After a spate of controversial shootings by police officers, a new incident is drawing public attention for the opposite reason: An officer is shown on video refraining from the use of his weapon, despite clearly being in a volatile and dangerous situation.
The incident involving Jesse Kidder, a rookie cop in Ohio, is drawing national publicity and praise as a model of police restraint.
After a car chase Thursday, a murder suspect jumped out of his vehicle and charged at officer Kidder, who got out of his car and had his gun ready – and a body camera running.
Suspect Michael Wilcox was thought to be armed, had a hand in one pocket as he came at the officer, and repeatedly said, “Shoot me.” Kidder replies, “No man. I'm not gonna do it."
In the end, police backup arrived and Mr. Wilcox got down on the ground, arrested without shots fired.
The incident comes amid a national focus on cases in which police used deadly force under questionable circumstances, and notably against black men. Scrutiny of the shooting of teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the “chokehold” death of street vendor Eric Garner in New York spawned a “black lives matter” movement last year.
Recently, a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder after shooting an unarmed black man. And in Tulsa, Okla., a 73-year-old volunteer deputy stands accused of manslaughter in the shooting death of a black man who was being held down by other officers after fleeing a police sting. The volunteer deputy said he mistakenly grabbed his handgun instead of his stun gun.
In the Ohio case, the officer appeared ready to shoot in self-defense and said he kept his eye on Wilcox’s pocketed hand. At one point, he tumbled backward off his feet. But Kidder's composure and restraint turned the situation around, observers say, as backup arrived and Wilcox stopped charging and put himself face down in the road.
"For him to make the judgment call that he did shows great restraint and maturity," said Randy Harvey, police chief in New Richmond, Ohio, where Kidder works. "This video footage, it eliminated all doubt that this officer would have been justified if, in fact, it came to a shooting."
Police suspected Wilcox of killing his girlfriend in Ohio and a friend in Kentucky before fleeing by car. In charging Kidder, he appears to have been seeking what’s called “suicide by cop,” when a suspect deliberately tries to be shot by police. Kidder backed up during the confrontation, buying some time in an effort to defuse the situation.
"I was trying to open a dialogue with him. 'I don't want to shoot you; just get on the ground.' But he wasn't having it,” Kidder said in a local TV interview.
The tense moments captured on video offer a first-hand glimpse of the dangers police can face in their line of duty, and also of how they are often able to avoid the use of deadly force even in high-risk situations.
Here’s how Kidder himself put it: "Law enforcement officers all across the nation deal with split-second decisions that mean life or death. I wanted to be absolutely sure before I used deadly force," Kidder told WLWT.
In contrast to cases like Ferguson, Kidder’s behavior stands as an example of restraint. Some Americans learning of his actions have commented that he would have been justified in shooting at Wilcox, to ensure his own safety.
Others have said that, model behavior or not, Kidder’s actions heighten the question of racial bias in US policing. Many of the high-profile controversies involve black men killed by police, while this case of remarkable restraint involved a suspect (Wilcox) who is white.
But for many Americans, Kidder’s response deserves praise as a case of courage and composure in the most challenging of circumstances.
Although relatively new to policing, Kidder served in the US Marines and earned a Purple Heart in Iraq, according to news reports.
Interestingly, the video of the incident exists because a relative gave Kidder a body camera following the shooting in Ferguson, the Associated Press reports. Police Chief Harvey said he hopes to get funding to buy more body cameras for New Richmond, which is near Cincinnati, the AP said.