Beanbag round used to disarm suspect Man wielding knife thankful police didn't use bullets to bring him in

September 03, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Brian Wilkins, shot by police over the weekend, ended up thanking the officer who did it.

Wilkins, 27, who was wielding a knife at his Highlandtown home, was shot by Baltimore police about noon Saturday with a beanbag filled with lead pellets that is designed to disarm suspects without seriously injuring them.

It was the first time Baltimore police had used the beanbag ammunition, which is fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. The police unit that responds to hostage and barricade situations is hoping beanbag rounds can be used more often and is trying to make sure officers on the street know such options are available.

"We're just wondering maybe we're just not getting the message out enough," said Lt. Donald E. Healy of the tactical operations division.

Healy said he was looking into producing a videotape that could be shown at roll call to inform officers of the less-lethal force options available to them. Those include the beanbag round and the Taser, which fires two darts that deliver a disabling electric charge.

The issue of less-lethal force was raised after a controversial shooting on Aug. 9 near Lexington Market. As a bystander videotaped the confrontation, Officer Charles M. Smothers II fatally shot James Quarles, 22, after Quarles refused to obey repeated demands that he drop a knife.

The city state's attorney's office is reviewing interviews and other evidence to decide whether to seek an indictment. Baltimore police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said investigators were considering whether less-lethal force could have been used.

In the Baltimore Police Department, as in many others, the expense and extra training required to use less-lethal force means it is used only by special weapons and tactics teams, which respond to barricade and hostage situations.

Healy said he would not second-guess the officers at the scene but that he wished his unit had been called to the Lexington Market incident.

"A lot of times those things happen quicker than you think. I don't know if the people in that situation even gave it a thought," Healy said. "I wish they had called the [tactical operations division]. I wish we could have had an opportunity to go up there and maybe help those guys out."

Tactical officers were able to help Saturday, when they were called to the 3900 block of Fait Ave. for a family disturbance and saw Wilkins standing behind a screen door, wielding a large knife.

"He had several cuts on his forearm and seemed to be bleeding profusely from his hands and stomach," said Major Timothy J. Longo Sr., commander of the Southeastern District.

The officer who responded backed off when Wilkins started vTC shouting at him. "He basically told the officer , 'Get lost, you're not needed,' " Longo said.

Longo went to the scene and, as officers talked to Wilkins, called for the tactical division's emergency vehicle unit, which holds the less-lethal weapons. Healy said tactical officers suggested they use the beanbag round to disarm Wilkins. Longo agreed.

An officer shot one beanbag round at Wilkins. It hit him in the stomach, causing him to double over and drop the knife. But he was able to shut the door and run into the basement. Officers forced open the door and followed him into the basement, where Wilkins, who was armed with another, smaller knife he had stuck into his waistband, surrendered. "I'm told he picked up a mattress and said, 'Don't hurt me,' " Healy said.

Healy acknowledged that the beanbag round didn't work exactly as he would have wanted. It didn't knock Wilkins down or disable him enough so that officers could disarm him at the front door. But it worked well enough.

"No officers were hurt, and it caused a minimal amount of damage to him," Healy said. Wilkins suffered some abrasions and bruising from the beanbag.

Healy said that when police took him to an ambulance for medical treatment, Wilkins had something he wanted to tell them. "He said, 'Thank you for not killing me,' " Healy said.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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