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Retired hostage negotiator: Deadly force is last resort

Posted February 15, 2012

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— A former hostage negotiator in Cary said the intensity of standoff situations requires complete focus to keep both suspects and officers safe from harm.

Dave Wulff handled between three and five standoff situations per year in his 27 years with the Cary Police Department, he said. He retired last year.

"What we're doing is developing as much information as we can to try to talk to that person to try to get them to surrender," Wulff said Wednesday.

In recent weeks, however, several standoff situations in and around the Triangle have ended in gunfire.

Wulff said law enforcement officers' jobs have become increasingly dangerous, and that it's often out of their control whether a standoff situation will turn violent.

"A lot of times, we're not the ones who make the decision. That person is the one who makes the decision as to what direction we go and how we treat that person," he said.

Police Former police negotiator offers insight into recent standoffs

Earlier this month, a man who had barricaded himself inside his Brier Creek apartment shot a Raleigh police officer before turning the gun on himself. In January, a Fayetteville soldier allegedly shot at officers who were investigating reports of a fire at his apartment. The officers fired back, injuring the soldier.

Last weekend, a Wake County deputy shot and killed a suicidal man brandishing a knife at a home off Leesville Road in Raleigh.

Family members said Adam Wade Carter, 25, was drunk, crying out for help and posed no threat to the deputy. They say First Class Deputy Tavares Thompson shot him twice in the chest, even though Carter never raised the knife.

Thompson was placed on administrative duty while the use of force is investigated, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings.

"Twice in the chest is not how you handle a situation with someone who's looking for help," Thomas Boykin, a friend of Carter's, said Tuesday.

The Wake County Sheriff's Office has no specific policy for dealing with drunk or suicidal suspects, but guidelines state that "force should be used only when all other means of resolving a situation have been exhausted or are clearly inapplicable."

Different law enforcement agencies have different policies when it comes to how and when to use deadly force, but Wulff said it's always a last resort.

"Nobody goes into police work wanting to hurt anybody. We all go into it wanting to help," he said. "Any time a police officer has to make the decision as to whether or not to use deadly force, it's a difficult decision to make, and they've got to live with that for the rest of their lives."

That's a lesson Wulff learned in the line of duty. Last February, he headed up a team of negotiators at a Cary bank after troubled student Devon Mitchell pretended to be armed and held seven people hostage inside. Mitchell, who was not actually armed, was shot and killed by officers hours after the standoff started.

The situation drew criticism from many people in the community, who questioned whether officers used a "shoot-to-kill" mentality in dealing with Mitchell, who was shot at least 12 times, according to autopsy results.

"You always hear, 'Well, why didn't they shoot him in the knee? Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?'" he said. "If a person is coming at you, you have to stop that threat. We don't shoot to kill. We shoot to stop that threat that's posed upon us. Hopefully, it's just wounding them and stopping them."


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  • Lightfoot3 Feb 21, 2012

    Just saw a video on CNN of a cop's encounter with a suicidal knife wielding person. First of all, cop was wearing a camera which I totally support for all cop/public encounters. Secondly, cop pulls gun, and ordered dude to drop the knife and BACKED away when the dude advanced slightly. By moving, cop maintained a tactical advantage and did NOT have to shoot the guy, though he was prepared to do so if needed. Finally, other cops arrived and tasered the guy. Wake County cops could learn something by studying such videos and enacting their own policies and procedures. But if they never admit their mistakes, they'll never learn, and will continue to repeat those mistakes.

  • piene2 Feb 20, 2012

    All officer involved shootings are investigated and if there are questions as to whether the officer committed a criminal act the DA sends it to the Grand Jury.
    Lady Justice

    What part of "investigated by themselves do you not understand? What part of civilian review board eludes you?

  • fishon Feb 17, 2012

    I know that as a volunteer EMT I handled many dozens of situations exactly like this one and never received a scratch. piene2

    I call baloney. Every situation is different so it is literally impossible for your many dozens of cases to be exactly like this one.

  • 6point Feb 17, 2012

    Ike Lets's be blunt people. If the officer had tased this man and fell on his own knife wounding himself, you would fuss about the use of a taser. If the officer had used no force and ended up being stabbed by the man, you would then ask why the officer didn't properly defend himself. It appears that a lot people just plain do not support law enforcement. This is fine. You do not have to like us. That is your right. I feel that it is unfair for people to judge this officer's actions if they have not been in the situation. I am in law enforcement, I have been in these situations. By the grace of God, I have not had to use deadly force because the person complied when told to drop their weapon. I pray that I can retire without having to take a life.This man did not comply. The officer protected himself. Once again, I feel that you are entitled to your opinion. Law enforcement officers know that people dislike us but we continue to do our best anyway and would sacrife our lives for yours.

  • Lightfoot3 Feb 16, 2012

    “They carry "clean" handguns to plant on people that they execute. They carry narcotics to plant on people they want to frame.” - piene2

    I don’t know about that, but I have PERSONALLY witnessed a cop shoot a fleeing man and then plant a knife on him (rolled it in the guy’s hand to put fingerprints on it).

  • agmatthews06 Feb 16, 2012

    Turbo- .....Really.....When a law enforcement enters a dwelling where they don't know what is going to be behind a door or around a corner you think they should just have out their Tazer? As a spouse of an officer I thank God that is not policy. They don't know what threat might be there and as someone earlier stated "don't bring a tazer to a knife/gun fight"

    Piene- they have people to investigate who can understand the situations that have happened. And just so you know there are no "Cop Unions" in NC. As far as carrying things to plant on people, I won't deny that there are a few bad cops out there, but saying that give all the good ones a bad rep that they don't deserve. One day you will need a police officer and I hope they give you the best treatment that you obviously don't deserve or want.

  • piene2 Feb 16, 2012

    "You are assuming it was a bad decision on the deputy's part but we were not there. I read this guy was already in trouble for assault. Perhaps the deputy checked the name/address and knew something we didn't see in the story.

    I know that as a volunteer EMT I handled many dozens of situations exactly like this one and never received a scratch. Also I never found it necessary to blow anyone to smithereens. Of course we did have one immutable rule. That was that no cops were, under any circumstances, allowed at the scene. They had to be sent but had to stay in their cop cars out of sight. Sometimes it did take a couple of hours to resolve the situation but that is a cheap price to pay to preserve a life, especially the life of a disturbed individual. I made it a practice to visit those poor unfortunate people at the hospital the next day and they were always most grateful. I never had to visit them at the morgue.

  • gunny462 Feb 16, 2012

    "This guy was drunk, mentally unstable, and not experienced with knives, --> a shot in the shoulder would have immediately ended this ordeal.Truth Hurt"

    Yeah lol shoot him in the shoulder, or better yet, shoot the pinky of the knife hand.. geesh.. arm chair LEO enforcement division is hiring.

  • gunny462 Feb 16, 2012

    disgusted2010 - the law enforcement haters on this blog really frighten me.

    "What frightens me is your idea of law enforcement.
    Hugo Fuerst"

    What's amazing is your lack of any noggin cells. You have no proof other than what a distraught aunt and a very hate filled 'best friend' have reported.

    btw, where's the questions regarding these two fine up standing citizens allowing a mental case to drink and go ARMED BEFORE they called the LEOs? His bff? lol yeah right, some bff, calls the LEOs.. why? If he WASN"T a danger to anyone as his bff states then why didn't he disarm his friend?

  • piene2 Feb 16, 2012

    "Gee, you have already seen the SBI investigative report?

    All officer involved shootings are investigated and if there are questions as to whether the officer committed a criminal act the DA sends it to the Grand Jury.
    Lady Justice"

    HA! Investigated by who exactly? Allow me to tell you who. They are investigated by other cops! It is like letting the fox guard the chicken coop. What is needed is civilian review boards. That won't ever happen though. The cop union will block it at any cost because they fear the truth. We might as well give up on depending on the cops for anything at all and concentrate our efforts in protecting ourselves from them.