Deadly Force: Yavapai County Sheriff's deputies have fatally shot five in 18 months

A framegrab from a video recorded by a body camera worn by a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Deputy during a recent standoff

A framegrab from a video recorded by a body camera worn by a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Deputy during a recent standoff

In the last 18 months, Yavapai County Sheriff's deputies have shot and killed five suspects.

They have killed 13 since the year 2000.

In that same 15-year period, the six city and town police departments in Yavapai County had nine officer-involved shooting deaths combined.

What accounts for the disparity?

A survey of other Arizona county sheriff's offices showed that since 2000, the county with the next-smallest population, Mohave, had two, and Yuma County, nearly the same size, recorded just one.

Again, why the difference?

Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher said he doesn't have an answer to that question.

"Why that may be, I don't know," he said.

"This last 12 months or so has been kind of an anomaly for us," he continued. "We've been, ourselves, very surprised at the confrontations we've encountered with the use of force."

He said that in his over-30 years with the agency, he can't recall so many fatal shootings in such a short time.

Mascher, 53, has been the Yavapai County Sheriff since June 2011, when Steve Waugh cut short his second term and took an early retirement.

Mascher had, himself, retired from the YCSO in February 2011, but had returned to the force three months later as Chief Deputy, which put him in line for Waugh's job.

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors appointed him to fill the vacant slot when Waugh left.

Mascher, a Republican, ran unopposed in the 2012 election and has announced his intention to run again in 2016.

He joined the YCSO in 1984 as a reserve deputy and was hired full-time in 1986. By the time he was chosen sheriff, Mascher worked just about every job at the YCSO at least once.

Mascher, who sometimes wears a uniform, prefers jeans, boots, a button-down shirt, and a western hat. In fact, many of his deputies wear one, passing over the typical law enforcement ball cap in favor of the traditional headgear.

He pointed out that, since the year 2000, his deputies "have been called to well over 500,000 calls for service ... and many, many times we don't resort to the fatal use of force."

Police departments and sheriff's offices cover different kinds of territory.

Police departments are "departments" of a municipal government, like a fire department or sanitation department. The city government appoints a Chief of Police. Police patrol incorporated areas -- cities or towns.

A sheriff's office, in contrast, is not part of a government, although its budget is controlled by the county Board of Supervisors. Sheriffs are elected positions, and their officers are known as sheriff's deputies. Deputies cover the areas outside of the incorporated cities or towns, and patrol small towns that don't have a police force.

Both police and deputies will, in time of need, cross into the others' jurisdiction.

The sheriff is also responsible for running the county jail.

In the movies and on television, cops often shoot to "disable," or even shoot a gun out of a bad guy's hand.

In the real world, these are dangerous tactics that just don't work, a law enforcement consultant said.

A suspect shot in the leg, for example, especially one pumped-up on adrenaline or illicit drugs, can continue to pose a threat. He or she can keep shooting, even while seriously wounded.

"Bullets don't produce immediate death," Joe Deedon said.

Deedon is owner of Colorado-based Tac-One Consulting, and travels around the country training police officers for crisis situations. A veteran of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which works Denver-area suburbs, Deedon understands the reality of life as a police officer on patrol.

"If we were to shoot to injure people ... (it) may or may not produce the immediate stopping of that action," he said.

Handguns can be deadly, of course, but they are also a notoriously inaccurate weapon, especially as distance increases. Asking an officer to aim for a suspect's hand -- roughly a 4-inch, moving target -- is asking for trouble.

Officers are trained to shoot at the "center mass," the largest part of a suspect's body, and to continue shooting until the threat has been stopped.

That's partly because the officer is human, too, and is susceptible to the effects of stress and adrenaline.

"In those situations, marksmanship goes out the window," he said. "It's the critical stress on the body."

An attack with a knife is no less dangerous. Every officer knows the "21-foot rule." A suspect with a knife can close the distance, at 21 feet or less, between himself and the officer before that officer has time to draw his gun, aim, and fire.

"We're usually reactive to that threat," Deedon said, and the three seconds it might take for the officer to see the threat and move is "enough time for someone... with some speed to close that gap and use the knife."

He said that the usual law enforcement Kevlar body armor won't stop even a small kitchen knife.

Then there are TASERs and bean-bag rounds, known as "less-than-lethal" or "less-lethal" weapons.

"There's a time and a place for those," Deedon said. "The general rule of thumb is, you need lethal coverage first, maybe even a second lethal coverage, and then your third person would go to less-lethal."

That's because shock weapons aren't always effective, and all less-lethal techniques "are pain compliant," he said. "So if someone's hopped-up on drugs...they're not going to be effective, if they're not feeling pain."

Mascher said his deputies aren't out to kill anyone, and, in fact, he recalled a deputy who was so distraught after he fatally shot a suspect,that the deputy quit.

"Our deputies are very well trained, they are trained only to use deadly force to protect themselves or the public," he said. "That's what they've done."

He pointed out that suspects are not simply shot without warning.

"These suspects were told, in almost all instances, to put down their weapon, or to stop, and they did not listen to the deputies," he said.

When his deputies face suicidal subjects, especially those who want to commit "suicide by cop," the subject literally decided what will happen.

"We do train to that," he said. "We try to use less-than-lethal force, we try to negotiate, and we've actually been very successful ...in not having to use deadly force in those incidents."

Mascher said he's had his deputies take training on ways to deal with mental health-related cases and he has a cadre of specially-trained deputies with even more expertise in negotiation and crisis management.

While he is doing that, Prescott Police Chief Jerry Monahan said the area's law enforcement academy, the Northern Arizona Regional Training Academy, has added course material on mental health as well.

"The basic academy that will start in January, we've added an eight-hour block on mental health first aid to the curriculum, just so every officer going through the academy learns a little bit more about the behaviors they'll encounter on the street," he said.

Agencies around the state can send officers to NARTA, and those officers "will be exposed to the training, with the goal of preventing deadly encounters because we recognize the behaviors better."

Mascher has a new worry: that deputies who are faced with the shoot/don't shoot decision will second-guess themselves, given the spotlight being placed on law enforcement shootings recently.

"My concern is, with all these negative issues against the police, that they begin to hesitate and don't react to their training," he said. "We've said repeatedly, 'just react to your training.'"

Monahan said that's a realistic concern.

"I believe that's on the mind of every police officer in the country right now," he said, and while law enforcement enjoys strong support in the area, "we have a lot of visitors" who may "try to provoke an officer to use a level of force that would then be viewed by the public as excessive."

But, ultimately, Mascher said, if the subject points a gun at a deputy, that deputy will shoot.

"If you feel that your life is threatened and in danger by someone pointing a gun at you, you have justification to protect yourself with deadly force," he said.

• June 10, 2001, Cottonwood: Gary Michael Gamblin, 30, shot by YCSO Deputy Victor Dartt. Deputies responded to a report of a family fight in the 2500 block of Mountain View. While deputies were trying to take Gamblin into custody, he resisted. Both Dartt and Gamblin were shot. Gamblin died at the scene.

• April 2, 2011, Cottonwood: Betty Shanafelt, 62, shot by Cottonwood Police Officer Steve Phoenix. Shanafelt was reportedly suicidal and told four officers to kill her; they tried a TASER twice without success. When Shanafelt drew a gun on Phoenix, he fired three times with a rifle.

• April 11, 2013, Cottonwood: Kodie Victor, 67, shot by Cottonwood Police Officer Scott Dever. Police responded to the 1300 block of East Gila Street for a report of a suicidal man with a handgun. While they talked to Victor, he pointed his gun at Dever, who fired.

• March 21, 2015, Cottonwood: Enoch Gaver, 21, shot and killed by Cottonwood Police Officer Richard Hicks. Gaver was involved in a melee in a Walmart parking lot in which eight officers fought with members of the same family. Gaver reportedly wrestled a gun away from another officer before Hicks shot him. Enoch's brother, David, was shot in the stomach during the fight. He survived.

• May 30, 2015, Cottonwood: Ebin L. Proctor, 18, shot by YCSO Deputy Steven Gorman. Proctor ran from a traffic stop in the Verde Village, was cornered, and a TASER and pepper spray were "ineffective" in subduing him, a spokesman said, after which Proctor attacked Gorman, who shot him.

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