Two Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies fatally shot a man in a wheelchair Friday morning when he pointed a shotgun at them after they responded to a call about a possibly suicidal man at an apartment complex, a department spokesman said.
The deceased man was identified as Bruce Robinson, 47.
The Sheriff’s Office received a call about 10:30 a.m. from a man who said his brother was acting in a suicidal fashion at the White Water Creek apartment complex, 6826 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie. The man told the 911 dispatcher that his brother had a shotgun and ammunition, said Col. John Fortunato, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Three deputies got to the apartment four minutes later. After they knocked, a man in a wheelchair opened the door, sitting with a shotgun across his lap, Fortunato said.
Robinson pointed the shotgun at the officers, who ordered him to put it down, according to Fortunato and some neighbors who heard the commands.
“As a matter of fact, they asked him (to put down the weapon) on three separate occasions,” Fortunato said.
After he failed to drop the gun, two of the deputies opened fire, shooting a total of three bullets, Fortunato said. Robinson was hit and died at the scene.
Attempts to contact his family were unsuccessful.
The deputies who shot Robinson were identified as Joe Marcel, a 12-year veteran of the JPSO, and Christopher Bassil, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for eight years.
Marcel and Bassil will remain on duty as the investigation into the shooting continues, Fortunato said. JPSO policy calls for removing deputies from the field only if they are believed to have violated any policy or broken the law.
The office’s response, however, raised questions among some law enforcement experts.
Ronald Scott, a former commander of the Massachusetts State Police Ballistics Section who has reviewed officer-involved shootings as both an officer and a civilian, said those who respond to calls about possibly suicidal individuals need first to assess if that person is a threat to others or if someone else with him could pose a threat.
Once the officers make contact with an armed person, he said, there are often only seconds to react.
“Once the gun gets pointed at the officers, there isn’t really much of a choice,” he said. “Someone points a gun at you, you’re in fear for your life. It requires the use of deadly force.”
Fortunato said the responding deputies properly followed their training after they arrived at the apartment and knocked on the door.
“They were following normal protocol and procedure,” he said.
George Kirkham, a retired officer in Florida who also is a professor emeritus at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, said trying to make contact with a possibly suicidal individual is a key factor when responding to a call such as the one received Friday.
Knocking on the door should often be a last resort, he said. Instead, a crisis-intervention team is often called in to try to talk with and calm down anyone who might contemplate taking his or her life.
If that is not possible, he said, officers often will try to subdue an armed person with a stun gun, especially if one officer can keep a loaded gun pointed at the person while the other tries to disarm him without lethal force.
“What you don’t want to do is facilitate ‘suicide by cop,’ ” he said.
But, Scott noted, decisions need to be made almost instantly. In most officer-involved shootings, it takes about two seconds for an officer to recognize a threat and react.
“It’s a no-win situation for a police officer,” he said. “I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to do something in that situation.”