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY YAEL CHANOFF
SFPD

Police officers have dangerous jobs, and when confronted with subjects who may threaten their lives, they have to think fast under stress. When a subject has something classified as a “deadly weapon,” police are justified by law in shooting to stop the threat.

As SFPD spokesperson Carlos Manfredi explained to me for an article in this week’s paper, the official policy isn’t “shoot to kill.” But subjects are often killed, since officers are trained at the police academy to aim for the body’s center mass and to shoot until any threat to their life is neutralized.

It seems many tools and common items can fall under the "deadly weapon" category. The SFPD’s third fatal officer-involved shooting this year occurred July 18 when Pralith Pralourng apparently lunged at an officer. His deadly weapon? A box cutter.
 
In January 2011, Raheim Brown Jr. was shot by Oakland School Police. He was allegedly wielding a screw driver. Last July, Charles Hill was shot by BART police. He was drunk, lying on the ground, and hurled a pocketknife at police, missing them by 10 feet.

When used just right, a box cutter, a screwdriver, or a pocket knife can certainly be deadly weapons. But when a subject is exhibiting likely mental disability, drunk and lying on the ground, or 20 years old and in a car, isn’t there any other type of combat police could use to neutralize the threat?

At a press conference today Police Chief Greg Suhr said that police do take defensive tactical training, which trains officers in using less than lethal weapons. But the July 18 situation warranted the use of lethal weapons, Suhr said.

“The officer was facing a life or death situation. She had to do what she could to protect herself.,” Suhr said.

Suhr explained that the officer had been on the force 20 years, during which time she had received multiple trainings in crisis intervention training, which he called the “most progressive in the country.”

That training deals with psychology and teaches how to deescalate situations in which a subject is a “danger to himself,” Suhr said. But, since the subject had already allegedly attacked a co-worker, the the officer’s life was considered in danger.

Meanwhile, Occupy San Francisco activists who still protest and sleep outside the Federal Reserve on Market Street attained video and audio of people who claim to be witnesses who contradict the police story. One says that “he was on his back, then [paramedics from] the ambulance turned him facing downwards…they but a bag over his body and his head. Next thing, when everybody started looking at they got nervous and they started acting like they were doing CPR even though the guy was gone. It took the ambulance 20 minutes to get there.”

In a video that has been viewed more than 17,000 times on youtube, another man who claims to be a witness says “they had him in cuffs, and they shot him.” In another video shot by the same man, Robert Benson, another man says “he was in handcuffs and they shot him twice in the chest…I saw it.”

The Bay Guardian has not been able to confirm these accounts.

Pralourng’s death was likely legal. He could likely have injured an officer with the six-inch box cutter he carried, although it may have been difficult to kill her. But his crime did not merit the death penalty, and he now joins the ranks of Hill, Brown and others who’s small blades and screwdriver were considered weapons deadly enough to justify their deaths by the SFPD, BART Police, Oakland School Police respectively. It’s hard not to ask—did Pralourng have to die?

Comments

You also have to consider what pushed the man over the top. In some reports, I've read, he was a temp at TCHO dealing with financial difficulties. Companies use temps so they could lower labor costs and make a bigger profit for themselves. Temps usually work side by side on the production floor with permanent workers doing the same work while receiving less pay. With a family to support, he was under a lot of pressure. He needed better pay for hard work. He needed help, not death.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

Seriously, a box cutter generally has a pretty sharp razor edge, you can easily bleed out from a cut to the neck etc. You can also suffer severe nerve damage, loss of the use of a limb if he got the officer on the wrist, say a tendon etc.

The last thing the vast majority of officers want to do is to shoot a person. Forget the legal, administrative nightmare of being investigated, possibly drug through the press, the great possibility of a lawsuit filed by someone like John Burris, etc. there is also the severe psychological damage that officers go through- guilt, PTSD etc.

I am not saying by any means that the officer should get a pass etc. As in any police shooting, a complete investigation needs to be done to confirm that this was in fact a justified shooting. If the officer wasn't justified then she needs to be prosecuted.

However, I also think that SFPD needs to get with the times and arm street officers with Tasers. Perhaps this could have been avoided if the officer had other options available.

Posted by D.native on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

Who's doing the investigating? The police themselves, that's who. Nine years after Prop H, we once again have a Police Commission that's totally in bed with the cops. Real independent oversight seems to have gone by the wayside.

I'm not saying that this particular case was justified or not, but there sure are a lot of these police shootings.

You think they care about lawsuits? Not one cop is in jail for murder... yet murder they do. And yet, they always find a way to get the cop off... if it even gets that far, and it rarely does. Isn't there something wrong with that?

Burris? The most guys like Burris can do is get some blood money for the victim's family. And where does that money come from? It comes from you and me, the taxpayer. The killer doesn't give a rat's ass about Burris, because the killer knows that not one dime will ever come from his own pocket.

The press? You've got to be kidding. The likes of the Chronicle and local news will call him a hero, and his brother cops will buy him drinks.

If you want to reduce shootings, the solution is not to give cops more and fancier weapons. Things like tasers and pepper spray just lead to more abuse. Not to mention more excuses for murder (i.e., "I thought I was jus' pulling out my taser, but oops... turned out to be my gun.")

No, what we need is accountability. Real accountability. Civilian control of hiring, firing, and promotions. Independent investigations. Independent prosecutors who aren't tied to the police in the rest of their work.

The bottom line is that no one -NO ONE -can be trusted to police themselves.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 8:20 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 10:57 pm

I'm glad that you have it all figured out that he was a bad guy, and that's the end of the story for you. To me, it sounds like he had mental issues. Who knows if another day maybe you or someone you love will be drunk, or have an emotional breakdown, or just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the cops come along and shoot first and ask questions later, because that's SOP.

The problem is that every cop knows that they can commit just about any crime, from blatantly blowing through a stop sign, to cold-blooded murder, and not a thing will happen to them.

It's a culture of impunity protected by a blue wall of silence.

Nobody should be above the law.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

very good reasons. They have to make split second decisions to protect themselves and the rest of us. In the fog of war on the streets, certainty is a luxury. But generally if someone gets shot, they appear to be a risk and, as a law-biding citizen, I want zero tolerance shown towards those who may be a threat.

You have far more to fear from that dead bad guy than either me or the cops. so relax.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 20, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

Least of all, those who are entrusted to enforce it.

I don't buy this fog-of-war crap. That rationalization has been used by every murderer and scoundrel in history.

As they say, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When cops are given absolute power to kill, and it's clear that they become corrupted by that power.

This is what really bothers me about criminal cops -when some ordinary jerk commits a crime against you, you have recourse. You call the cops. You have a chance that you will receive justice. But where do you go when the cops are the criminals? Who do you call? It's a feeling of complete powerlessness, complete helplessness... knowledge that nothing you can possibly do will result in the criminal ever paying a price for their crime. I don't like people who abuse their power to hurt others... (not to mention then having the audacity to call themselves heroes). There has to be a better way.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2012 @ 7:06 am

They don't gun down you or me for walking down the street. Not even if you and I are young black males. No, you have to do something fairly bad and threatening and criminal to get anyway close to being shot by a cop.

Even Oscar Grant, who technically should not have been shot, was up to no good at the time. If it had been me there and not him, no shooting.

Worry about the bad guys, not those who protect us from them.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 21, 2012 @ 7:52 am

in any totalitarian dictatorship. Authoritarian rulers just love people like you.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 21, 2012 @ 6:02 pm
neu

In a video that has been viewed more than 17,000 times on youtube, another man who claims to be a witness says “they had him in cuffs, and they shot him.” In another video shot by the same man, Robert Benson, another man says “he was in handcuffs and they shot him twice in the chest…I saw it.”

Posted by Zalando Gutschein on Oct. 22, 2012 @ 12:04 am

We hear stories of police brutality all the time, and stories of police using excessive force. Now there are even more reports of people getting killed by the police because they thought their life was in danger. If these law enforcement officers were truly well trained, why is it that they did not have the frame of mind to at least try to subdue the confronters with non-lethal means first?

Posted by Simon on Oct. 25, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

Who is really the bad guy?? To take a bad guy of the street really if it's not one of your family you would have said that where is the person who got slash cut or stab ?? Why isnt he saying anything about it last thing I heard from the Dr was the he had 2 in cut on his arm that needed just a bandage my brother hurt someone if that person life was that threaten then he wasn't afraid enough to run after my brother all of you people who make comment on who and why people should die?? If my brother did a crime then he should do time for what he done serial killers molester still alive now doing time but my brother deserve to die ?? Fuck you people

Posted by Guest on Dec. 30, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

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