Frontline Debriefs: Witness Interviews

Individuals who are neither police nor military have their own unique perception and interpretation of events. This is especially true when such individuals have witnessed an officer-involved shooting (OIS). Bear in mind that these individuals have never been exposed to deadly force events save those depicted on the big or small screen.

The following are paraphrased from many thousands of pages of testimony over 25 years of working OIS cases.

“Those bullety thingies came right at him and then he fell down.”

“The real cute police officer was the one that shot him.”

“I heard the officers tell him ‘hands up,’ then they shot him. But I don’t think the bad guy’s gun was loaded. Where’s your supervisor?”

“I could have taken the bad guy’s gun away because I study karate at school.”

“They should have shoten the gun out of his hand. Can I show you?”

“It’s unfair that they shoot him when all he had was a knife.”

“Couldn’t you guys have used that sprayee stuff that makes you cry a lot?”

“That one dude had like an elephant gun dude … I mean dude … that thing was HUUUUGE … dude!” (An AR, 5.56mm.)

“It was unreal, man. I was toked to the max when this went down, man. I got a hold of some good stuff just before your guys smoked that dude right in front of me, man.”

Female witness: “Detective, are you married?”

“Why didn’t you guys use that electric thingie that makes people jerk all over?”

“The officers only told him ten times to drop the gun. They should have given him more time.”

“That officer swore in public at the man they shot. You people should be a lot nicer instead of nasty. That’s why people get shot.”

“The officer was very rude and yelled at me when that guy over there was shooting at us.”

“That police car with the lights went through a red light and then ended up shooting that other guy. Are you going to give him [the officer] a ticket?”

“Why don’t you guys fire warning shots into the air?”

“You guys should have hit him with that batony thingie and then he would have dropped the gun.”

“My ears hurt from the guns going off. Do you have a doctor for me here?”

Male witness: “The SWAT officer with the cute butt … what’s his name?”

“I know my guns, detective, and when the officer reloaded the magazine into the revolver, he didn’t have to shoot it again.”

“I’d say I was about 400 yards away from the incident, Mr. Detective.” (SID measured at 50 yards.)

“That suspect was out of his mind, but you guys didn’t have to shoot him.” (Just assaulted two women, one little girl, one baby, and three officers with a knife.)

“I’d say the whole thing took about 10 to 15 minutes, sir, right around there.” (Recorded at 37 seconds.)

Witness: “He had on a black … no, it was blue … oh, wait … gray, yeah it was a gray shirt, I’m positive … or maybe black … hell, I’m not really sure.” Detective: “Thank you, ma’am.”

Suspect after armed standoff with SWAT: ”Is this going to hurt my chances of getting onto the Sheriff’s Department?”

“I would’ve called sooner, but I didn’t think the gun was real until he started shooting people.”

“The gun made a boom-boomy sound, so I think it was a shotgun or howitzer or something like that.”

Witness: “What’s that thing you use that goes kapowee, kapowee?” Detective: “I think it’s a gun, ma’am.” “Yeah okay. That thing is what he used, I’m pretty sure.”

Witness to detective: “I could see big FBI letters on those guys but the LAPD guys have smaller police letters on their vests.” Old-school LAPD detective to witness: “Those FBI boys are really something, aren’t they?”

“Can I have a beer in here?” (Inside the police station interrogation room.) (Now this guy I really like!)

“My wife’s gonna be pissed off if I don’t get home soon.” (Arrested after high-speed pursuit and shots fired.) (This guy has the right frame of mind. Forget San Quentin—it’s the wife you need to worry about.)

“I thought you guys used blanks on him until I saw the blood. Don’t you use blanks first and then the real bullets?”

Witness: “There were like a million rounds they fired.” Detective: “A million?” Witness: “Well, maybe 10 to 15 or so.” Detective: “Okay. That I can work with.”

“I’ve played a detective on a series, so I know the process. Proceed, detective.” (Why, thank you.)

“I was gonna help with my gun, but I figured the police might shoot me too.” (Good call.)

Male witness to female detective: “You’re nothing like the female detectives on TV.” (Ya’ think? OC canister deployed shortly thereafter.)

“I don’t know how many rounds or who firing or what the bad guys was doing or what who was said or where was anyone was but I seen the whole thing. Are you guys hiring?” (Absolutely!)

“I saw the top of his head come off. Is he gonna be alright?” (If it’s in LA, an emphatic yes!)

“Couldn’t you guys wait until I went to work to shoot him? I’m gonna be late.”

“Can I sue you guys because of what I saw?”

“First, my favorite color is pink.” (Six-year-old girl at outset of interview.)

“Can I get paid for this interview?”

“I liked the Fire Department guys. They were nice, but you police guys aren’t like that, so I like firemen more than you guys.”

“Don’t the police dogs have guns on them for the police to use?”

“The police were all over the place in battling gear pointing guns everywhere.”

What did I tell you? Priceless, yes?

Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course information and schedules are available at their website at www.internationaltactical.com. Looking Back, a free monthly newsletter, is available by email at itts@gte.net.

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