published Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

'Excessive force' use questioned in fatal shooting


by Jacqueline Koch

In light of discussion that Chattanooga police officers may have used excessive force in fatally shooting a local man, a weapons expert says firing multiple times at someone perceived as a threat is not always unjustified.

"A person can be hit 20 or 30 times and still retain the ability to point their gun at people and pull the trigger," said Emmanuel Kapelsohn, vice president and director of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors. "There's tremendous variability in what the bullet may do when it hits someone and how effective it may be."

Family members of the deceased and several commenters on a local Internet message board have said the officers used excessive force and had itchy trigger fingers in killing Alonzo Heyward, 32, on July 18 in East Lake Courts.

One message board poster named "frayne" wrote: "Seems just a tad excessive if you ask me. Shot once with a tazer (sp) and then 59 rounds expended."

But another poster identified as "Justin Thyme" commented that he couldn't see how the force would be considered excessive: "Once he's dead I don't think any more rounds are going to hurt him any worse so how's it excessive? He was killed too much?"

None of the identities of those posting on the message board could be determined.

Mr. Heyward's family did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.

Law enforcement officials said Mr. Heyward was pointing a rifle at his own face outside the McDonald's restaurant on Rossville Boulevard when police approached him. Officers followed him to his home to Seventh Avenue, asking him to disarm, but he did not comply, police have said.

On his porch, Mr. Heyward refused to drop the weapon, and then officers used a Taser stun gun, which police have said was ineffective. It was unclear Tuesday why the Taser was ineffective.

Police then used deadly force.

A preliminary report from the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office shows Mr. Heyward sustained 43 gunshot wounds, including entrance and exit points. Officers fired 59 times, police have said. An audio tape released by the police department indicates officers fired three volleys of gunshots.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said he would wait for the investigation to be completed before making assumptions.

"I can't second-guess the police officers," he said Tuesday. "They were on the scene."

The Chattanooga Police Department major crimes division is investigating the incident and awaiting lab results and the complete medical examiner's autopsy, spokeswoman Lt. Kim Noorbergen said Tuesday.

Most of the six officers involved used .45-caliber pistols that hold nine bullets. Some may have used 9-millimeter pistols that hold 16 bullets, Lt. Noorbergen said.

Mr. Kapelsohn said a trained officer can fire six shots or more in one and a half seconds. Someone struck by those rounds may not fall in that time, he said.

If six officers independently fire for one and a half seconds, 30 to 50 shots could go off, Mr. Kapelsohn said.

A reaction period is associated with cease-firing because of the time the eyes need to perceive a threat has ended and for the brain to send a signal for the shooter to quit pulling the trigger, he said.

Mr. Kapelsohn likened that reaction time to a driver seeing an accident ahead and not tapping the brakes until his brain perceives the obstruction.

Mr. Heyward had wounds from his chin to toes, with some shots concentrated in the abdominal area, the preliminary medical examiner's report shows.

Officers across the country are trained to shoot at a person's upper chest. Mr. Kapelsohn said. That area offers shooters the greatest chance of hitting the target.

In conditions that include poor lighting and stress, officers may not always be able to aim at that part of the body, he said.

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he broke the law. he did not follow instructions given by police. he aimed a gun at police. aim a gun at me and see what happens. he failed to follow instructions and was shot in the process of the officers defending themselves. period. if your man enough to break the law, then you deserve what you get.

August 5, 2009 at 7:07 a.m.
alray said...

Yet more proof how crazy it is to allow people and police to have guns. More people die every year from guns in the USA than died at 9/11, two countries got invaded because of a fraction of the deaths caused by guns. Is it not time the war should be against guns that kill 8,000 Americans every year.

August 5, 2009 at 9:28 a.m.
Oz said...

I wonder how many lives are saved because of guns?

August 5, 2009 at 9:56 a.m.
Vandy said...

Mr. Kapelsohn said a trained officer can fire six shots or more in one and a half seconds. Someone struck by those rounds may not fall in that time, he said.

If six officers independently fire for one and a half seconds, 30 to 50 shots could go off, Mr. Kapelsohn said.

Modern Math. Six times six is "30 to 50" or can an untrained officer fire more than six?

August 5, 2009 at 10:09 a.m.
Sailorman said...

And here come the predictable anti-gun nuts. The ones who believe "if we just get rid of the guns, the world will be consumed by love". Uh-huh - exactly why the UK is trying to outlaw knives now.

Vandy - he said "six shots OR MORE" The police use a semi-auto pistol, not sure of which one, with magazines that hold more than six rounds. If they fired until the mags emptied, it could have been as many as 10-14 shots each.

August 5, 2009 at 11:03 a.m.
bubbles01 said...

If you don't obey the rules, you pay the consequences. In this case the consequences were deadly. Do you really think law enforcement officers go in to work every day looking for somebody to shoot? They will have to live with the fact that they shot this man. They are trained to do what they did in order to protect themselves and/or others. I don't know why anybody would want to be a law enforcement officer because for the most part the public does not respect or understand them. As for me, I'm glad they are there.

August 5, 2009 at 11:55 a.m.
itsObvious said...

About 99.9% of those who frequent that discussion board mentioned in the article are cops, married to cops, related to cops or in relationships with cops. The board moderator is LE. Therefore, of course most comments will be bias in favor of cops such as the screen name Justin Thyme seemingly makes excuses for the six cops.

August 5, 2009 at 11:57 a.m.
itsObvious said...

Yes, bubbles01. Unfortunately, there are individuals who actually join the force just for the opportunity to bag their first or several kills. They're cut from that same dysfuncitonal fabric known as society that produces some of the most deviant and hardened criminals. Even studies have shown that many who gravitate towards police work have the same psychological and anti-social makeup as some of your average to most hardened criminals on the street. Add power, lack of accountability and poor leadership to that reality and you have the perfect storm and recipe for a disasterous collapse and breakdown in society.

August 5, 2009 at 12:02 p.m.
enufisenuf said...

If you pay someone money you can get an opinion by a so called expert that the shooting was unjustified. The problem is that the cops have a mentality that they can do what they want without fear of reprisal. It is more prevelent here than most other parts of the country. The good ol boy thug mentality puts the general public in great danger. If postal workers can go nuts so can an idiot with a badge and a gun

August 5, 2009 at 12:15 p.m.
SingSing76 said...

so if police officers are trained to "hit " targets and are presumeably good shots ( at the very least) why on earth couldnt one of them have shot the the man's hand that was holding the gun?? or ( and I hate to visualize this) his knees to make him fall so they could get his gun away?? make no mistake..I am 100% for police being armed to the hilt to defend themselves and us but lets be real..this was questionable use of force. But of course, I wasnt there and have no idea if the victim called them ugly names or looked particularly mean and nasty, but Im saying..lets investigate before we draw conclusions !

August 5, 2009 at 1:09 p.m.
tre60 said...

If you listen to the audio of the incident, the officers' cease fire on multiple occassions and give directives to drop the gun before firing again. From the audio it appears that deadly force was used, they gave commands, evaluated the situation, and decided that deadly force was still needed. I would be more concerned if only one or two of the officers' felt this level of force was necessary, but the fact that all six of them responded in the same manner says to me that it was probably justified.

August 5, 2009 at 1:20 p.m.
Justpeachy80 said...

SingSing76 is right on target. Why not try some other means of 'force'? it seems there were too many indians and not enough Chiefs on this scene. I think the police was trigger happy. There has got to be other ways to dissolve a situation besides killing someone. This man obviously needed help or maybe he was looking for attention, I don't know. I understand that cops have to put their lives on the line for us everyday but there have been some situations recently that seems got out of hand and young people are dying at the hands of cops.

August 5, 2009 at 4:53 p.m.
itsObvious said...

I dsagree. Just because all six responded with deadly force doesn't necessarily dictate they arrived at the same conclusion that deadly force was necessary. It could also indicate that they'd gotten together prior to determine if in such a situation how best to react in order to make it appear justified. There are also certain key words often used in LE to give signals so as to determine response and outcome.

Take the young woman in Riverside California years ago who had fallen asleep in her broken down car while awaiting for family member to arrive and pick her up. One cop hollered out, SHE'S GOT A GUN! All cops on the scene responded with heavy gunfire, killing the young female who had fallen asleep inside her car. She never regained conscious.

There are always trigger points geared towards guaranteeing a particular response and outcome. It appears that too may have been the case here. How they all responded doesn't make it justified. It's just that old group, posse, mob response that often takes place with civilians too who're geared up on the same wave length.

August 5, 2009 at 6:55 p.m.
04ford said...

Are you kidding (59) shots is Excessive force no matter who you are. He was only trying to hurt himself not anyone else. I would have let a "Family Member" try to talk to him instead of shooting him (43) times! Did he fire a shoot? No one trying to hurt them self should be shot like this in front of thier family. When someone is hurting lets try to help them not kill them.

August 5, 2009 at 6:55 p.m.
itsObvious said...

I agree, 04ford. The claim and excuse was they don't normally allow family to talk to the suspect. However, there have been times they've done just that, allowed family members to talk to the suspect.

Justpeachy80, unfortunately, there haven't been any leadership or chiefs or general in charge of the CPD for a very long time. All they seem to want are props who follow orders without quesion and allow the dept. to run amok.

August 5, 2009 at 7 p.m.

This is beyond absurd. Not in ANY situation other than all out war or CLEAR HOMICIDE should 50+ rounds be fired at one person. And don't give me the "oh, their job is tough" krap. This situation called for a negotiator from the start and at no time was there any effort on the part of the police to call one in. Sunday morning, NO SUPERVISORS on duty, rookie cops, suicidal man w/gun to self and now an audio of one of the female officers calling for a HIGH FIVE (audio time 3:56) right after the first barrage of fire. The number of shot fired is disturbing for many reasons. One of which was the risk neighbors in surrounding homes experienced. Bottom line, these officers were not experienced enough to handle the situation and their lack of awareness of that fact is very disturbing. You don't want these officers thrown under the bus? Then they should followed basic protocol and called in someone trained to handle this situation. Mr. Heyward wanted to hurt himself, instead he lost to a bunch of gung ho cowboy/cowgirls that ran in with guns blazing and were cold hearted enough to laugh about the situation during that last few min. of the audio. Sick. CPD has skrewed the pooch and these officers are now targets of lawsuits as they should be...

August 5, 2009 at 8:01 p.m.
kamiletn said...

Let me get this right!? I try to commit suicide. My family calls the CPD. I end up a homicide victim. Tragically Interesting!

How much does 'paid administrative' leave cost the citizens of Chattanooga? At the rate CPD is going, all officers will be on paid administrative leave before the year is over and the citizens of Chattanooga will have to defend themselves. The chief and his department need to get a good PR person fast! Their image is pretty ugly.

August 5, 2009 at 8:20 p.m.
JustinThyme said...

I'm not sure how my pointing out the obvious, that the amount of force used after death is no longer effective and therefore can not be deemed excessive, translates into my making excuses for the officers. I wasn't there, I don't personally know if deadly force was required so I can't speak to that. However it does look obvious to me that a person using the name "obvious" could obviously see that nothing can be more excessive than deat so it doesn't matter how many bullets were pumped into the man if the goal was to kill him because there can't be anything excessive in the pursuit of that goal. At least that seems obvious to me.

Oh, and I am not a cop. I am not married to a cop. I'm not in a relationship with a cop and I have no ties to any police department. Out of over 400 users of that message board I only know of about six cops that post there and one cops wife.

August 5, 2009 at 9:21 p.m.
itsObvious said...

Justin Thyme, how about abuse of a corpse then? Will that do?

You're logic is both sickening, inhumane and disturbing.

Would you feel the same way if it was someone you knew? A relative perhaps shot multiple times? Would you still be so lighthearted and nonchalant about it?

August 5, 2009 at 9:39 p.m.
tre60 said...

Bottom line is if you point a gun at an officer, or a even civilian for that matter their is a good chance that this will happen. Someone pointed out that the officers' were inexperienced, which is possible. I do not know a single person with the CPD. However, I do know a few people with extensive military experience that have had to make difficult decisions in the line of duty and they were turned down by the CPD for admitting to smoking marijuana in high school. Most law enforcement agencies would rather have someone with a degree who has never been in a stressful situation, rather then someone that has lived life and has experience related to the job.

August 6, 2009 at 12:38 a.m.
franksmith said...

Bottom line the officers did an outstanding job, did what they are trained to do, STOP THE THREAT! Great job to our your men and women on the Chattanooga Police Department. All of you are brave and our local heros.

August 6, 2009 at 8:17 a.m.
JustinThyme said...

Obvious, if someone I knew, was kin to or even a son or daughter endangered someone with a weapon, yes, I would feel the same way. Five bullets or One hundred and five, dead is dead and you can't get excessive past that. Pointing to the number of times a dead man was shot is just a way to divert the discussion away from why the man was shot and killed. He was shot and killed because he posed a danger to those officers lives and the lives of innocents around him. That is what is obvious and if you truly have a reason to condemn the officers actions that is where your argument lies, not in how many times they shot him or how he was excessively killed.

August 6, 2009 at 8:35 a.m.
itsObvious said...

Yes, tre60 "IF", that very small insignificant word that seemingly has so much power and so many variations. Seems like the only ones who say the man actually pointed the gun at officers are the cops? hmmmmmm Cops lie, we all know. Are they, the cops, actually heard laughing towards the end of the video/audio as someone mentioned? And what about those other cameras ahead of Bacha's car? Where are they? Why is the only video released is that of Bacha's, when it clear there were other cars at the scene ahead of her car? What's the dept. covering up this time? The family and conscious minded citizens will have to demand a federal investigation.

franksmith, circus animals are "trained" too to do good jobs. CPD seems to be attracking a whole lot of circus animals these days.

August 6, 2009 at 8:41 a.m.
itsObvious said...

justinthyme, it appears the officers are the only ones who posed a danger to anyone. Especially the citizens you claim they were protecting. Shooting like wild, out of control heatens, hitting anything and everything, even allegedly hitting a neighbor's dog in another yard. Shooting up a fish tank inside a house. Can allegedly be heard laughing towards the end of that one video/audio tape. Yeah! I'll bet you'd feel the same way if it was someone you knew, some family member of sorts. Yeah! Right! We all hear that one until the shoe is actually on YOUR foot!

August 6, 2009 at 9:23 a.m.
JustinThyme said...

Obvious you are still bringing up every argument you can except for the only one that matters, was deadly force justified. Either it was or it wasn't. None of the peripheral things you are bringing up matters in determining whether or not deadly force was justified.

It is obvious to me facts don't matter to you, only a rant against the police.

August 6, 2009 at 10:23 a.m.
enufisenuf said...

Frenksmith, your obviosly one of the Good Ol Boys or in a relationship with one of the the Badge carrying thugs. THese jackboots are in no way heroes, there more like government sponsered gestapo. Hope the next time it one of your relatives to make you more informed instead of a spokesperson for the murder by cop squad

August 6, 2009 at 11:21 a.m.
Justpeachy80 said...

Justin Thyme~ Are you freaking kidding me???? First you are an idiot! If the poor guy is dead, he is dead, why continue to shoot him? Once they shot him and he drop to the ground, why not check to see if he's still breathing? I still say this guy could have been saved! As far as the CPD~ They suck! CPD needs to step inside people's homes and see how they live, instead of sitting on the side of the road asleep in their cars at 3:00 in the morning! CPD is good for NOTHING!!!! Just my thought for today!

August 6, 2009 at 4:16 p.m.
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