Despite Deputy’s Textbook De-escalation Techniques, Fugitive Makes Fatal Decision

By Stephen Owsinski

A young adult of 27 years whose criminal history is reportedly “extensive” made a fatal decision when, despite Hillsborough County, Florida deputies exemplifying stellar de-escalation techniques and talking the wanted man into peaceful surrender, he reached toward his waistband where minutes prior he said he had a gun.

The Street Crimes Unit deputy had no choice but to open fire; the suspect perished in the front seat of his pickup after a failed attempt to elude law enforcement officers included smashing his get-away car into an innocent motorist before being surrounded by several county deputies in various marked and unmarked cruisers.

As soon as the traffic crash happens, lights can be seen and sirens heard from two fully-marked sheriff’s cruisers –one from across the street prepositioned in a Walgreens parking lot and another from slightly down the street. These are tactical maneuvers in the event suspects attempt to flee, and it unfolded in a nanosecond.

This sad situation occurred in my area, and all of it could have been easily and entirely avoided…had the wanted man simply complied when approached by deputies surveilling his movements and attempting to serve active warrants.

In the body-cam footage just released by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in Tampa, among the several-minutes-long de-escalation efforts, the deputy skillfully conducting the dialogue to hopefully end this encounter peacefully actually told the suspect that his warrants “are not that serious” and that they “are no big deal” and that he likely “would bond out” soon after booking procedures.

According to HCSO, the warrants were for grand theft (felony) and resisting arrest (misdemeanor), containing the following in a post-incident press release: “Dylan Scott (27), who was wanted on outstanding warrants for grand theft and resisting arrest, was fatally shot when he repeatedly ignored commands to show his hands after telling deputies he had a firearm in his waistband. Scott motioned for a gun just before deputies fired shots.”

HCSO Sheriff Chad Chronister offered the following to the media: “The body-worn camera video shows the more than three minutes our deputies begged and pleaded with Dylan Scott as they tried to de-escalate the situation last night [December 8, 2020]. In any given situation, I never want it to end with someone losing their life. Our deputies did all they could to try to end last night’s events peacefully, and for the sake of transparency, I believe this video shows that effort.” (Warning: following video contains graphic imagery and some foul language.)

The body-cam footage runs the gambit of de-escalation efforts employed by law enforcement officials everywhere, and this particular portrayal exposes the reality of fast-changing events to which LEOs must react and adapt accordingly.

Whether you viewed the video or not, the number of times the contact deputy implored the suspect to not go for the weapon tucked in his waistband may seem like a repetitive loop; it is, affording time for the suspect to reconsider the circumstances. The lead deputy actually conveys to the suspect that he doesn’t want to shoot, even offering consolations to consider (“you’ll be out of jail tomorrow” and “we don’t take things personally” and “Dude, it’s not worth it” and “I know you’re hurtin’ right now…we’ll get you help”).

After pleas to peacefully capitulate without violence, at one point (at 02:54) you can see the suspect drop his head down and hear him let out an Arghhhhh! Indeed, he knew he placed himself in a pickle. The deputy says “Don’t reach for it [the gun]. {Put your hands up!” Yet the suspect chose to push the envelope and force law enforcement’s hand in the matter.

Interestingly, an aftermath press conference on scene and attended to by Sheriff Chronister was replete with tones of having to contend with an otherwise avoidable tragedy which will impact the suspect’s family and have ill effects on the deputies involved.

Sign of the times or not, Sheriff Chronister answered questions from the media. In doing so, he intimated something not so favorable nowadays, saying, his agency will release the involved deputies’ “internal affairs history” and their “date of employment.” The implicit nature of such details conveys how some in society knee-jerk responses to officer-involved shootings (OIS), seemingly having little interest in the suspects who find themselves answering to justice personnel. Right after the sheriff stated the suspect’s “extensive criminal history” dating back to 2014, an unintelligible question came from a reporter, prompting the county’s top cop to reply with the “internal affairs” remarks.

And so it goes…LEOs in a modern-day anti-cop climate are as scrutinized as COVID. Never mind that masses of criminals are free because of the pandemic, and police personnel are not in the bit relieved of duties to include rounding up fugitives and preventing crime.

For one of the deputies on this OIS, his personnel jacket will now reflect the factor of having had to take a life. I didn’t hear the media ask about his post-incident welfare.

The inherent nature of the hiring process for any law enforcement candidate always involves a certain question when being considered by police hiring officials: “If you had to, do you think you can take a life in the course of duty?” (The versions of that question may vary, but the meaning is universal and, yes, stark.)

Barring any other correlates disqualifying police candidates, a Yes answer to that universal question is definitively necessary, one of the prelude rite-of-passage dynamics of becoming a cop. Sadly, this deputy lived that truth…and one can only hope that his days are not filled with regrets over professional skills supported by statutory language being otherwise clouded by what-ifs. However, human nature kicks in; time will tell.

I believe this deputy will respond well though: his scope of things was assessed quite well: as the suspect mashes the gas pedal and plods down an embankment from the McDonald’s parking lot, the deputy can be heard saying, “Welp, you knew it was coming!” That pertains to the suspect aware (or should have been aware) that he was a wanted man and that it was only a matter of time. Warrants are public record; the sheriff’s office even has “Warrant Wednesday” whereby they post wanted individuals on their social media accounts, effectively soliciting leads from viewers.

As well, the deputy’s spatial orientation was stellar and reactive timing superb: he runs toward the suspect vehicle, gun drawn and flashlight in opposite hand, taking heed of the citizen/motorist who was just entangled thanks to a fleeing felon. The deputy’s initial acuity/wherewithal once at the suspect’s driver door is to heed the safety of the innocent driver (yelling “Duck!”) while also maintaining his own personal safety threatened by a potentially violent fugitive who just escalated and displayed desperate measures to flee justice.

So much is transpiring so quickly; on the first two times I watched the footage, I tensed over potential crossfire (deputies positioned in varying degrees, all with guns drawn). On the third view, at 00:53 is when I heard a deputy yell “Watch for crossfire!” (or something like that). Again, a fast-moving fluid scene takes stellar spatial orientation of cops so that the suspect, law enforcement partners, and citizens who tangibly are or may be in proximity must be taken into account while the peril of suspects stays in the literal and figurative reticle.

Training avidly is great, but how one handles this brand of reality galvanizes a seasoned professional and forges a great field training officer (FTO) down the road (if not already in such an assignment).

This sort of scene reminds us how de-escalation techniques are commonly used yet do not always have a happy ending. Despite the inevitability of Monday morning quarterbacks critiquing what the deputies could/should have done differently, textbook rules and state statutes delineating a police officer’s framework in which self-preservation is paramount is valid and stands solid.

This is a mere moment in a day in the life of a law enforcement officer who readily confronts dangers while most others are tucked away under quilts and sleeping. I reckon certain political figures and Hollywood celebs ignorant to reality wonder why this deputy didn’t just shoot the armed assailant in the toe instead.

Leave a Reply

Scroll Up