Family disturbance: This cop had seconds to choose between deadly or non-deadly force

By Greg Hardesty

Shoot the young man wielding the knife, or use a Taser?

Life or death.

In just seconds, the 26-year-old patrol cop had to make a decision.

***

Six months.

That’s how long Officer Mike Greene had been with the Fullerton PD when the call came in Dec. 28, 2014.

Greene, who grew up in Brea, had been a cop with the Downey PD for four years before transferring to an agency near his home turf – and where he served as a cadet for 1½ years after high school.

He was parked in his patrol car at the Fullerton Community Center, typing up a report, with only 90 minutes left to go on his 12.5-hour shift.

It was just after 4 p.m. when the dispatch radio crackled.

Family disturbance.

A man had called 911 from the apartment he shares with his son in the 500 block of West Amerige Avenue.

He said his 18-year-old son was breaking items, yelling and cursing, and threatening to kill himself.

About a quarter mile away, Greene was the first officer on the scene.

He walked down a sidewalk to the rear of the apartment complex, where he heard voices coming from outside unit D.

Fullerton PD Officer Mike Greene who handled a suicidal man with a knife with restraint and received commendation Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fullerton PD Officer Mike Greene. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“You want me dead!” he heard a young man scream.

Greene got to within about 20 feet of the outside staircase that leads up to unit D.

He saw a man sitting at the bottom of the stairs and a young man in front of him.

Greene told the young man, “Hey bud, come over here and talk to me.”

The young man looked up at Greene and leaned to his side. At this time Greene noticed the young man was holding a large serrated steak knife in his left hand with the point of the blade facing his father.

Greene was in a deadly-force situation.

“Hey, bro, drop the knife! Drop the knife!” Greene recalls ordering him.

The young man with the knife stepped onto the sidewalk facing Greene and became verbally aggressive toward the officer.

“Don’t shoot him, he’s my son!” the father yelled.

The man didn’t approach Greene but instead turned back to face his father.

Greene ordered the father to go upstairs and get inside the apartment. The father complied and starting walking up the stairs.

His son then followed him, pointing the knife in his father’s direction.

That’s when Greene made his split-second decision.

“Ultimately I am sure I could have shot him and it would have been justified. But at that moment I felt I had the time and opportunity to use a different force option first,” said Greene. “He could have escaped upstairs and stabbed his father or barricaded himself inside the apartment with his father as a hostage.”

Instead, now from about 10 feet away from the suspect and facing him at an angle, Greene fired his Taser at the young man. Its two barbed projectiles, connected to the non-lethal weapon by copper wires, hit him and rendered him temporarily immobile.

The suspect fell and landed on his back, the knife with an 8-inch serrated blade falling near him. He then rolled onto his stomach.

By this point, another unit had arrived and Officer Scott Flynn cuffed the young man.

“Why couldn’t you just have shot me?” the young man asked the officers while on the ground.

Fullerton PD Officer Mike Greene with the TASER he was able to use instead of a gun on a suicidal man with a knife. Greene is receiving a commendation for his restraint and his quick thinking that helped save the man’s life. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Greene received a commendation for his discretionary decision-making in a use-of-force situation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The young man was transported to Western Medical Center in Anaheim and placed on a “5150” psychiatric hold for 72 hours for threatening himself and others.

Cops later determined he had been arguing with his father all day after his father returned home from church at 1:45 p.m.

Greene, a graduate of Brea Olinda High School, said he gave the suspect a chance to drop his weapon but had no choice to use force to stop him from hurting his father.

The patrol officer, who also is a member of the North County SWAT team, said he’s happy the situation ended without him having to fire his gun.

“When you go on a call, you’re constantly evaluating the situation as it evolves,” Greene said. “There is no template for what is going to transpire. As a cop you are constantly reevaluating the situation. At every second, things can potentially change.”

His superiors commended Greene earlier this month for his discretionary decision-making that day.

Greene said: “I feel happy it worked out the way it did. I hope he gets some help and has a good life.”