El Cajon: A No Win Situation


The unfortunate deadly officer involved shooting that occurred recently in El Cajon, California, is a typical scenario where police officers must react quickly to erratic and rapid movements by a person, which in this case involved a possible mentally disturbed individual. It is definitely a no win situation for all involved.

A family member called 911 and indicated to police that her brother, an African-American adult, was “not acting like himself.” The caller said her brother was walking in traffic, endangering himself and motorists. Two responding officers found the man behind a restaurant. He refused multiple orders to remove his hand from his pocket, which resulted in one officer drawing his firearm. The individual continued to ignore further commands and paced back and forth while officers tried to talk to him.

The individual suddenly and quickly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placing both hands together and extended them rapidly forward at eye level toward one of the officers, then taking a definitive shooting stance. One officer fired his weapon several times striking the suspect. The other officer deployed his taser.

The object that was pointed at the officer was an approximately 4-inch vape electronic smoking device, not a weapon. This took place within a few feet of one officer and the object was pointed directly at the officer’s head. Anyone who has seen these vape devices are aware that they are fairly large as they fill most of the web and palm area of a person’s hand. Even in slow motion it would be difficult at best to discern what the object is as it is pulled from the front pants pocket. These devices can be easily mistaken to be a weapon.

Although the statements by the police officers and their actions are corroborated by a very clear cell phone still photo, taken from a video image provided by a nearby witness during daylight hours, protests erupted in the San Diego suburb alleging improper tactics, lack of mental health training for officers, and a lack of attempts to de-escalate the incident. Several community activists have alleged that the individual’s race played a role in the officer’s actions.

The videos that have been publicly released at the time of this writing were provided by a camera mounted on a drive-thru restaurant window and from the cell phone of a bystander.

The evidence presented so far clearly shows that the individual was not complying despite the officer’s best intentions to control and de-escalate the situation. It does not appear that any additional training would have helped as the individual placed the officers in a deadly encounter and situation by his unpredictable actions and aggressive body stance at a very close range. One could argue that his actions are conducive to those who want to commit suicide by cop.

It does not appear that the officers had any ability to determine that the individual had anything but a weapon in his hands when all factors are taken into consideration, such as his non-compliance, actions, movements, and body/shooting stance that he took.

I would only question the officer’s tactics they used, such as proper use of cover and concealment, which placed them in an unsafe position. The shooting appears to be fully justified, even though the media continuously discusses if the officers will be prosecuted.

Of additional interest is this individual has a past criminal record with convictions for the sales and transportation of narcotics and for a weapons charge. U.S authorities twice tried to deport him to his native country of Uganda, but Uganda refused to take him.

It is very disturbing and unsettling, despite the video image and other evidence, that so many people automatically resorted to violent protests and allegations of police misconduct which has followed this incident to date. Several days and nights of senseless, violent, and hostile encounters have needlessly occurred, such as protesters confronting and assaulting innocent motorists at intersections and gas stations. Ironically, from the news reports and video that I have seen, I have failed to observe any law enforcement presence or arrests during the first few days of these incidents. Why is that?  #elcajonpolicedepartment, #lawenforcement, #policeshootingsandmentalhealth


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As a retired Lieutenant and 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Bill Weiss worked various patrol, custody, administrative, investigative, and special assignments. He has been an Incident Commander for several major tactical incidents. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

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