In the video below, police appear to shoot a man in a wheelchair who was armed with knives and may have stabbed an officer. There are a number of questions raised by this video over the use of lethal force.
What is curious is that citizens were next to the man when the police arrive and traffic is still moving by the scene despite the possible use of the weapons. The greatest concern is why the police did not use non-lethal force such as a taser or isolate the man while they cut off traffic and tried to reason with him. There were people standing around the scene shortly before the shooting and cars passing by.
One account states that the police first used pepper spray and fired a non-lethal ‘beanbag’ round. Some witnesses state that the man had only been slashing tires and had already thrown his knives to the ground when he was shot. However, the San Francisco papers are reporting that the man had stabbed a police officer in the shoulder at a mental health services center and that he threw a knife before being shot in the groin.
Under constitutional law and common training rules, officers are generally allowed to use lethal force when they are being threatened or to protect others. This can include a fleeing armed suspect. The question is whether the use of additional non-lethal force would have ended the standoff since the man was armed with a knife rather than a gun. With at least seven officers present at the scene, he could have been isolated to protect the public. There is a reluctance, however, to second-guess officers in such a situation. If he did stab an officer and was waving a knife, most courts would find the force justified. This assumes that reports that he had thrown away the knife are proven incorrect. That would leave the question as to whether, as a policy matter, the officers should have opted for less lethal means to subdue the clearly disturbed individual.