Near-Death of Police Officer Shows the Folly of 'De-Escalation'

As I have lamented in this space for years (most recently here), political winds in many cities are blowing in such a way as to favor the lawbreakers over the law-abiding. So-called “social-justice” prosecutors have taken it upon themselves to ignore laws and excuse or overlook behavior that in the past would have been punished, all in the name of some imagined but never realized benefit to society that might result from having criminals roaming the streets rather than locked safely behind bars.

Another symptom of this retreat from law enforcement is the emphasis on “de-escalation” in police work. There persists in the public imagination the notion that a lawbreaker, one who is actually to be placed in custody and charged with a crime, is entitled to an injury-free arrest regardless of his level of resistance, and that the use of force by the police, most especially deadly force, can only rarely be justified and is to be avoided.

"De-escalation" is all the rage in police training, extending its tentacles into police bureaucracies populated by people who spend their days in offices and face little risk of dealing with the consequences. This has had the unfortunate but not unpredictable result that some officers are reluctant to use force even when it is clearly called for. Last May, I wrote of a Los Angeles incident in which officers hesitated before shooting a man with a knife. It was that hesitation that allowed the suspect to take a hostage, who along with the suspect was killed when officers opened fire.

Last week, the LAPD released video of an officer-involved shooting that occurred in Nov. 2019. We can be grateful that the only injury was to the suspect, who was shot and killed, but it was merely good luck that an innocent bystander wasn’t harmed and that the officer wasn’t literally beheaded.

On Nov. 25, officers were dispatched to a report of a robbery that had occurred in Hollywood. The suspect, Nathaniel Pinnock, had used a machete to threaten employees at an auto parts store and was making his getaway on foot when officers attempted to stop him. Still armed with the machete, Pinnock ran into the parking lot of a nearby Chick-fil-A and approached the passenger’s side of a Lexus in the drive-through lane. Though several officers were now present, Pinnock was able to open the passenger door of the Lexus with the apparent aim of carjacking it. One officer deployed a Taser but it had no apparent effect on Pinnock. The Lexus driver got out and ran away, and Pinnock jumped into the driver’s seat and sped off in the car, making it a short distance before crashing into two police cars.

Pinnock got out of the Lexus holding the machete, at which time an officer fired at him with a beanbag shotgun and another shot him with a weapon that fires a 40-mm foam projectile. Pinnock appeared unfazed, and he ran east on Sunset Blvd., which at 11:20 on a Monday morning was busy with traffic.

After a short foot chase, Pinnock suddenly turned around and advanced on one of the pursuing officers, who wisely transitioned from his 40-mm foam-projectile launcher to his handgun. As this officer shouted, “Don’t do it!” Pinnock ran toward him wielding the machete as if intending to attack. The officer fired several times, and though Pinnock was struck by bullets he continued to advance, chasing the officer to the middle of the street. The officer fell, and it appeared Pinnock was poised to deliver what surely could have been a fatal blow with the machete. Pinnock was again struck by gunfire and fell to the ground next to the officer. Pinnock later died at a hospital.

No written narrative of the incident can convey its seriousness or describe how close the officer came to a violent, bloody end. I encourage you to watch the video linked above and consider how harrowing it was for that officer as he fell to the ground. And the Lexus driver, too, escaped what could have been a deadly attack when Pinnock moved to escape in the car.

It is worth noting that of the several police officers seen in the various videos, only a handful of them seem determined to stop Pinnock while the others appear content to watch things unfold. Indeed, two officers can be seen running in the opposite direction as Pinnock flees down Sunset after crashing the Lexus. We may give them the benefit of the doubt by speculating they were returning to their car, in which they would join the chase, but even if that’s the case it remains that they left the pursuing officers to approach Pinnock on their own, nearly resulting in the death of one of them.

But even among those officers who took action, none was willing to shoot Pinnock until he came frighteningly close to killing one of them. I would argue shooting Pinnock as he was carjacking the Lexus would have been justifiable and indeed the prudent decision. Failing that, when Pinnock crashed the Lexus and the less-lethal weapons were ineffective, deadly force was clearly called for. As it happened, Pinnock was able to run down a busy street where any number of pedestrians and motorists were exposed to the danger he presented. Yes, in the end, it was only Pinnock who was injured, but it might easily have been otherwise.

I hope this incident will be widely discussed in the LAPD and elsewhere, and that the lesson is driven home to officers that "de-escalation," while often desirable, is not an end unto itself. Sometimes, as in this incident, deadly force is the only real option. To pretend otherwise will get someone killed.