Last week in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio police officers had to shoot an armed patient in a local hospital. Officers recorded the entirety of the close range shooting with their body cameras. The shooting was unusual both by happening in a hospital and requiring a close quarters empty hand response to a lethal threat. Since quite a few readers wrote in asking about my thoughts on the case, I decided to share my analysis.
Let’s set the stage…..
Westerville (a Columbus suburb) police officers were dispatched to a call about a man unconscious in a vehicle. Officers arrived and found Miles Jackson unconscious and suffering from an opioid overdose. The officers summoned medical attention and medics transported Mr. Jackson to a nearby hospital for treatment.
During this process, Westerville officers determined that their overdose patient had active warrants for both Domestic Violence and Weapons Under Disability (being in possession of a firearm as a convicted felon) out for his arrest. Westerville officers arrested the man at some point in his treatment and stood by until officers from Columbus PD could respond to the scene and take custody of their prisoner.
When the prisoner was medically cleared and set to be released from the hospital, two Columbus officers begin to search the patient before transporting him to the county jail. During the search, Jackson decided to fight. He had a pistol hidden deep in the crotch of his pants. When officers found the gun and attempted to secure it, Jackson attacked.
Two officers fought Jackson physically while to get Jackson’s hand off the gun he was attempting to draw. During the struggle, Jackson fired a shot. One of the CPD officers returned fire, but then his gun malfunctioned.
Once the initial shots were fired (unsure of whether the suspect was hit by the officer’s first shot), the bad guy pretends to comply but won’t drop the gun or show officers his gun hand. After a plethora of verbal commands (for more than three straight minutes) imploring the suspect to give up without results, the cops on scene decide to have an officer use a Taser on the suspect while other officers provided lethal force cover using pistols. As the Taser is deployed, bad guy fires a round and gets lit up by several cops. Read the article and watch the body camera video below before continuing.
What can we learn from this one?
The first is that the original arresting officers should have done a thorough search of the prisoner, especially after noting the charge (having weapons as a convicted felon) on the warrant. I’m speculating here, but I could easily understand how officers didn’t conduct an adequate search.
The suspect started out as a medical patient. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s entirely possible that the dude was already bundled up under a blanket and seat belted into a cot in the rear of the ambulance by the time cops found out he had warrants. Cops aren’t going to do anything to interfere with the medics saving someone’s life. Cops don’t want to delay life threatening emergency treatment to thoroughly search the patient. When you “patient” becomes your “prisoner” under these chaotic circumstances, it’s easy to understand how a gun might not have been detected.
With that said, my cop and medic friends need to do better than this. Dude shouldn’t have made it into the ambulance or the hospital with a gun.
You might say “He’s not under arrest. I can’t legally search him.”
Not true. He’s unconscious. A quality medical survey of his body to identify any additional injuries should be done by at least one of the first responders. During that survey, you’ll find any weapons he may have hidden on his person. Both the cops and the paramedics dropped the ball on that one.
Once he was in the hospital, the CPD officers’ actions seemed pretty commonplace. They likely assumed that the prisoner had already been thoroughly searched by the arresting agency. The cops were just trying to gather all of the prisoner’s property into one bag to make it easier to be inventoried at the county jail.
The cops should have probably handcuffed him first, and then searched. However, it’s harder to search handcuffed prisoners. As those officers were engaging more in an “inventory control” function instead of a “search incident to arrest” I can understand why they didn’t cuff him first.
With that said, when looking at the situation, I probably would have quickly handcuffed dude as soon as I found bullets in his pocket (2:35 in the video). That should have been a big warning sign, but neither officer seemed concerned and they continued their search.
When the searching officer found the gun, he stayed calm and told the other officer to get the suspect’s hand behind his back. That’s when the bad guy went for the pistol
The officers did a good job. Although this was a lethal force attack, an empty hand response was probably the best call to make at close quarters like this. They were already in contact distance. If the officers disengaged and drew guns it would take 1.5-2 seconds (on average) to get a shot off. The bad guy would likely be shooting first and they would be trading bullets at three feet. That’s a bad spot for everyone. It’s better to physically stuff his draw at this range.
As they fought over the weapon. One officer was using Taser drive stuns. If he had the time to draw his Taser, he could have also drawn his gun. Why didn’t he do so? We’ll likely not ever know for certain. My guess is that with the current media frenzy against cops, the officer was very hesitant to shoot someone if he didn’t absolutely have to.
The officer chose to use the Taser instead of making a contact shot with his pistol. If you are going to use the Taser in a life thretening situation, you may have to change your tactics a bit. I would have escalated and directed those drive stuns to the suspect’s face and neck where they would likely be more effective. Having taken Taser drive stuns to the neck in a couple of crazy training classes, I have become a fan. It seems like targeting the neck makes the drive stun more effective.
Taking that theory a little further, we must understand that the suspect is trying to kill you. You are justified in killing him. Any force you utilize below lethal force is also likely to be justified no matter how brutal it looks. He’s trying to draw a gun to shoot you. A Taser to the eye is probably going to stop that draw.
Even better would be to fire the Taser probes into his glute muscles (ass) at contact distance and then “complete the circuit” with a drive stun to the face or neck. That’s probably the best an officer can do when he’s going Taser versus gun.
The Taser ultimately didn’t work here. The bad guy fired a shot and one of the officers followed suit. I think both shots were probably negligent discharges. Listen for the shots in the video. There are two in the initial confrontation. I think the first is likely an AD by the suspect as he is attempting to draw with officers fighting him. I think the second is an AD by the officer as soon as his gun clears the holster and is moving toward the target. It very well could have been intentionally triggered. Looking at the video, the gun seems to fire well before the officer had it adequately aimed at the suspect. It looks to me like an early shot as the officer is clearing the holster and trying to get on target.
After that shot, the officer’s gun malfunctioned. Lots of folks asked me questions about the malfunction. It’s my guess that the officer had a poor grip on the gun and fired while gun was rapidly moving forward. Those two factors don’t provide a stable platform to allow a semi automatic pistol’s slide to reciprocate properly.
By the time you see the gun out of battery in the video, the second shot had already been fired. That’s another reason why I think the officer’s shot was an AD.
Of course, I could be wrong. I’m not worried too much about the cause. In 25+ years of intensely studying police gunfights, I can unequivocally state that malfunctions happen in gunfights far more than they happen on the range. There are lots of potential causes. The bottom line is that you should be able to reflexively identify and clear them as quickly as possible.
That’s why I work malfunction drills in almost all of my classes.
After the first couple of shots, there was an extended period of officers giving verbal commands. I wonder if the officers thought about backing out and treating it like a barricade situation? That would have probably created a better result, but may have had serious consequences of its own.
The officer trapped in the room would have been required to expose himself to the suspect in order to get out. That’s a problem. A barricade situation in a hospital emergency room is another problem. A delay in treatment as the location is locked down may cause many other patients to die. I think the officers made the right call in trying to solve the problem instead of backing off and calling SWAT and a negotiator.
I would have done it slightly differently. We know that Tasers have a failure rate of around 50% in real life incidents. If I had tried the tactic the officers used, I would have sent two officers in with Tasers and had them fire simultaneously to increase the chance of getting an incapacitation.
Two other items I thought were worthy of comment.
Look at the officer taking his hand off his gun to rip his mask off at 5:32. That little bit of distraction could have resulted in the officer’s death had the suspect decided to attack in that moment. Masks interfere with cops’ abilities to communicate. They also cause a slightly diminished visual field (forward and down) for the mask wearer. The suspect here was in front of the officer and on the ground. The mask was probably partially obscuring the officer’s view.
Forcing cops to wear masks on duty is a really bad policy decision and will likely cause serious consequences the longer the policy exists. Police chiefs need to grow some balls and support officers who choose not to wear a mask when giving verbal commands or in other high risk situations. I don’t want officers fussing with a useless mask in the middle of a life threatening situation. Political virtue signalling should take a back seat to police officer safety.
Another thing to note is that loud radio tone when the officer tries to transmit around the 8:57 mark. That tone means that the radio won’t work because it is too shielded by concrete or the radio is out of range. Any time officers get deep inside schools, hospitals, large office buildings, or shopping malls, they are likely to lose radio contact. It happens almost everwhere that officers patrol inside large buildings.
How would you like to be involved in a gunfight like this and be unable to call for help? The profession needs to find a solution for this problem. It’s endemic, yet no one seems to be working to solve the problem of losing radio signals when inside large buildings. It frustrated the hell out of me as an officer. Police bosses didn’t seem concerned when I reported the problem. A jaded officer might comment that the radio works fine from the the police boss’ desks at the department. Why should they care that their officers can’t be heard in emergency situations?
In the police profession, complacency kills. I saw a lot of complacency across many domains as this situation unfolded. I’m very glad the officers survived this encounter. I’m also glad no innocent bystanders were harmed. the proactive officer should analyze incidents like this and develop plans to prevail should they encounter something similar.