Burbank police tactics in chase to be probed

By Andrew Blankstein (LA Times)
March 31, 2010

The Burbank Police Department and Los Angeles County district attorney’s office launched investigations Tuesday into the actions of officers who tried to stop a high-speed pursuit by firing at the suspect while he was stopped in rush-hour traffic.

Officials said they are looking at the tactics used Monday afternoon by the Burbank officers, who fired at the suspect on two occasions during the wild chase.

Of biggest concern is one officer’s decision to fire into the suspect’s stolen sport utility vehicle while he was in the middle of traffic on Barham Boulevard near the 101 Freeway.

The officer, whose name was not released, was standing to the left side of the suspect’s SUV. The driver tried to pull away from stopped traffic in the direction of the officer, who fired at least one shot.

One expert who reviewed videotape of the shooting for The Times said he was concerned because the shot could have hit someone in surrounding cars.

Geoffrey P. Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, said the tape doesn’t tell the whole story, but it raises questions about tactics.

“It appears that they failed to take tactical advantage as they approached the suspect, therefore putting officer and, perhaps, civilian lives at risk,” he said.

Alpert said he is interested in hearing whether there were other factors not seen on the tape that would justify the use of deadly force.

That shot by the officer on Barham Boulevard didn’t hit the suspect, 30-year-old Steve Satterly of Wabash, Ind., or anyone else.

The suspect managed to weave out of traffic and drive to the parking entrance of Universal City. He tried to run from officers but was shot and wounded, said Burbank police spokesman Robert Quesada.

Satterly, who was wanted on suspicion of stabbing his ex-girlfriend in Indiana, was armed with a knife and did not follow orders from officers, police said.

“He was armed and dangerous and his actions were a threat to society,” Quesada said. The officers “could not allow this guy to escape, especially because he was armed and going toward City Walk.”

There has been much debate at law enforcement agencies around the country about when it is proper for police to fire into a car.

After several incidents, the Los Angeles Police Department tightened its rules for firing on moving cars, saying officers should do so only if their lives are threatened.

Interim Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse said the department’s internal investigation will draw on interviews with officers and civilians, news helicopter footage and security surveillance video to understand the officer’s actions.

“It’s premature to draw any conclusions now without looking at all of that evidence,” LaChasse said.

The pursuit began about 4 p.m. when California Highway Patrol officers in the Cajon Pass spotted a dark-colored SUV that had been reported stolen after a stabbing in Indiana.

For the better part of an hour, the driver led police west on the 210 Freeway and then on to the 101 Freeway, hitting speeds of up to 100 mph.

The chase eventually reached Burbank, where the suspect got off the freeway and began driving on surface streets, leading the CHP to hand off the pursuit to Burbank officers.

When traffic reached a standstill on Barham Boulevard near the intersection of Buddy Holly Drive, several police cars pulled up, two directly behind the SUV and two others in lanes near to the driver’s side. There were at least seven other cars in the immediate vicinity of the SUV.

Videotape shows one officer approaching the SUV and banging on the rear window, with the officer sandwiched between the SUV and his patrol car.

Two other officers can be seen coming up from the side closest to the suspect’s SUV. One of those officers crouches down behind the driver’s side of a red sports car while another stands, gun drawn, nearby. The officer fires the shot as the driver attempts to pull around traffic.

David A. Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis and a former Los Angeles police officer, said given the fact that the suspect was wanted for attempted murder, Burbank officers appeared to use appropriate tactics.

“Officers have an obligation to protect citizens,” Klinger said. “It’s absolutely legitimate under those circumstances for police to use deadly force stop a fleeing, violent felon.”

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