Retired hostage negotiator: Deadly force is last resort
Posted February 15, 2012
Cary, N.C. — 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.
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."