'Volatile' Jacksonville shooting, with 42 rounds, still being investigated
Police say 2-year-old is still in critical condition after five officers fired 42 rounds Friday at a carjacked vehicle.
Posted: March 28, 2010 - 12:45am
By Deirdre Conner
Questions lingered Saturday about why Jacksonville police officers fired 42 rounds at a commandeered car a day earlier, injuring an innocent toddler and his mother.
At a news conference, Sheriff John Rutherford had few solid conclusions about the complex sequence of events that played out Friday afternoon at a suburban commercial strip.
Five officers fired during the police-involved shooting on Baymeadows Road. Those bullets killed a bank robbery and carjacking suspect, but also sent the woman and her son to Shands Jacksonville. He remained in critical condition late Saturday.
"We had a very volatile situation," Rutherford said. "I just don't want to try to speculate on why they felt the need to shoot at the suspect while he was in the vehicle."
None of the officers has been formally interviewed yet, in order to avoid interference with the criminal investigation, Rutherford said. There will be at least two investigations, one criminal, and after that, an administrative inquiry.
The boy's family is asking how officers' use of force to stop a bank robbery and carjacking suspect ended so tragically.
The boy, identified as Daniel Crichton, was hit by bullets in his arm and upper torso. The sheriff said it is uncertain how long the toddler's status will remain critical.
The boy's mother, Joann Cooper, 35, was driving when her car was commandeered by the suspect after he fled the bank robbery. Cooper was hit in the foot by shots from the officers and is also recovering at Shands Jacksonville. Her stepdaughter, Alexis Cooper, 7, was in the car but unharmed during the shooting.
On Saturday, the boy's father spoke out against the actions, saying he now fears the police.
Daniel Crichton's father, Kirk Crichton, said he was frightened and gravely concerned about what happened to his son. Crichton lives in Jamaica and said by phone from an airport there that Daniel was in critical but stable condition.
"There were two children in the car," he said. "How can you shoot indiscriminately at the car? It's ridiculous."
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office policy prohibits officers from firing at a moving vehicle other than as a last resort to prevent death or great bodily harm to the officer or another person; as a last resort to prevent escape of a felon who would pose imminent threat of death or great bodily harm; and when authorized by a watch commander or higher authority.
Rutherford would not speculate on the exact conditions that prompted the officers to shoot. The car was hit at least 15 times in the windshield, hood and passenger and driver's-side windows.
"If the officers felt that they had a opportunity to end it without endangering the carjack victims, then I think it was wise that they would try to do that, if they could do that safely," he said. "And I don't know the answer to all that yet."
Rutherford said he doesn't yet have all the information about the sequence of events or whether the firing officers knew the woman and two children were in the car.
"We don't know what they saw. That's part of the problem," he said.
Cooper and the two children were in a car at the Wendy's drive-through on Friday afternoon when the suspect, whose identity has not yet been released, ran from a bank he had just robbed and carjacked the car by pushing Joann Cooper into the passenger seat of the Nissan she was driving, police said. One officer shot at the suspect just before he got into the car.
As the suspect drove onto Baymeadows Road, four more officers working in teams of two shot at him until the car came to rest in the middle of the road and the suspect was dead.
The officers involved were both veterans and new to the force. Four were on duty and one was off duty.
They were: Lt. J.E. York, a 22-year employee; Officer J.E. Lederman, a 13-year employee; Officer R.C. Santoro, an 11-year employee; Officer R. Black, a 21/2-year employee; and recruit D. Griffith, in field training and employed for a year.
It was the first officer-involved shooting for all but York, for whom it was the first officer-involved shooting where a suspect was shot.
Rutherford said the department had not yet been able to reach the suspect's next of kin. The gunman did not discharge his gun, a .357 revolver he was armed with when he entered the Wachovia bank about 3 p.m. and committed a takeover-style robbery, police said.
An expert interviewed Saturday by The Times-Union called such circumstances extremely rare and a "worst-case scenario."
That makes training for such a situation virtually impossible, said Thomas J. Aveni, executive director of The Police Policy Studies Council. The presence of innocent bystanders in such proximity to an armed suspect could either keep an officer from shooting to avoid hurting the bystander - or make him more likely to shoot to protect them.
It seems unlikely that stop sticks - spiked strips that officers can lay over a road to puncture a car's tires - would have been a possibility.
They take time to set up, and typically are deployed a mile in advance or more, Aveni said.
"It takes quite a bit of time and directional knowledge," he said.
Aveni said that nationally, many police departments are taking stronger steps to restrict when officers can shoot into or at moving vehicles. The main reason? Accuracy. A car moving at 20 miles per hour is equivalent to 30 feet per second.
"Officers tend to miss significant number of rounds when firing at human beings on foot," he said.
Joann Cooper's children attend a day school and academy run by Baymeadows Baptist Church. A woman who answered the phone at the home of Pastor Garry Broward late Saturday said he was unavailable for comment, but that a special time of prayer for Cooper and her children would be held during a church service today. She said Cooper's family had asked for no other information to be released, and declined further comment.
Nelson Cuba, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he had spoken to the officers involved.
"The only concern of the officers right now is that child and that family," he said. "That's all they're thinking about."email@example.com
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~~~sequence of events
- At 3:09 p.m. the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is dispatched to an armed bank robbery in progress at the Wachovia at Baymeadows Road and Baymeadows Way. According to witnesses, a masked, armed gunman entered the bank and ordered customers to the ground. Armed with a .357 revolver with a 6-inch barrel, the suspect jumped the counter and knocked two tellers to the ground.
- The suspect left with an undetermined amount of cash and fled into the wooded area behind the bank.
- The suspect ran into the Wendy's parking lot and into the drive-through lane. He yanked open the driver's-side door of a white four-door Nissan sedan and pointed his gun at the female driver, identified as Joann Cooper, 35.
- A pursuing officer, not identified, heard the suspect yell, "I'm going to kill you." Officials say it is not clear whether this statement was intended for Cooper or the officer.
- The same officer fired his agency-issued shotgun at the suspect, who was standing outside the car with his gun pointed at the driver.
- The suspect overpowered Cooper and forced her into the passenger seat, then began driving the car toward Baymeadows Road.
- Other officers had set up tactical positions on Baymeadows Road. As the car moved past them, two officers fired shots at the gunman.
- The car continued forward, and as it went over the top of the median, another two officers fired at the gunman as he attempted to exit the vehicle, which was still rolling to a stop.
- Officers approached the victim's car and discovered Cooper, as well as two small children in the car seats in the back. They are identified as 7-year-old Alexis Cooper, who was not injured, and 2-year-old Daniel Crichton, who was critically wounded by gunshots to the upper torso and arm. Joann Cooper, his mother and Alexis' stepmother, was shot in her right foot.
- Cooper and her son were rushed to Shands Jacksonville, where they remained Saturday.
Source: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office