“…he claims he’s gonna go rob sombody and stick ’em!”
The Jacksonville, FL Sheriff’s Office has released body camera footage of the 2020 shooting of 39-year-old John Ridder after he threatened an officer with a large butcher knife. There are a number of opportunities for learning and discussion offered by this incident so we’re taking a look.
The situation began when a man called 911 to report that Ridder, who the caller believed had a warrant and was “crazy,” was threatening to “rob somebody and stick ‘em.” Surveillance footage from the area outside a grocery store shows Ridder getting out of the passenger side of a car parked in the store’s lot. He has a large knife in his hand which he hides under a garbage can positioned against a wall in front of the car, then returns to the vehicle.
When a police unit pulls into the lot in response to the call, a clearly agitated Ridder jumps out of the car and sprints to the garbage can to retrieve the knife which he brandishes as the initial responding officer approaches the scene.
Take a look at the footage, then we’ll discuss:
First and most importantly: We can’t stress enough that the debriefs we send are in NO WAY meant to be judgmental of any officers. We’re well aware that there’s a world of difference between watching an event in an office on a computer screen and living it as it plays out quickly and unpredictably. Believe me, we get it. These are designed only to spark discussion, inspire thought and facilitate learning whenever possible. The absolute goal is to help officers be safer.
With that, here are some things to consider and discuss about this incident:
Watching Ridder hide his knife under a nearby garbage serves as a powerful reminder that even if someone appears unarmed or no weapons are discovered during a pat down, you need to stay alert to the fact that they may still have quick access to a knife or gun hidden prior to your contact. Clearly, Ridder was trying to distance himself from the knife for whatever reason, but he didn’t want to get too far.
Gang members have been known to use this same type of tactic. Alert officers have surfaced guns and other weapons hidden under the wheel wells and on top of the tires of cars gang members are leaning against when officers approach. They’ve also been found in nearby bushes and other easy-to-overlook spots that can be easily accessed, including being hidden under fast food bags and other “garbage” strategically placed next to them in the street.
Go beyond just focusing on suspects and consider the surroundings. Are there any locations a weapon could be hidden? Is the subject glancing over at a particular area? Is he edging closer to a garbage can or other potential hiding spot? Why? If possible, have another officer take a quick surveillance of the area around you. Pick things up…carefully (remember needles can also be an issue). Look inside, under, on top of. Be alert and curious.
As you watch the footage, pay attention to the movement dynamics of the approaching officer and the car that’s backing out of the parking spot…let’s say it’s a Toyota Avalon. Earlier in the footage Ridder can be seen sitting in the passenger side of that car prior to getting out to hide the knife under the garbage can.
Initially, the officer walks around the back side of a Mustang parked next to the Avalon and positions himself, gun drawn, at the rear passenger-side quarter panel. After 2-3 seconds, the officer walks back around the rear of the Mustang and straight toward the Avalon that is now backing out. The passenger side window is open and there is a clear line of sight between the driver and the officer as you’ll see at time mark 1:02.
If you freeze the footage at 1:03 you’ll see that the officer appears to be directly in front of the retreating Avalon’s hood. At that moment the car still appears to be in reverse but in hindsight, which is only—ONLY—being used for learning purposes, it makes sense to consider how quickly that car could have been thrown into drive and driven at the officer standing right in front of it.
This is all happening quickly and there are a lot of moving parts. We don’t know if the officer even knew that Ridder had been in that car and all of these considerations are being evaluated in safe, non-stressful surroundings – worlds apart from the conditions this officer was in – but that said, they are in fact worth considering. If the officer did know that the driver and Ridder may be somehow aligned and that there was a chance that vehicle could be used as a weapon against him, were there any alternative approaches that could have avoided such close proximity to that car? Something to think about.
Again, acknowledging the speed at which this is playing out and the many moving parts the officer had to process and the fact that we have the luxury of replaying this video over and over again, there’s another element to consider: The man in the dark jacket you first see at 1:38. Full disclosure: It took three viewings of this for us to even notice this guy. It’s certainly fair to say that the officer very well may not have seen him either. Again, we’re micro-viewing these events in the interest of sparking thought and discussion.
As Ridder, knife in hand, is walking away from the officer, he comes within about 5 feet of that man who appears to be completely unaware of what is going on. According to the person who called this in, Ridder was planning on stabbing someone. This moment easily could have been an opportunity to do that. What to do? Incredibly tough to say. Did Ridder make any aggressive moves toward that man? No. He was focused on the officer. Could he have? Yes, very quickly. Within a millisecond he could have stabbed or slashed that man. Faster than anyone could move to prevent it.
So here’s something to think about. Given the fact that Ridder is armed, ignoring commands to drop his knife, fleeing police and suspected of being prepared to “stick” someone, would the officer have been justified in shooting him as he approached this man? If so, how would he articulate why he felt he had to fire? What if instead of being focused on the officer, it became clear that Ridder was focused on this innocent civilian? What would the officer be justified in doing to protect this innocent man from potential attack? No easy answers but worthy of discussion.
When the officer arrives, Ridder begins fleeing toward a wooded area beside the store with the knife in his hand. The first responding officer pursues on foot with his gun drawn and held in his right hand. After about 30 seconds, the officer draws a Taser that he holds in his left hand. At this point, each hand is holding a weapon; one designed for deadly force, one for less lethal force.
Things to think about here:
Edged weapons and distance. As the officer pursues, he ends up within feet of the suspect armed with the knife with nothing between them. Repeatedly, body cam footage from around the country as well as scientific studies have shown how quickly a subject armed with a knife can change direction and close the gap between them and a pursuing officer. It’s fatally fast…sometimes just milliseconds. Always remember the potentially lifesaving need for maintaining distance when you’re dealing with an edged weapon.
Appropriate weapon selection. Ridder is armed with a large knife. The initial caller called him “crazy” and said he claimed he was going to rob someone and “stick ‘em.” He’s fleeing, refusing orders to drop the knife and exhibiting behavior that could easily indicate he’s willing to use it against the officer. There are no other officers in the area at this point. Is a Taser appropriate? Tactically, no. But it’s not terribly hard in this day and age to guess why he may have chosen to try to use it in a desperate attempt to avoid a shooting.
Different weapons in different hands at the same time. There is a lot out there, both in terms of scientific findings and officers’ unfortunate experiences, on why this is not a good idea. Be sure that you are taking time to study human performance issues either on your own or through training opportunities you encounter. Be sure you understand the practical science behind things like contralateral contractions and hand and weapon confusion. What are the odds this officer would unintendedly pull the trigger on his Taser instead of his gun if Ridder suddenly charged him with the knife? The results of that “mistake” could be catastrophic. Or what if he fired his gun instead of—or even simultaneously with or even after—he employs the Taser without meaning to? What if that trigger was pulled before the officer consciously decided he was justified in using deadly force? Those odds definitely exist and they’re not odds you want to play.
Taser effectiveness. Note that the suspect is carrying a tee shirt, which he uses to deflect Taser barbs the officer deploys. Regardless of the scenario, keep this in mind when you’re considering using a Taser against someone who has something in their hand, like a piece of clothing or a towel, or wearing something like a bulky jacket that could defeat the ECD. If the Taser doesn’t work, you need to be prepared to quickly react accordingly.
Post-shooting. After being shot, Ridder drops to the ground and curls into a fetal position while clutching his stomach. The shooting officer moves in to kick the knife out of reach, then moves back with his gun aimed at Ridder while waiting for other officers to respond.
When a backup officer arrives, she moves in on Ridder to cuff him while the shooting officer covers her with his weapon trained on the downed suspect. Something to consider: We assume the large knife Ridder was brandishing is the only weapon he has…but we don’t know that. It’s certainly the most obvious, but could he have other weapons? Maybe a gun hidden in his waist area? If he did have a gun, studies have shown it could be drawn and fired at either of those officers in a flash.
How do you handle that? Order him to spread out before officers approach to cuff him? What if he doesn’t comply? What if several minutes of more tick by before you render aid because you were waiting for him to comply? What kind of legal issues are going to surface when an attorney claims you recklessly allowed this man to bleed out? At what point do you make the call that he needs to be approached?
Many questions. Few crystal-clear answers. Lots to discuss.
Thoughts? Additional insights? E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org