The town of Gautier, Mississippi is a typical Gulf Coast town, with a police department of about 40-45 officers. Its chief, Dante Elbin, started with the town police after being a military cop in the Air Force, and from everything I’ve found, there is nothing abnormal about either the department or the chief. Even the policies seem to be normal, such as prohibiting officers from firing “warning” shots, like most departments in the United States. An officer ignored that policy recently and is apparently facing disciplinary action because of he fired a warning shot instead of shooting an unarmed suspect.
This is exactly what is wrong with our police departments today. You see, the police officer (who the department has not named) was attempting to stop Lamarcus Deantonio Williams, a 27-year-old black male, for a traffic violation. Williams fled about a mile and a half in his car, then bailed out with something in his hand. The officer shouted repeated commands for Williams to stop and show his hands, but Williams did not comply, and eventually turned toward the officer.
In many departments, this is where the officer would, using the First Rule of Law Enforcement, shoot the suspect because he did not know what may be in the suspects hand and the officer believes that his right to go home exceeds the right of the suspect to go home. That’s not correct, but good luck convincing police officers of that.
So as Williams came at the officer, the officer fired a round into the ground as a warning shot. According to Gautier Police Captain Casey Baxter, the officer would have been justified in using deadly force. Baxter said:
He didn’t know what he had in his hand. He raised up his arms like it was a gun when he charged. You don’t know if it’s a gun or a knife, and everything’s happening in a split second.
So the solution, under the First Rule, is to not take any chances and shoot the suspect. Baxter said as much, noting that departmental policy would have allowed the officer to use deadly force. Warning shots, however, are bad.
The officer was in violation of department policy when he discharged his weapon as a warning shot. The slug was recovered a few feet from where the officer was, so it was clearly a warning shot into the ground.
OK, let me get this straight. You would rather have the officer shoot and kill a suspect than fire a warning shot and take the suspect to jail alive?
Baxter said that the Williams was believed to have been carrying a cellphone in his hand. What is clear is that Williams did not have a weapon.
This is absolutely backwards. Yes, I understand why we don’t fire warning shots as a general rule, because the bullet has to go somewhere. Here it went in the ground, feet away from the officer, harming no one. The officer lived. The suspect lived. That’s a good outcome. It’s along the lines of what we should be looking for in our officers.
Instead, Gautier PD would rather discipline the officer.