ESCONDIDO, Calif. – A police tactics expert with more than 30 years of experience is raising questions after Escondido police released body-worn camera video of an officer fatally shooting a homeless man earlier this month.
“Would I have shot in this situation? I can’t say that I would have, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t have either,” said Cameron Gary, a retired law enforcement officer who has worked in the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. “Would I have thought a Taser would have been a bad option or a wrong option in that case? No, I don’t.”
Gary also said there’s reason to examine the circumstances that led up to the moment Escondido police Officer Chad Moore opened fire on 59-year-old Steven John Olson. Olson, who police say was known to the department from past incidents, was pronounced dead at a local hospital after Moore fired seven rounds at him from about 7 feet away, according to Escondido police Lt. Kevin Toth.
An audio and video presentation released by the department Thursday shows Moore commanding Olson to drop a 2-foot-long crowbar he was carrying and warning him that “you’re gonna get shot.”
“The person is advancing on you now and you have to deal with the circumstance right now,” Gary said. “Was he wrong for shooting someone advancing on him with a crowbar? No, but would he had been wrong to use a Taser, which I think would have been the only other option? Pepper spray was no good. A baton would have been foolish.”
In the video released Thursday, Toth noted that Olson was the subject of 21 radio calls for service this year and had been arrested four times in the past year for threatening others with weapons, including a box cutter and a knife.
“He was previously sent to prison for assault with a deadly weapon and served a prison term for that crime,” Toth said in the video. “He has been placed on five mental health holds at local hospitals since 2015.”
An investigation into the shooting is being conducted by the department’s Crimes of Violence unit.
The fatal shooting comes at a time when counties around the U.S. are considering homeless outreach teams, which might prove more adept at working with people experiencing homeless and have various mental health issues.
Gary said such a team would be a welcome addition to the local community.
“As a cop, I would gladly give those calls to mental health professionals,” he said. “We don’t want to deal with that if we don’t have to.”