Use of Deadly Force: the Unarmed Assailant

Shooting 1971 Summary.    The following is a summary of information presented by one of our members at our monthly Action Training Group meeting in July. The purpose of the presentation in Spokane Valley was to initiate discussion about self-defense issues so we can start creating Reality Based scenarios that develop situational awareness for armed citizens, church safety teams and law enforcement personnel in the Spokane and North Idaho areas.  Criminal defense attorneys & civil practitioners also need to understand the dynamics of what actually occurs during the decision making process under high stress situations.

Factual & Legal Analysis Under Pressure.  In addition to theoretical legal principles of criminal defense, there are many factual issues that are important in defending a self-defense shooting.  The following summary by Chuck Delgado provides a case study from which we can all learn a great deal about acting in the face of an imminent threat:

Officer Involved Shooting.  After an officer involved shooting, the Prosecuting Attorney of the jurisdiction will assess all the information available to him/her and make a finding whether or not the shooting was justifiable. Information comes from many sources:  Video camera, surveillance cameras from local business’, cell phone video, civilian and law enforcement witnesses, coroner / medical examiner, forensic ballistic experts, radio traffic, etc.

 Use of Force.  The Prosecutor has to be convinced that the subject who was shot had the  ability, the opportunity to inflict  serious bodily injury or death to the to the shooter, and that the threat (jeopardy) was imminent and unavoidable.

Initial Encounter.     In March 8th, 1971, I was a Spokane County Deputy Sheriff working in the valley.  At 0106 I was dispatched to an address in the valley as “a man with a gun breaking into the house to kill the occupants.”  At 0112 hrs I arrived to see a very big ( #240  6’ 04”)white male punching out glass windows with his bare hands.  Two male occupants had shouldered two long rifles.  A .22 and a .308.  There was blood coming from the subjects hands and blood around the area of the window and the subject was in a rage of anger. He certainly had the ability to do serious bodily harm or kill me.  I was 5’10” and weighed around 154.  As much as I attempted to defuse the situation, he charged me at what appeared to be a full sprint.

Opportunity, Ability & Threat of Deadly HarmHe was yelling “Let’s get-it-on mother f——, one of us will die tonight!”  He covered the distance of approximately 55-70 yards incredibly fast.  When he was about 24 feet away (covering about 21 ‘/ second) with his right hand he reached across his chest to an area beneath his open sweater.  At that point, he was about a second from me, call was put out as a man with a gun and he was huge.  I was certain that the only option left was to shoot, or he would kill me (jeopardy) with the weapon. I was certain he was reaching for a weapon.  

Neutralizing the Threat.  I began to fire my side arm (S&W .357 mag) at the subject until the threat was neutralized.  First shot missed, second hit him in the heart, 3rd shot struck him in the back area of the diaphragm and traveled the length of his body as he was turning and falling over, exited the area of his cheek bone. 

Departmental Policies.     That shooting violated most of the shoot policies in place at the time. SPD and the Spokane County Prosecutors Office did the independent   investigation, and concluded it was a justifiable shooting. I was back to work within 68 hours- working the same district, same shift, same call number.  That shooting set the stage for new polices and a change in training.  Then the death threats began and my wife divorced me since she did not want me to go to work that night.  She had a bad feeling.

 A Work in Progress.    This is a very short summary of the essay/book I am currently writing.  I am at 18,000 words, but I work on the essay every day.  When I complete the essay, I intend to give a comprehensive talk on the subject of killing unarmed attackers.   The subject I shot did not have a firearm, perceived danger and lots of other collateral issues. 

Chuck Delgado

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