Sunday, April 16, 2000

Shotgun 'beanbags' add police option

Non-lethal weapon expands options

BY Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — When Anthony Taylor started walking through downtown last week armed with a butcher knife and threatening harm to himself and others, he placed himself in position to be shot and possibly killed by police.

        But a combination of training and a little cloth beanbag produced a safer resolution.

        Mr. Taylor was taken down with five beanbag rounds fired from a Newport police officer's 12-gauge shotgun. Now Mr. Taylor is in jail with a few bruises instead of in the morgue with bullet wounds.

        Officer Greg Simmons, a former Kentucky State Police trooper, said it was an effective debut for this non-lethal weapon.

        “I relied on my training,” said Officer Simmons.

        “I had not been in a situation where it had been used before, except in training exercises. I knew how they worked, and I knew the reaction I expected. It proved to be a textbook situation for the less-than-lethal ammunition.”

        The beanbag shotgun round, a heavy nylon cloth square about the size of a tea bag, is filled with an ounce of lead birdshot. Loaded into a standard-size shotgun shell, it is designed to deliver a blow that will cause minimum trauma but result in a muscle spasm or other reactions to briefly render a violent suspect immobile.

        They are considered one of the more effective non-lethal tools of law enforcement, but they are by no means foolproof.

        Cincinnati police have used the beanbag round at least three times since adding the non-lethal ammunition to their arsenal in 1997, and the results have been mixed.

        The first time Cincinnati officers deployed the beanbag shotgun, in 1997, a 6-foot, 280-pound suspect with psychiatric problems was struck by a round but was not phased and, in fact, ran through a wall before being tackled by officers.

        Beanbag rounds in a second incident, last August, defused a situation. A South Fairmount man had threatened to shoot himself but was knocked down by beanbag rounds.

        In the latest Newport incident, police responded to a domestic call on East Seventh Street. The police report indicated that Mr. Taylor had threatened his wife and then walked away.

        Officer Tim Pangallo was the first to see the suspect walking near Eighth and Monmouth streets, and he set up a moving perimeter — with several officers surrounding Mr. Taylor from a small distance, repeatedly advising him to put down the knife.

        “We were concerned at one point that he might enter the Green Derby Restaurant (at Ninth and York streets) armed with the knife,” Officer Simmons said. “I had not arrived on the scene with the beanbag shotgun, and officers on the scene could have been forced to take more drastic measures to stop the suspect.”

        When Officer Simmons approached Mr. Taylor, at Ninth and Putnam streets, he ordered him to drop the knife and then fired the beanbag rounds when the suspect refused to comply, police said. Mr. Taylor was hit in the legs and hand, after which he dropped the knife and sat down on the sidewalk.

        Newport's other beanbag incident, last April, ended a standoff with police in a similar fashion when a man with mental health problems said he had a weapon and threatened to harm himself and others. After being hit with several beanbag rounds, the man was transported to a hospital for psychiatric examination.

        Officer Simmons said the beanbag round also has a psychological effect on a suspect.

        “There is not a doubt in my mind (Mr. Taylor) thought I had shot him with a standard shotgun round,” he said. “I knew him and called him by name. The first shot hit him in the leg, and he had an expression on his face as though he had been wounded. He stopped moving after the second shot but still had not dropped the knife.”

        Covington, Northern Kentucky's largest city, has had beanbag rounds in its police arsenal since 1997 but has never had to use one, according to Assistant Chief Col. Bill Dorsey.

        “Each supervisor on each shift has a beanbag shotgun, so we always have a minimum of two of the shotguns out on the streets at all times,” Col. Dorsey said. “That eliminates the need for officers to go to headquarters to retrieve one of the beanbag shot guns.”

        Newport's SWAT (special weapons and tactics) officers are the only members of the department certified and trained to use the beanbag rounds. But that could change.

        “We are constantly studying this type of situation,” Newport Police Chief Tom Fromme said. “Right now, we have 10 SWAT officers certified, but we may have everyone in the department certified to use the beanbag rounds in the near future.”

        The Newport SWAT officers are trained to aim the beanbag rounds only below the waist of a suspect, said SWAT commander Lt. Cyril Sykes.

        “The primary target is the legs,” he said. “The idea is to strike the larger muscles, making them tighten and immobilize the suspect. Whenever possible, we want to control a violent situation and bring it to a peaceful conclusion without loss of life or serious injury.”


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