TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tucson Police have started the process to fire an officer who shot and killed a man in a wheelchair. The man had refused to drop a knife. He was headed into a busy store. KGUN 9 on Your Side asked an expert in police use of force to look at what Officer Ryan Remington did in the shooting on November 29th.
Police say 61 year old Richard Richards stole a tool box from Walmart and pulled out a knife when store staff challenged him, then rolled away in a motorized wheelchair.
Jeff Noble served as a deputy police chief in two California police departments. He has studied use of force, co-written books on the topic and testified in court cases where police deadly force was an issue. He viewed video provided by TPD.
The attorney for the Tucson Police Officer's Association, Mike Storie, has said the videos offer an incomplete record of what happened and that Remington feels his use of force was appropriate.
Noble says making threats with a knife was a crime that required police attention. What’s at issue is whether Richard Richards’ actions justified shooting him.
Noble says the officers could not safely assume sitting in a wheelchair made Richards unable to get up and hurt someone with his knife.
“The officer doesn't know whether or not the person who's in a wheelchair is in fact, disabled at all, you know, whether or not the person can actually get out of the wheelchair. So that would be certainly a consideration that a reasonable officer would have is that there's a possibility that this person is not confined physically to that wheelchair and in fact, they may very well be mobile.”
But Noble notes throughout the incident Richards never tries to get out of the chair.
Noble says the wheelchair might have kept the officer from using a TASER because the chair would get in the way of a typical TASER hit which is to the back, but there are still options less lethal than a gun.
“An officer could use pepper spray as persons continued to flee from them. You know to try and slow down, see if an OC spray has an impact. Most officers carry OC spray on their duty belt. I don't know whether this officer had it but it certainly is a tool that most officers do have.”
Noble says Richards was moving away from officers as he rolled toward the store and the only other person visible on the video was a store worker still a distance from Richards.
As for the nine shots the officer fired, Jeff Noble says officers are often trained to fire twice, then decide if more shots are needed to end a threat but he did not see justification for even one shot.
Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 30 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.