Officials discuss recent police shootings in conflicts with motorists

Dec 26 2012 - 7:51am

Images

A video frame grab from a patrol vehicle’s dash-cam footage shows a Morgan County sheriff’s deputy shooting at suspect Kristine Nicole Biggs after a chase through three counties on Nov. 24. Biggs, 41, was shot in the eye in South Ogden, treated at an area hospital and is now in Weber County Jail. The Davis County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the shooting to determine if it was justified. Centerville Assistant Police Chief Paul Child says officers rarely shoot at motorists, but the Top of Utah has seen three such shootings by law enforcement since October. (Courtesy of South Ogden Police Department)
Kristine Nicole Biggs
A video frame grab from a patrol vehicle’s dash-cam footage shows a Morgan County sheriff’s deputy shooting at suspect Kristine Nicole Biggs after a chase through three counties on Nov. 24. Biggs, 41, was shot in the eye in South Ogden, treated at an area hospital and is now in Weber County Jail. The Davis County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the shooting to determine if it was justified. Centerville Assistant Police Chief Paul Child says officers rarely shoot at motorists, but the Top of Utah has seen three such shootings by law enforcement since October. (Courtesy of South Ogden Police Department)
Kristine Nicole Biggs

Since October, the Top of Utah has seen three shootings involving an officer and a motorist.

Two of those cases are still under investigation, with the most recent case having happened Dec. 18 in Ogden.

The first case occurred Oct. 26 in Corinne, when Box Elder County Sheriff's Deputy Austin Bowcutt felt his life was in danger and that his only option was to use deadly force against Troy Clark Burkinshaw, 52, of Sandy, who died.

The Box Elder County Attorney's Office said Bowcutt was justified in shooting Burkinshaw.

In the second case, the Davis County Attorney's Office is reviewing the Nov. 24 shooting of Kristine Nicole Biggs, 41, by a Morgan sheriff's deputy in South Weber.

Biggs has been booked in Davis County Jail on charges after she was released from a local hospital. She was treated for a gunshot wound to her eye.

And in the third case, the Weber County Attorney's Office is investigating the Dec. 18 shooting of a man by an Ogden police officer. No information has been released on the man's condition.

According to Utah law, an officer is justified in shooting a person if he or she believes the person is threatening to kill or cause bodily injury to the officer or another person, said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.

Also, according to state law, if the officer believes the person has committed a felony that involves the death or bodily injury of another person and is trying to escape, the officer can use deadly force to stop the person from escaping.

Rawlings did not speak about any specific case but spoke about officer-related shootings in general.

"Every case is different and fact-intensive," he said.

Maj. Scott Stevenson, director of the Peace Officers Standards and Training, said officers are trained to analyze the moment, even though they have literally seconds to make a decision.

"We talk about using only that amount of force to do the arrest or to stop the behavior," he said.

Most people think of their car not as a deadly weapon, but as a way to escape from police, he said. And most people will comply with an officer when asked to stop.

Box Elder Sheriff Lynn Yeates said, in his 40 years as a law enforcement officer, the shooting in Corinne was the first one he was aware of that involved a motorist versus an officer.

"If the person would have stopped and got out of the vehicle, we wouldn't be having this conversation, literally."

Yeates said an officer has only seconds to decide whether to use deadly force when facing a 2,000-pound vehicle being used as a weapon.

Officers know that, if they use their gun, there will be not one but two investigations as to why and how that gun was used, officials said.

Yeates said every agency conducts an internal investigation to see if any policy was broken, while at the same time, an outside agency conducts an investigation into the shooting.

Centerville Assistant Police Chief Paul Child said officers receive training on when to use deadly force, but every situation is unique, and "those decisions are made in milliseconds."

About six years ago, Child faced down a Toyota Sequoia that had been stolen from a driveway in Centerville.

He had blocked off the vehicle, gotten out of his car and was "yelling at the driver to get out, but he looked at me and floored it," Child said. "I jumped out of the way and he got away, but we caught him later."

Officers more often choose not to shoot at a motorist, Child said.

"Shooting at a car brings a whole level of new problems, and we just don't encourage it," he said.

But when a vehicle is being used as a deadly weapon to mow down an officer, Child said, officers "are fully empowered" to use deadly force to stop the suspect.

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