Sheriff’s Office Give Answers About Shooting of Man with Knives

From the Oregonian, September 18, 1995 – not available elsewhere online.

The state Medical Examiner’s office has ruled the police shooting of Robert Francis Dillon a suicide.

Dillon, 44, died Tuesday of two gunshot wounds to the chest after a Washington County sheriff’s deputy fired twice at the knife-wielding, homeless Vietnam vet. Sheriff’s officials said Dillon chased several deputies, held them at bay by waving his 10-inch knives and taunted, “You have to do me.”

Cmdr. Chuck Leutwyler, sheriff’s spokesman, said Deputy Theo Evans, 25, fired when Dillon charged, leaving the officer no room to get away. Evans was crouched against a vehicle parked in front of the Greek Village Tavern, just south of the Sunset Highway at Southwest Murray Boulevard.

Evans, who has worked for the sheriff’s office for 1 1/2 years, was placed on administrative leave, routine when officers fire their guns.

The District Attorney’s office is reviewing the shooting .

Sheriff’s spokesmen contend it was justifiable, while many callers to The Oregonian, especially those who knew Dillon, question why he was killed.

Here’s how the Sheriff’s Office answers:

Q: Dillon had knives and all four deputies on the scene had guns. How much of a threat is a knife to somebody with a gun?

A: “I’d rather come up against a gun than a knife any day of the week,” said Deputy Tygh Thompson, the department’s rangemaster and firearms training expert. Knives can slash, cut and puncture, doing far more damage than a gun, he said.

National crime statistics, Thompson said, show that knife attacks commonly involve more than one wound; people wielding knives move around and their moves often can’t be predicted.

In addition, bulletproof vests, body armor and riot shields offer police only limited protection against a knife.

A sheriff’s office training video, “Surviving Edged Weapons,” shows deputies the harm a knife can inflict in graphic detail, gorier than any “slasher movie.” In the film, deputies are warned over and over again not to mess around with someone with a knife.

Q: Couldn’t the deputies have stayed back and waited for help?

A: A safe distance from someone with a knife is a lot farther away than you’d think.

A person with a knife can close seven paces, or more than 20 feet, in 1 1/2 seconds, the video showed.

“We are trained to keep a safe reactionary distance and in some cases, that can be up to 30 feet,” Thompson said.

Q: Still, couldn’t 20 deputies have surrounded Dillon and thrown a net over him?

A: Which deputy is going to put his life on the line, Leutwyler asked, and go in close so somebody else can grab him from behind or throw the net? With two knives, Dillon could have slashed out in any direction, Leutwyler said.

Even if he was on the ground under a net, Dillon still could have gotten a hand free and knifed someone, he said.

Q: But did the deputy have to shoot?

A: “There’s an image of deadly force and police portrayed by the entertainment industry and news media that gives a false idea of how much time you have and what really can be done,” Thompson said. “Our job is not to take life, but to save it.”

The last time a Washington County deputy shot someone was in June 1994. The shooting also was determined to be a suicide when a distraught man aimed a gun at the officer.

“I can tell you what,” Thompson said, “nobody goes home from something like this, pops a beer and says, `Gee, good job.’ There are a lot of sleepless nights.”

Q: Under what circumstances can a deputy justify using his gun?

A: Based on the department’s policy, deputies first try to use their mere presence to diffuse the situation. The stages then go from verbal commands to physical contact, such as grabbing an arm to escort someone away; to using chemical agents, such as pepper spray or tear gas; to physical controls designed to inflict pain but not injury, such as applying pressure points; to physical control involving batons and focused blows. If none of those work or none is applicable, deadly force is allowed.

Leutwyler said deputies tried to spray Dillon with pepper spray and use their batons but couldn’t get close enough without compromising their safety.

Washington County deputies must pass proficiency tests twice a year based on markmanship and “when to shoot” decision-making.

Q: Why couldn’t they shoot the knife out of his hand, shoot him in the knee or wing him in the shoulder?

A: Hitting a moving target isn’t as easy as TV cop shows would have you believe, especially when a deputy is scared, Thompson said. They are trained to shoot for a central mass, where there’s a better chance of hitting something.

Only 20 percent to 30 percent of shots police fire, on national average, hit their targets, Thompson said.

Q: Why not use rubber bullets, bean bag rounds or some other nonlethal ammunition?

A: The county’s Tactical Negotiations Team, known as a Swat team, has access to that kind of technology, but such weapons aren’t available to patrol deputies, Thompson said.

The Dillon incident happened so fast — eight minutes from the time the first deputy arrived until Evans, the last deputy on the scene, fired his gun — that there wasn’t time to gather the special weapons team, Leutwyler said.

Q: If Dillon was so intent on killing himself, why didn’t deputies just leave? Maybe he would have calmed down.

A: “You’ve got to remember, this guy had two knives,” Thompson said. “Suicidal people can go from suicide to homicide.”

Police say he could have taken a hostage.

“So we can’t just walk away and leave that person there,” Thompson said. “We have society to protect, too.”