Law enforcement officers spend many hours in training before they can carry a gun, said a training expert who testified before the Richmond County grand jury this week.
How and when to use deadly force is drummed into the heads of recruits because if they do fire their weapons, it will likely be a decision made in a matter of seconds and they will be responsible for every bullet fired, said Al Williams.
Mr. Williams is an instructor for the certified police training program at Augusta Technical College. He has worked in and taught law enforcement for more than 15 years.
He said he firmly believes Richmond County sheriff's Deputies Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge were justified in firing on Justin Elmore on Dec. 14 at the Cherry Tree Crossing public housing complex.
An officer has the legal right and a duty to eliminate or neutralize a threat, and an SUV is a 5,000-pound threat when it is advancing toward you, Mr. Williams said Wednesday, a day after a Richmond County grand jury cleared both deputies.
The reasonableness of the officers' actions should be judged through all of the facts surrounding what happened that afternoon, Mr. Williams said.
- There was a reliable tip that four men were in the vehicle with weapons and drugs.
- The window tint was so dark the officers couldn't see inside the vehicle.
- As soon as officers approached the SUV on foot, the driver started to move the SUV.
When the SUV accelerated toward Deputy Ortiz he would have no doubt Mr. Elmore was a danger to him and to anyone else in the immediate area, Mr. Williams said.
The shot or shots the deputy fired from the side of the SUV were justified because Mr. Elmore was still a threat to others, Mr. Williams said.
"It was the only option the officer had," Mr. Williams said.
The most dangerous duties officers have are pulling over vehicles, searching warehouses and responding to domestic violence calls, he said.
Deputy Ortiz's retrieval of an assault weapon from the trunk of his car after the SUV came to a stop was appropriate, Mr. Williams said. The officers had their weapons drawn on a vehicle they couldn't see inside, a vehicle they thought could contain four men with access to weapons, he said.
An officer has to stay one step ahead of a suspect and base the use of force on the resistance shown, he said.
"If we're 50-50, we're losing," Mr. Williams said.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.