Two SWAT team officers and a police dog were injured during a 3-hour standoff with an armed man suspected of second-degree assault in Lower Columbia, Wash., on Wednesday afternoon because a new state law banned them from using nonlethal tactics to detain the suspect.
Under the new law, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team was not allowed to shoot pepper spray, rubber bullets or bean bags at or near the armed suspect. Rather, the officers attempted other nonlethal methods, including breaking windows with rocks in order to deploy tear gas canisters inside the house to force the suspect to flee without being physically removed, The Daily News reported.
Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Troy Brightbill said the officers couldn’t reach the suspect’s location with a tear gas canister after shattering the windows. As a result, the team executed a search warrant to enter the house, leading to multiple law enforcement injuries. The deputy said the suspect bit an officer, attempted to gouge out another officer’s eyes, and struck the police dog with a cue stick.
The officers received medical attention at the scene. The police dog’s condition is unknown.
The suspect was finally detained after three hours around 1:30 p.m. in the 2000 block of 46th Avenue near Longview, Brightbill said. The suspect’s name has not been released.
The SWAT team was responding to a call that the suspect was making threats with a knife around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, roughly one hour after the initial call to 9-11 was made. The team has supplemental training and tools to better manage barricaded and armed suspects.
Using nonlethal weapons that fire rubber bullets and bean bags would have led to a quicker and safer arrest, Brightbill noted.
“Had we had the tools we had two weeks ago, it could have gone far differently,” he said.
In May, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law HB1054, a bill “establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers.” Under the new law, police officers are barred from using military-style weapons, like machine guns and grenades. The law also prevents cops from using “firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater,” which many agencies have understood as including large barreled nonlethal weapons.
Inslee called the legislation a “moral mandate” to highlight inequalities related to the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Manny Ellis in Tacoma.
Longview Police Captain Branden McNew said nonlethal weapons are critical to officers’ safety because it keeps some distance between suspects and police.
“The most dangerous thing for a suspect and policeman is to go in and get him,” McNew said.