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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 30th, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 39

Forced to act: In the face of danger, police must make split-second decisions about whether to use force


Police shot a man in Lompoc last week after he allegedly charged officers with a knife. It was the second local officer-involved shooting in recent months, and one of many high-profile national incidents that have prompted discussion about police use of force 

At approximately 8 a.m. Nov. 21, the Lompoc Police Department (LPD) received a call a laundromat in the 1000 block of North H Street saying a man was threatening physical harm to employees, according to Sgt. Kevin Martin, a LPD spokesman. 

A memorial for 27-year-old Michael Ducaine Giles was erected on the embankment between a bike trail and a nearby hotel.

When police arrived, the suspect, identified as 27-year-old Michael Ducaine Giles, ran across the street, reappeared minutes later, and was shot after confronting officers with a knife in hand, Martin said. Giles later died at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, and Cpl. Charles Scott, a four-year LPD veteran, has since been placed on paid administrative leave per the department’s protocol for officer-involved shootings. 

The situation shared similarities to a July 20 incident when Santa Maria Police officers shot 31-year-old Javier Gaona after he allegedly lunged at officers while holding a knife. 

In the past couple of years, several police-involved shootings throughout the U.S. have prompted the public to question police use of force.

The Sun reached out to the LPD about its use of force policy, but as of press time, department representatives hadn’t responded. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident, as well as the Gaona case, and isn’t required by law to talk about either one until the investigations are complete, sheriff’s representatives have said.

In both cases, the suspects had knives, or what police call “edged” weapons—basically anything sharp that has the potential to kill or cause great bodily injury, according to Chuck Rylant, a retired local police officer and court-recognized use-of-force expert. He added that such circumstances are always viewed as potential deadly force situations.  

Rylant told the Sun that officers are trained to consider using deadly force when confronting suspects with edged weapons if they’re the first officers on the scene. An officer is more likely to consider less-than-lethal force when backup arrives, Rylant added, but that’s not always the case.  

Officers are likely to fall back on their training in scenarios where they must make split-second decisions, Rylant said.

One such training tactic requires officers to consider the 21-foot rule in determining whether to use deadly force. The rule comes from research conducted by Salt Lake City self-defense trainer Dennis Tueller, who determined that an average-sized suspect armed with a knife can cover a distance of 21 feet in the time it takes an officer to draw his or her weapon and fire two rounds at the center of the body. 

Police have to be closer to the suspect to use a stun gun, which puts them within the 21-foot zone, Rylant said, adding that this less-than-lethal option may not always be effective. Calling it a “subpar” weapon, Rylant cited a 60 percent failure rate in the use of stun guns among the hundreds of officers across the Central Coast who use them. 

“You, as the officer, are setting up for a situation where you could be killed or very seriously hurt,” Rylant said. “No cop ever wants to shoot anybody. When they shoot somebody, their life is turned upside down and it’s bad for everybody.”

Many police departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, base their use-of-force policies on California law; the Fourth Amendment, which pertains to search and seizure; and the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor. In this case, it was determined that officers should take into account certain factors when making use-of-force decisions, including severity of the crime, threat posed by the subject, and any attempts to resist or evade arrest. 

The case “defines how use of force must be both applied and judged after the fact,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Garrett TeSlaa said.

“Our deputies are trained in de-escalation techniques and officer-safety tactics that emphasize communication and empathy first,” he said. “However, the unfortunate reality is that no two situations are alike, and all peace officers have the right to self-defense and [have taken] an oath to protect the public.”

The Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the Lompoc and Santa Maria police-involved shootings. The Santa Maria Police Department has yet to release the names of the officers involved in the Gaona shooting. 

Staff Writer David Minsky can be reached at

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