Vargas: Police officers have deadly encounters with people bent on "suicide by cop"

By Joe Vargas

On Sunday, April 8, 2018, 25-year-old Juan Jones was shot and killed by Danville, VA police who were investigating a domestic violence incident. Protests soon followed and the department was under fire for what has been described as an unjustified shooting.

At times, the protest grew tense, especially as Danville Police Department Chief Scott Booth stepped up in front of the Danville Municipal Building to address the crowd.

Posted by GoDanRiver on Monday, April 9, 2018

On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, Police Chief Scott Booth released the officers’ body cam footage. Booth said he wanted to dispel some of the false rumors that were being circulated.

The incident began just after 1 a.m., when a woman called and said she had been assaulted by her boyfriend, Jones. According to police accounts, the woman called from a commercial location but then drove home, followed by her attacker.

Once at the home, officers came upon Jones attempting to drive away. Blocked in by the responding police units, Jones refused to comply and drove into the parking lot. He then parked and sat in his car while officers ordered him numerous times to get out of the car. The video shows the officers spent just over 6 minutes trying to get him to comply.

At one point, Jones drives over a curb and into a wooded area, stopping only after his vehicle becomes entangled in the trees and brush. Officers approached as Jones exited the vehicle. He never acknowledged the officers’ repeated commands. The officers deployed a Taser but it was ineffective, probably due to all the brush around the car.

Then it happens.

Jones reached into what most people would describe as a shooting stance (7 minutes, 30 seconds into the video). Officers fired their weapons, striking Jones, who went down. He was later declared dead.

The officers in this incident went to great lengths to get Jones to cooperate. They attempted to use less-lethal methods, to no effect. By all appearances, this is a case of “suicide by cop.”

The body cam video clearly shows Jones exhibited behavior that explains the officers’ decision to shoot, which happened in fractions of a second.

Police experts have weighed in and also described this as a case of “suicide by cop”.

In another case, which could be another “suicide by cop,” Las Vegas Metro police released a graphic video of an officer-involved shooting at 4:48 a.m. on April 6, 2018, during a car stop for reckless driving.

The driver, 22-year-old Junior David Lopez, got out of his vehicle immediately upon being stopped, despite being ordered to get back in the car. As he got out, he dropped or tossed a handgun. The officers ordered him to not reach for the gun. Lopez held his hands out and said, “shoot me.”

While on his knees, he reached forward and picked up the gun. The officers fired, striking Lopez. After he was shot and prone, Lopez rolled toward the firearm, and the officers again fired their weapons.

Asked during a press conference if this was a “suicide by cop,” Las Vegas Metro Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman explained, “He said ‘shoot me.’ Our cops gave numerous commands to not reach for the weapon. He reached for the weapon after he was shot. I don’t know what was going through his head, but he was given ample opportunity to be taken into custody and he wasn’t.”

These are just a few examples of what officers face on a fairly regular basis when dealing with disturbed individuals who, for all sorts of reasons, behave in a threatening manner in order to solicit a lethal response from law enforcement officers.

Joe Vargas is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.