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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.

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Video: Justified Deadly Force In D.C.

A vehicle presenting a lethal threat allows officers to use deadly force.

October 08, 2013  |  by Jon Adler

VIDEO: Officers Fire at Suspect In D.C. Chase

Law enforcement's use of deadly force at the end of the U.S. Capitol pursuit may not satisfy the mainstream media or other second guessers, but it was the proper response to a lethal situation.

Based on what we know publicly, a volatile subject attempted to breach a White House security barrier on Oct. 3 by ramming a black Infiniti into it. When the subject failed, they rammed a responding radio car, and struck a U.S. Secret Service agent. The subject then exposed the officers to great risk by speeding away at high speed in a reckless manner. The subject ultimately crashed the vehicle into a U.S. Capitol Police barricade. Officers stopped the potentially lethal threat by appropriately deploying their firearms.

Notice my reference to the individual who initiated the lethal scenario as a "subject." Responding officers were confronted by a potentially lethal threat, rather than a young attractive woman with her child in the rear seat. In assessing the appropriate level of force in this situation, gender should not be considered. All hands and feet are equally potentially lethal when applied to the steering wheel and gas pedal respectively. Inevitably, the news media's bias drew upon the subject's gender and appearance to criticize the level of force used.

Regarding the child in the vehicle, no one envies the officers who were on scene during the initial and final vehicular attacks. We don't know whether the officers were able to see the child in the back seat, especially considering window visibility factors. The officers demonstrated remarkable restraint when the subject first attempted to breach the security using her vehicle as a lethal weapon.

The presence of the child should be viewed as a potential victim of the subject's lethal behavior, and the officers should be commended for rescuing her without injury. History has shown us that subjects exuding irrational, lethal behavior have exploited children to accomplish their deadly objectives. The presence of a child, as heart wrenching as it may be, doesn't reduce the level of threat posed by the subject.

In terms of the use of deadly force, federal law enforcement officers follow the same policy and concept. We discharge our weapons as a last resort to stop a potentially lethal threat, and prevent serious bodily injury or loss of life.

Based on what is known, the officers used the appropriate level of force considering their reasonable perception of the threat level initiated by the subject. Based on her volatile use of the Infiniti, and the fact that she rammed government property and federal officers, she posed a potentially lethal threat to the officers. The subject also posed a lethal threat to those in the immediate area, including the child in her vehicle, by driving in a reckless manner.

While it was obvious that the subject used her vehicle in a hazardous manner to gain unauthorized entry to government property, there was no way to discern whether the vehicle contained any explosive material or other weapons that could have fatally wounded the officers or bystanders. Officers assess available threat indicators in micro-seconds and react accordingly.

Critics often ask why officers didn't shoot at the tires. The answer is that law enforcement tactics don't follow Hollywood fiction. They must respond in the real world. Warning shots and shooting at tires are usually prohibited by agency policy because they pose a greater threat to those in the immediate area. Shooting at tires would create a dangerous ricochet swarm that exposes anyone in the immediate area to significant risk.

The officers should be commended for their performance. The second-guessing, "could have" committee will draw upon the subject's publicized mental health history, and somehow suggest the officers should have known this and tempered their response. That's nonsense. There's no pause button for an officer to hit while being confronted by a lethal threat. Law enforcement officers receive training on how to deal with subjects with known mental illness, but in this situation, the officers needed to objectively assess what was known at the time of the attacks and respond appropriately.

While the loss of life is regrettable, it's fortuitous that no law enforcement officers or innocent civilians were killed. The Secret Service and Capitol Police have a very dangerous job, and they carry out their respective high-risk missions with the utmost degree of professionalism. I applaud them for their unwavering service to our country, and for confronting volatile subjects to keep us safe.

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