NEW ORLEANS – The officers who gunned down a knife-wielding man appeared to be justified and would have betrayed their police training if they had aimed to fire a non-lethal shot, said Police Superintendent Warren Riley.
Anthony Hayes, 38, was shot Monday after allegedly lunging at police with a 3-inch blade. Part of the confrontation leading to the shooting was caught on videotape that shows about a dozen officers surrounding him as he waved his arms and brandished a knife. The shooting was not videotaped.
The officers are trained to treat knife attacks as deadly force and are not schooled in disarming suspects with knives using hand-to-hand combat, Riley told The Associated Press Tuesday.
"The officers in fact gave many verbal commands ordering him to place the knife down," Riley said. "They used mace. The mace had no effect on him. It's very unfortunate this happened but the actions seemed to be necessary."
The three officers who fired nine rounds on Hayes when he allegedly lunged at police also would have betrayed their training if they had aimed for his legs, Riley said. They are told not to do so because suspects shot in an arm or leg have been known to retaliate, sometimes hurting or killing the officer, he said.
"The vast majority of police departments — state, local and federal — are trained to shoot-to-kill ... either the head or the chest area," he said.
An internal review will officially determine whether proper procedures were followed, Riley said, but he added that "all witness accounts" indicate the shooting was justified. The officers who fired at the man have been reassigned pending an investigation.
The head of an independent watchdog group that monitors police said the shooting appeared to be justified, but that the death is another black mark for a beleaguered department.
Hayes' death follows the recent videotaped police beating of a retired teacher in the French Quarter that led to two firings in the department, as well as a long string of pre- and post-Katrina problems. Immediately after the storm, for instance, some officers were accused of deserting their posts, others of looting.
Before the storm, the department had a checkered history that included corruption investigations and the conviction in the 1990s of an officer who arranged the murder of a woman who filed a brutality complaint against him.
"Even if it's determined that officers have done nothing wrong, the people will continue to have a negative opinion of police in this city. That goes back to some of the sins the department has been guilty of over the past 10-15 years," said Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of Greater New Orleans.
One witness, local defense attorney Robert Jenkins, said police showed "great restraint" in the shooting. "They hit him with a host of pepper spray and he still doesn't go down," said Jenkins. "He just wipes his face like it's nothing."