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by Peter Moskos

November 26, 2014

Unarmed man kills police officer

This happened back in March, so it's not news. But still, the number of similarities between this case and the killing of Michael Brown are interesting, especially if you are one of those who think that "unarmed" suspects cannot ever really threaten police officers to the point where lethal force might be necessary.

Here's gist: An unarmed man attacks Johnson City, NY, police officer Dave Smith when Officer Smith is still in his a police car. This guy, Clark, gets control of the officer's gun and kills the cop. Then the killer gets shot six times by another cop. Then, after being shot six times by another cop, the killer fights that second cop, who shoots him two more times. Now, after being hit by eight .40-caliber rounds, the cop killer grabs the second's cops gun, rendering it inoperable after another bullet flies into a church parking lot. Two civilians help the cop and three of them manage, with difficulty, to handcuff Clark. Clark fought and ranted all the way to the hospital.

From the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin:
When [Officer} Smith arrived, witnesses said, Clark rushed out to the police cruiser, approaching it from behind. It was unclear who opened the door, but Clark began fighting with Smith as soon as the patrolman exited his vehicle, witnesses said.

One witness told police Smith was still sitting in the car and just starting to get out when Clark punched him in the head. Smith tried to push the door open in an attempt to get out, and the two began to struggle.

Within seconds, Clark was on top of Smith, holding his service weapon.

"I saw the man practically inside the cop car driver's door — on top of the cop," a witness who was leaving work nearby about 7 a.m. that morning wrote in a deposition. "It looked like he was punching and swinging at the cop."

[Officer] Smith weighed 205 pounds and was 6 feet 2 inches tall, according to reports, while Clark weighed 225 pounds and stood 5 feet 10 inches.

Clark fired two shots at [Officer] Smith's head, killing him instantly.
Once Officer Cioci could take a clear shot, he fired 10 shots at Clark, striking him six times in the torso, leg and face.

Clark fell to the ground. Then he climbed back to his knees, ranting.

When [Officer] Cioci approached Clark, [Clark] grabbed the officer by the leg and pulled him face-down to the pavement where the two began to wrestle.

Clark climbed onto Cioci's back, reaching around to his front in an attempt to grab the service weapon, police reports state. The officer pushed himself off the ground with one arm while using the other to fire at Clark, striking him a seventh and eighth time, both in the torso.

After he was struck the eighth time, reports state, Clark inserted a finger into the trigger guard of Cioci's weapon, sending a bullet into a nearby church parking lot but rendering the gun inoperable because his hold of the weapon interfered with the recoil action.
"It took all three people to handcuff Clark, who was still fighting, eyes open and ranting the entire time." [Even as he went into the ER.]

The entire incident took place in less than five minutes, according to police reports.

In a great understatement, Chief Zikuski added that Clark's behavior "after being hit by eight shots from a .40-caliber weapon is also unusual."
Had Officer Smith managed to maintain control of his gun and had he shot and killed Clark, would the headlines have said, "Cop Kills Unarmed Man"? This is pretty similar to what happened to Darren Wilson, except, according to Wilson's testimony, Wilson managed to retake control of his gun and shoot the suspect. Officer Smith, rest in peace, wasn't so lucky. He was killed by an unarmed man.


David Woycechowsky said...

One from my neck of the woods. Officer Smith blundered. Sadly, that blunder cost him his life. He had his gun out when he shouldn't have. Kind of like Officer Wilson shouldn't have pulled his gun out if he really believed that he was about to be knocked out cold.* Two people dead because policemen brought a gun into a fight unwisely. It is not impossible to get a police gun out of the holster, but it is difficult. There is a reason for that.

* I think Wilson was lying when he said that he thought he was about to get killed by a punch to the head. If he had thought that, then he would have tucked his head, put his arms over his head and sat on his holstered gun. Why? so that he wouldn't end up like the late Officer Smith.

Anonymous said...


Tuck his head and put his arms over his head? Most ridiculous thing I've read yet. There isn't a police agency in the US that would teach that or advocate that. Every police encounter has a gun in it. If you allow yourself, as an officer, to be pummeled you will be knocked out compromising your gun and your life. Your evaluation on Smith is also off base. How much police training have you went through? Ever read Tennessee vs. Garner? Do you have any base of knowledge on police tactics, protocols, or practices?

David Woycechowsky said...

Wilson testified that he thought the next punch could kill him. In those circumstances you cover up. Unless you want sleepytime and/or brain damage.

I think police training focuses on not getting into those situations in the first place, rather than handling when they come up.

Personally, I doubt that Wilson was in a situation where he thought the next punch would kill him, or that there would be a punch at all. I believe that is why Wilson felt safe in taking his gun out and starting to blast away.

campbell said...

Tuck his head and put his arms over his head?

Don't forget the sitting on your gun part. Sounds great...if you've never had any training or been in a fight in your life, which is what I'm guessing is the case with David.

David Woycechowsky said...

Yeah, yeah, campbell. My training said that if someone is punching your head into unconsciousness then you simply slow down time (for everyone else not yourself), so that the guy who is punching you into oblivion stops punching. Then, taking care to keep time slowed to a crawl, you pull out your gun and pull the trigger twice to see if it is working. Once you get those non-firing trigger pulls out of the way, then you let time go back to normal (for everyone else) and start shooting the gun. The key is the stopping time part, because if you don't stop time, then you are simply exposing your gun moments before sleepytime.

That is the first day at the academy IIRC. "How To deliver A Cock And Bull Story Like You Really Believe It."

campbell said...

No firearms experience either, David? Those misfires are a totally common occurrence when people are wrestling over an automatic handgun. It's because the slide is getting pushed out of battery. If you know anyone with Glock or a Sig or similar you can replicate it yourself. On my 17 if I push the slide an inch out of battery the trigger depresses with an audible click but doesn't fire. Let the slide return to battery and it'll fire as usual.

David Woycechowsky said...

None of that goes to the basic point which is that if you are really going to get brain damaged then arms go over face. You are basically building sandcastles in the air, Campbell. And, yes, I realize that a lot of your buds support you in that endeavor.

campbell said...

Did you get your fight training from a Yellowstone pamphlet? Granted, cowering into a ball and covering your head is a fine idea if you surprise a grizzly with her cubs on a hiking trail. In a fight with a suspect, not so much. What you advocate is pretty much the opposite of the accepted wisdom in DT and CQB circles. But if you know of a curriculum that advocates your approach I'd be happy to take a look.

David Woycechowsky said...

@ campbell:

Officer May explains it:


PCM said...

I'm sorry I'm just getting to this now, but "sat on his holstered gun" is just about the craziest thing I've ever read.

I normally try not to pick sides, but Campbell is right.

David Woycechowsky said...

I think you are seriously misunderstanding my point of view.

"Sat on his holstered gun" is the right thing to do if Wilson was being pummelled and was one punch from getting knocked out. In that case his arms needed to cover his head.

On the other hand, if Brown had disengaged from Officer Wilson, then drawing the gun was the correct thing to do.

I think it is more likely than not that Brown had disengaged from Officer Wilson, and that Wilson was not being punched, or touched, when he drew his weapon. That is fine from a tactical perspective, but it also means that Officer Wilson gave false and/or misleading testimony.

I also think it is pretty likely that Wilson was the one who pulled Brown into the SUV in the first place.

My point is not a tactical one, but more about the credibility of Wilson's testimony. It does remain true that if a police officer is being viciously pummelled, then the priority should be to protect the head and keep the gun in the retention holster. It is just that this probably didn't really apply to Wilson because he wasn't being pummelled.

And, no, I don't think Campbell is capable of understanding this, but I know you are, Professor Moskos.

BYW, Officer Smith's death wasn't the only local cop killing this year:


For a while they switched to passenger's side approach for the speeding tickets (they give a ton on that two mile stretch of 81), but I noticed recently that they are back to driver's side approach.

Unknown said...

Police don't do justice all time. Sometimes they do mistake with the people and sometimes they do injustice with the people. So that's why some people take revenge on police. Then they carry the best semi auto pellet gun.