An attorney representing the family of a man who was shot dead by a Pasadena police officer in August calls on the city to end the practice of handcuffing wounded suspects before providing assistance, calling it inhuman and shameful.
Some experts disagree, saying that handcuffing wounded suspects is standard law enforcement practice across the country. They argue that there is a need to protect officials and the public in dangerous or volatile situations, including police shootings.
Once the situation has been defused and the crime scene secured, officials can begin medical care, they say.
Attorney Caree Harper, who represents the family of Anthony McClain, who was shot dead by the Pasadena police in August, backed off in an interview and asked the officers' training if they are still afraid if a suspect is after the shooting has already revealed and several officers are on duty scene.
"You may be too scared to become a cop if only you feel safe," she said when a scene is completely free of pedestrians or onlookers. "Maybe some of these cops should go down into the valley or leave northwest Pasadena."
Harper's expert, a 27-year veteran in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, also disagreed with his law enforcement colleagues, arguing that medical needs take precedence over a number of other concerns.
"If you have someone shot, you have to take care of them," said Roger Clark, former deputy sheriff in Los Angeles, in an interview. "Sometimes you don't handcuff her."
While serving as a deputy, Clark shot and killed a suspect who "wanted to kill me," he said.
"Once he was wounded, I literally had to walk up to him and pull a gun out of his hand – disarm him – because he didn't want to drop it or throw it," said Clark. "It's what we do. It's our duty. … And then we collect evidence, but the medical need comes first. This is how we treat our people."
Clark was an expert witness for Harper v Pasadena Police Department on previous cases and could be a witness in the McClain case, Harper said in an interview.
“This practice needs to be stopped and (Pasadena) Chief John Perez knows it needs to be stopped and I shouldn't have to sue every single member of the Pasadena Police Department for getting them through their thick skulls that you can't shoot keep it on people but let them suffer and bleed on the street, ”said Harper.
Experts say …
The McClain scene is very much like the national standard law enforcement process, as described by retired chief Frank Straub, director of the Center for Studies into Mass Violence Response at the National Police Foundation.
"Part of the problem is that we see way too many films," Straub said in an interview.
Hollywood would make you believe that a person is being shot, "and that's the end," he said. "They don't usually fight back in any way, but in real life that's not necessarily true. There have been numerous incidents in which a person has been shot – sometimes multiple times – and seriously injured police officers or other bystanders."
Straub recalled a gun battle between bank robbers and FBI agents in Miami in 1986 in which two agents were killed. They were both shot after the suspects were hit and suffered "injuries that caused their deaths," he said.
"But these people, or at least one of them, continued to struggle through deadly wounds," he said, explaining that this 1986 incident is specifically used in exercise programs.
"The fact that someone is fatally wounded does not mean that they have died. It does not mean that they are unable to continue causing death and injury."
In dangerous situations, Straub said, officers are trained to handcuff a wounded suspect, secure the larger scene, and then provide medical assistance until rescue workers arrive in that order.
"That is the order and it is an important one," said Straub.
He stated that officials are taught and trained to use only lethal force to respond to threats to themselves or the community. If they have just shot a suspect, it means the situation is dangerous and must be resolved before help can be provided.
That includes finding a gun that may be somewhere on the scene – it could be among the suspect, as far as all officials know, Straub said.
If a wounded suspect is handcuffed until the scene is secured and the threat removed, Straub helps keep the officers and the public as well as the suspect safe. If they aren't secured and decide to fight officers again, they are more likely to be injured even more, he said.
The McClain shoot
Harper is representing several family members of McClain, a Pasadena man who was shot twice on August 15 while trying to escape a traffic obstruction. One bullet grazed his shoulder while the other hit his lower right back before showing an autopsy done through his chest.
Police officers say he had a gun, although one was not clearly visible in the officers' body camera.
The Pasadena Police Department found a gun on site that McClain allegedly threw away while he was running, although Harper and other lawyers representing members of the McClain camp say the gun is not his.
After McClain was shot, he ran on before laying down in a lawn by the sidewalk. Body camera footage shows a responding officer approaching a wounded McClain, lying on his stomach with his hands outstretched and wearing a white T-shirt damaged by the spread of blood stains.
"I pass out," McClain says in the video. "Come on, I can't breathe."
The officer puts on his powder blue medical gloves and bends down to handcuff McClain.
"Put your hands behind your back, I'll help you. I need your arm," says the officer. "Stop reaching."
An officer asks McClain, "Where's the gun?"
"I don't have a gun," says McClain.
With the help of another officer – later known as Officer Edwin Dumaguindin, the man who actually shot McClain – they manage to get McClain's arms behind his back and cuff his wrists.
Harper believes McClain lost more blood from the exertion than if they had left him handcuffed.
While they tie him up, a crowd that used to gather gets angrier, "What is he doing now?" A man yells as the cop repeatedly tells the crowd that he's trying to save McClain, puts pressure on one of the wounds, and tells McClain, "Stay with me, boss. Stay with me."
It takes the help of another officer before he can put pressure on both of McClain's ultimately fatal wounds. McClain is drifting in and out of consciousness, officials say. It took a few moments to load him into an ambulance that was still handcuffed.
Defense of the police
During the McClain incident, Pasadena police spokesman Lt. Bill Grisafe, in an email: "Officials believed that Mr. McClain still had a firearm and feared that he might be able to access the firearm while they were providing medical treatment.
"Additionally, as seen on the officer's body-worn camera video, which was fully publicized, the officers involved were quickly surrounded by other people who had concerns about the safety of the officer," Grisafe said.
In deciding whether to use any restraint systems, Grisafe said officers need to balance safety concerns with situational factors by using handcuffs "thoughtfully about human life."
If they fear someone might flee or injure someone, the officers must wear cuffs, he said.
Sgt. Dennis Breckner, an Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman, made similar points as Grisafe and Straub.
If someone had been shot dead by a civilian, that victim would not be handcuffed, Breckner said in an interview. "But if officers have just shot someone in a situation where they felt it necessary to use lethal force, they will of course handcuff them."
"The safer we make the scene for ourselves, the safer we make it for everyone," he said.
Everyone agreed that the officers were obliged to provide medical assistance as soon as possible.