In July I wrote about Nashville police injecting unruly suspects with Midazolam, a "strong sedative" that caused short-term amnesia. I suggested that it was a bad idea (and in general, I still think it's a bad idea), but then three weeks ago, two DC police officers shot David Kerstetter to death in his own bathroom. His death brings up some interesting questions about the use of force. Jason Cherkis, a colleague at Washington City Paper, has the details:
Two cops arrived—a rookie and a master patrol officer with more than 20 years on the job. They were greeted by the Iowa employee and led to Kerstetter's condo.
The veteran officer, Frederick Friday, says the employee called up to Kerstetter, asking him if he could come upstairs. Friday says Kerstetter shouted back that he knew he was lying—that he was with the police and refused to let him upstairs.
The employee pleaded with Kerstetter some more. But it was no use. Eventually, Friday and his partner went inside. "We have to check—that's our job," Friday says. "Can't just leave him."…
Allegedly, Kerstetter was holding a knife when he met the two cops.
Kerstetter was shot multiple times, according to his mother, who cites the death certificate. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
In the coming months, the department will investigate the circumstances surrounding Kerstetter's death, though D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has already told the Washington Post her people acted in self-defense. She did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
What's unlikely to come out of the investigation, however, is the answer to this straightforward question: How did a man who seemed to pose no danger to anyone besides himself end up being killed by the police in his own bathroom?
According to a police press release, officers were forced to use lethal force after "a struggle ensued." The shooting occurred after officers "repeatedly ordered the man to drop the weapon."
There's no doubt that Kerstetter had mental problems that made him unstable, if not dangerous (he suffered from bipolar disorder and extreme paranoia, seldom took his medication, and had a history of meth addiction), but there's also evidence—enough to spark a rigorous MPD Internal Affairs investigation—that the responding officers didn't make an adequate effort to engage Kerstetter before resorting to lethal force: the officers didn't suffer any injuries, nor were their clothes torn; the glass door leading into the bathroom wasn't damaged, nor was the vase that was on the floor just inside the door. Yet Kersetter, emaciated, half-naked, and armed with only a kitchen knife, was shot to death in a confined area.
D.C. has a poor record of responding to people with mental disorders (the day after Kerstetter's death, the Department of Mental Health sent a memo that it had been sitting on to the MPD detailing appropriate responses to mentally-ill suspects), so here's my question: If police officers find themselves face to face with a potentially dangerous and mentally unstable citizen, are inhumane methods for restraint preferable to lethal force? (For the sake of this particular thought experiment, let's pretend that police don't regularly abuse tools such as tasers, batons, etc., etc.)