What Do Police Do After a Suspect is Wounded?

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Many web sites and media are pointing to a video of the aftermath of Kenneth Harding's shooting death by police in Bayview this past weekend. That video focuses mostly on the angry crowd reaction to the shooting, and has been cited by police as briefly showing a gun on the ground that police Harding had used to fire a shot at officers pursuing him.

Screengrab of video showing Keith Harding on the ground after being shot by San Francisco police, July 16, 2011.

But there's another video of the shooting out there taken from a different point of view and at an earlier point in time. (It's unclear whether the two were shot by the same person.) It shows a wounded Harding squirming on the ground as officers surround him with guns drawn. You can watch it here if you want, but before you do, please note that it is very graphic.

After watching the video, we wondered what sort of medical attention police typically render -- and when -- in a situation like this.

At the beginning of the video, a wounded Harding is already on the ground, several officers having closed in on him with guns drawn. As some police keep their weapons pointed and others attend to a crowd of bystanders, Harding remains on his stomach, bleeding, at times with his head lifted, at times with it down. At around 1:40 of the video, an officer approaches and bends down to attend to him, though what he's doing is unclear from the recording.

Harding was shot while fleeing police after being stopped at about 4:45 p.m. and was pronounced dead at San Francisco General Hospital about 7 p.m., police said. One user comment on a previous post we did was critical of the police for waiting to administer to Harding.

So what is the protocol for attending to a wounded suspect on the ground? At what point do police make the determination to move in and assist medically?

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KQED's Mina Kim asked that question of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr at yesterday's police press conference. Audio and a transcript of his answer is below:

SF Police Chief Greg Suhr on protocol for aiding a wounded suspect

What's the protocol when a suspect has been shot and they're writhing on the ground?

If you know that the gun is not in his possession, it could appear that he is struggling on the ground from his injuries. If you believe that he still holds the weapon, the officers believe that he was struggling to get back to his feet to continue to either flee or fire upon them. That's why their weapons are still pointed at the suspect.

The video you're speaking of is approximately a minute and 45 seconds in duration. They're beckoning to the suspect for about a minute and a half to please show his hands, at which point in time they abandon that and the suspect stops moving, and then they move immediately to render medical aid.

KQED's Kelly Wilkinson also talked about the video with Peter Keane, a
former police commissioner and dean emeritus of the Golden Gate University School of Law. An edited transcript is below the audio file.

Peter Keane on police protocol concerning rendering aid to a wounded suspect

What is police protocol in this situation, when clearly a suspect's on the ground and struggling? At what point is it safe for police to move in and determine what his condition is or give him medical help?

Once the police are satisfied that there is no danger to them from the person anymore, then they're under an obligation to provide medical assistance right away. In terms of the medical assistance that these officers could have provided, from what I'm seeing, there wasn't much that they could do except wait for paramedics to come. Because clearly he's shot, he's bleeding to death, and in terms of any kind of medical treatment, he really needs some paramedics or somebody with some specialized medical training to do something.

They could have attempted to do something, but the problem in that situation is they're not trained medical professionals and there is that kind of a situation than helpful. If they turned him over or moved him in some way, it could expose an area and makes the bleeding worse.

So in that situation their obligation is to get him emergency medical help as soon as possible.

The police chief said today that he thinks the police thought the suspect could have been struggling to either get back on his feet, to either run or to fire at them, and that's why their guns remained pointed at him.

It was clear, from looking at him on the ground, he's unlikely to get up, although he makes some fairly strenuous attempts and gets sort of halfway up. But he's bleeding so profusely, it's very clear he's not going to last very long.

However in terms of someone in that situation, even a dying person -- if a gun were nearby -- could have gotten a hold of the gun and fired it. So if the police had some reason to believe he might have been able to get to a weapon, even if he's bleeding to death, than their caution is justified.


What about bystanders? What would happen if a bystander tried to help him?

The police were keeping bystanders away. Any bystanders who attempted to help, I think the police would have pushed them away. If a bystander attempted to get too close, the police probably would have arrested that person. He did still appear to be able to move around, so he might have been able to get another weapon, and the presence of a bystander nearby him could exacerbate the situation.

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Also, the shooting was discussed this morning on Forum with Michael Krasny. Guests included:

  • Jaxon Van Derbeken, reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle
  • Marie Harrison, community outreach organizer in Bayview
  • Sharon Ferrigno, chief of community relations for the San Francisco Police Department