One of the first things police officers learn is that a suspect's "hands" pose the greatest threat—indeed they do. When dealing with a suspect, an officer should be acutely aware of the ability, or inability, to see the person's hands to ensure he is not clutching or reaching for a weapon. This is a proper concern and when officers encounter someone with their hands in their pockets the officers should immediately assume an elevated level of awareness.
Such was the case with Malcolm Antwan Orr, 29, on 1 January 2016 in Estill, South Carolina.
Estill, South Carolina police Officer Quincy Smith responded to a suspicious person call at the Charles Party Shop. A clerk told Smith that a man wearing camouflage and a red bandana tried snatching groceries from customers. Smith spotted a man matching that description walking away from the store along Railroad Avenue. Smith drove his patrol car a short distance toward the man, who police later identified as Orr.
Smith parked his patrol car and ordered Orr to stop. Orr refused and continued to walk away from Smith, while holding a cellphone to his ear and keeping his right hand in his jacket pocket. Smith told him to take his hand out of his pocket or Smith would use his Taser. At that point, Orr removed a 9mm handgun from his right pocket and began firing at Officer Smith without taking the phone away from his ear.
Officer Smith was threatening to fire his Taser at Orr when he likely perceived that Orr was removing a pistol from his pocket. As he saw the pistol, the video shows that Officer Smith fired his Taser; however, it is likely that one or both Taser prongs missed—in any event, the Taser had no affect on Orr.
Orr opened fire on officer Smith after Smith fired the Taser firing 3 shots in his initial burst. The first shot hit Officer Smith in the neck, another struck his left arm breaking 2 bones, and a third passed through Smith’s upper torso stopping in his back. As officer Smith rolled away to his right, Orr fired a 4th round and continued shooting 4 more rounds as Officer Smith retreated to his patrol car. Orr fired at least two of the eight rounds as Smith was lying on the ground.
The video of this incident demonstrates the danger in telling a suspect to remove his hands from his pocket in an uncontrolled manner. The suspect’s hand movement is not going to be an indicator of trouble—Officer Smith initiated the movement when he commanded Orr to take his hand out of his pocket. The first opportunity for Smith to see that Orr had a firearm was when it was too late.
The video shows that Officer Smith fired his Taser at Orr 1.267 seconds after the first instant that he could have seen the pistol. Orr opened fire at officer Smith .667 seconds after Smith fired the Taser or 1.934 seconds after he removed the pistol from his pocket. Orr fired his second shot in 0.567 after his first and his third shot 0.367 later. Orr fired his first 3 shots within .933 seconds—very likely much faster that Officer Smith could have drawn his service pistol even if he had not had to drop the Taser and had not been shot. As officer Smith rolled away to his right, Orr fired a 4th round at the 2.733 second mark and continued shooting 4 more rounds as Officer Smith retreated to his patrol car.
Officer Smith stated: “I didn’t draw my firearm because at the time I didn’t think it was warranted, he was just walking away. But unfortunately, I made a mistake and I drew my Taser and he got the upper hand on me.” Officer Smith’s approach was understandable and in many circumstances, would have been the best approach. However, any encounter can turn deadly in an instant as we see here.
Orr continued to walk away ignoring Officer Smith’s commands to stop. I am not a South Carolina legal scholar and offer no legal advice; however, did Orr’s refusal to stop provide justification for Officer Smith to use non-lethal force to gain compliance? If so, Smith’s use of his Taser earlier in the encounter may have prevented Orr’s subsequent deadly assault.
Additionally, Officer Smith was close enough to Orr to deflect his pistol and then attempt a disarm or use his Taser directly on Orr. Clearly, this requires specific training and situational awareness that Officer Smith may not have possessed.
During the course of a career, a police officer will interact with a countless number of individuals who have their hands in their pockets. On the street, simply commanding the individual to remove his hands makes it almost impossible to tell whether he is drawing a weapon or complying with your command until it is too late to react. Controlling the manner in which they remove their hands will give you an advantage and position you to react if they do present a weapon.
Finally, there are several full versions of this video available that contain Officer Smith’s efforts to summon aid and the efforts of bystanders who try to help. Aid was surprisingly slow to arrive and the bystanders stated several times that they did not know how to help. If Officer Smith had a trauma kit in his patrol car or on his person he never mentioned it. At the minimum, carry a QuikClot® Combat Gauze®, a combat tourniquet, and a 4" Israeli Emergency Bandage on your equipment belt and a more complete kit in the patrol car.
The video of the incident is available HERE