N.Y. officer justified in shooting knife-wielding suspect


The officer had a flashlight in one hand, trying to illuminate the moving target.

By Sue Weibezahl Porter and Michele Reaves
Syracuse Post-Standard

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — David Pitt was awakened early Monday morning by shouting right outside his Shonnard Street apartment window.

"Get down on the ground! Get down now!" he heard.

Seconds later, Pitt said, "I heard pop! pop! pop! pop! and I knew someone was shooting at someone else."

Because it was so close to his apartment, Pitt, who is disabled, got down on the floor himself and crawled across his living room floor to hide behind furniture.

"I didn't want to catch a stray shot," Pitt, 65, said.

Almost 20 minutes later, Pitt learned what happened. A Syracuse police officer had shot a man in the arm after the man threatened the officer and others with a knife, police said.

The shooting happened in a parking area just feet from Pitt's front door at 337 Shonnard St.

Michael R. Allen, 25, was charged with menacing a police officer, resisting arrest, two counts of first-degree attempted burglary and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, said police Chief Gary Miguel. Police do not have an address for Allen.

Tracy Dill, who lives at 337 Shonnard St., questioned the officer's firing five shots so close to apartment buildings.

Miguel defended the shots, saying, "You have to stop the immediate threat on your life and on a citizen's life, and we had both."

It took so many shots from the officer's .45-caliber semiautomatic weapon, Miguel said, "because he had the flashlight in one hand, trying to illuminate a moving target that's coming at him. That's very different than target shooting."

Miguel said he believes the fifth shot hit Allen in the upper right arm, causing him to fall to the ground.

"You stop shooting when the suspect goes down," Miguel said. The officer still had four bullets left in his gun.

Three buildings of several apartments each are on the property that includes 335 and 337 Shonnard St., according to the city assessor's office.

A long driveway and parking area separate the two closest to the street and a third building sits back from the road, between the two.

Miguel said the "backdrop" was as safe as could be for the officer to fire because the suspect was on a cement stoop with thick wooden walls around him. The spent bullets were found embedded in the stoop and the wood, the chief said.

Allen underwent treatment at University Hospital for a gunshot wound to the upper right arm. He was released into police custody Monday evening, police said.

Police did not identify the officer, who is on administrative leave to spend time with his family after the ordeal, Miguel said. The leave is part of office procedure and lasts as long as the officer chooses, usually about three days.

The incident started shortly after 2:15 a.m., when 911 dispatchers started receiving calls about a man banging on doors in the 300 block of Shonnard Street, Miguel said.

Residents said Allen was looking for a woman at one of the apartments, Miguel said. A man answered the door, opening it a little, and told him no woman lived there and then closed the door. Allen got angry and started kicking the door and threatened to assault the man inside, the chief said.

Another door Allen banged on was Dill's.

"I wake up at 2 because someone's beating on the door. I thought I was dreaming at first," said Dill, whose apartment overlooks the parking lot where Allen was shot,

As soon as she heard the gunshots, Dill, 27, crouched down and scurried into her 1-year-old son's room.

"I moved him out of his room and in with me," she said. "I didn't sleep the rest of the night because I was so paranoid. That was way too close for comfort."

"He was definitely acting strangely," First Deputy Police Chief Michael Heenan said of Allen. "His behavior was bizarre. He was trying to get into a house where no one knew him, threatening to stab people."

Allen had a locking, folding knife with a 4-inch blade, Miguel said.

Another man and his girlfriend left their apartment to confront Allen, Miguel said. They told Allen children were sleeping in their apartment and that he needed to stop.

Allen threatened to stab that man with a knife and chased him and the girlfriend back to their apartment, Miguel said. The couple made it back inside their apartment and closed the door. Allen tried to use his knife to break in, yelling threats to the man inside, Miguel said.

At 2:19 a.m., the police officer arrived alone and saw Allen using the knife to try to break in and yelling threats, Miguel said.

Police provided the following account:

The uniformed officer identified himself and told Allen to drop the knife.

The officer repeated the command several times, but Allen turned and walked quickly toward the officer, pointing the knife out at him.

The officer fired five shots, one of which hit Allen. The officer then called for an ambulance and other officers arrived.

Allen has an extensive criminal history, with drug, weapons and assault charges, Heenan said.

"No police officer ever wants to shoot someone," said Miguel, who called the officer's actions professional and courageous.

The officer followed police procedure for an officer working alone with a threatening suspect, Miguel said. A Taser would not have been appropriate in this case because it's not as accurate, Miguel said. If the Taser, which has only one shot, misses its target, the officer is left in danger.

One state official said the police department should not be withholding the officer's name.

"If you or I shot someone, they wouldn't withhold our name. Why should they be treated any differently?" said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.

The officer, he said, is a public employee who engaged in the actions while performing his official duties. "It would not constitute an invasion of privacy to identify him," Freeman said.

Copyright 2008 Post-Standard

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