Questions abound after another officer-involved shooting

Questions abound after another officer-involved shooting »Play Video
Adam Horttor (Provided photo)
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The second officer-involved shooting in four days by Kern County deputies is raising more questions.

On Wednesday night, 32-year-old Adam Horttor was shot and killed during a confrontation on North Chester Avenue. The man's family says because of his mental illness, officers should have handled the situation differently.

A number of citizens question whether the officers could use less-than-deadly force in situations like this.

In the latest incident, deputies were looking for a man suspected of breaking into cars in Oildale. Deputy Mike Blue saw Horttor at North Chester and Ray Street and tried to contact him, according to officers. But, Horttor got into a fist fight with the officer.

"During the fight, the deputy went to the ground, and at one point was lying on his back while fighting with the suspect," spokesman Ray Pruitt said.

A second deputy arrived and used a Taser on Horttor, but that "had no effect," according to Pruitt.

Horttor then managed to grab Deputy Blue's baton and tried to hit the officer with it, according to Pruitt. That's when Blue fired several shots. Horttor was taken to Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead there.

His family says Horttor was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic when he was 16-years-old.

"There's no possible way that anyone who knew him or didn't know him could have come in contact with him and not known there was something wrong," Horttor's stepsister Kimberly Brooks-Holder told Eyewitness News on Thursday. The family said Horttor had refused to get help.

They said he was arrested Tuesday night for prowling and resisting an officer. Although they family didn't believed the accusations, they were relieved he was in law enforcement custody. They thought he would get the help he needed.

Instead, Horttor was cited and released on a promise he would appear in court, according to the family.

According to the sheriff's department, all suspects arrested are taken into custody and given a screening. Based on their answers to a number of questions they are either referred to medical staff at the jail, or mental health. Eyewitness News tried to get the information regarding Horttor's evaluation, but due to health privacy laws, we were unable to do so.

Citizens have questioned the use of deadly force by officers, especially after there was also the incident Sunday night where four Kern County Sheriff deputies shot and killed a man in a wheelchair during a confrontation on South Union Avenue. Rodolfo Medrano, 35, had come at officers after they talked to him for about 45 minutes.

Medrano had a big knife in one hand and was reportedly reaching into his waistband, refusing orders to show officers his hands, according to the department. He had called earlier saying he was suicidal, there were small children in his room, and he had two guns. Sheriff deputies said it turned out he had no guns, and there were no children there.

Officers say confrontations with individuals like this take split-second decision-making.

"They arrive at a scene, and they have to take in the totality of the circumstances into consideration," Sheriff Commander Ed Komin said. "The resistance that's offered, the perception of resistance, the type of crime, the size of the officer, the size of the suspect."

Komin said officers can use less than deadly force, but that has to be a reasonable option for the situation. "There's a wide range of tools that we have," Komin added. "Including the baton, Taser, OC -- or pepper spray -- and there's hands-on control."

Eyewitness News asked if every sheriff deputy has a Taser. "All of our deputies that are assigned to operations are also assigned a Taser after they're given the training," Komin responded.

He also said every deputy has pepper spray and a baton.

Questions have been raised about the use of police dogs or K-Nine teams. Komin said the Kern County Sheriff's Department currently has five K-Nine teams. "Because of the limited amount of teams that we have, we don't have 24-hour coverage," he said -- noting it takes time to get teams to a scene.

Komin also said each tool has its strengths and weaknesses, and none works 100 percent of the time. "A wise officer has a back-up plan in mind," he said.

The commander stressed officers have to quickly decide what the best response will be. "We have to come up with the reasonable force option to affect an arrest, prevent an escape, and overcome resistance," Komin said. They may have "less than a second" to make that choice.

When can deadly force be used?

"When it's reasonable to believe that if the officer doesn't act immediately with the most-effective type of force to stop an action, there will be great bodily injury or death to a human," Komin said. "That's when lethal force is called for."

Eyewitness News asked for more statistics on the number of officer-involved shootings in the Kern County Sheriff's Department. According to figures they provided, there were two shootings in 2006, one in 2007, and four in 2008.

In 2009, the department had two of these incidents, and last year there were four. The department shows three already for 2011. "These numbers reflect incidents in which a deputy intentionally discharged a firearm at a person to stop that person," said spokesman Ray Pruitt.

Cdr. Komin says the department takes the incidents very seriously. "What we expect from officers, and what the law expects is a reasonable option to overcome resistance," he said. "We do our level best to make sure that what we do minimizes injury, and protects the public."