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Woman who filmed standoff: "I thought, 'Oh, my God, they just hit him with the SUV' "

Sheila Woodard was on the phone Saturday afternoon with her father when her husband told her the Buffalo police were involved in a standoff across the street from their home.

She opened her front door and described to her father what she saw at Chicago and Fulton Streets: a man holding a butcher knife and police officers trying to take control of the situation.

Joseph Flakes, her dad who was a Washington D.C. police officer, told her to stop talking with him and use her cellphone to record and post the incident live on Facebook.

The standoff culminated moments later when SWAT Team Lt. James O'Donnell used an SUV squad car to pin the psychologically disturbed man against a fence.

In the four days since, her video has been viewed more than 500,000 times on social media.

Police say the man suffered a broken ankle, but Woodard says his relatives have told her he had multiple fractures and remains hospitalized at Erie County Medical Center.

Buffalo police officials say the man is fortunate to be alive given that responding officers would have been within their rights to shoot him if he had gotten any closer to them. They say he was not only threatening to kill himself but harm the officers, who also had the safety of a group of bystanders to take into consideration.

Sheila Woodard recorded video of a Buffalo police officer using an SUV to pin a mentally disturbed man.

"I thought the police would use a Taser or tackle him," Woodard said Wednesday in the living room of her apartment as she sat with her father and recounted the incident. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, they just hit him with the SUV.' It was wrong. Excessive force was used.”

But Woodard made clear: "I have nothing against the police. My dad was a police officer in Washington."

Flakes, who was a police officer in D.C. for 13 years before he returned to Buffalo, doesn’t entirely agree with his daughter's opinion that it was wrong to use the SUV.

He says officers could have been seriously injured or killed, if they had tried to get too close to the man.

Flakes also said he doesn’t have a problem with O'Donnell’s use of the SUV. In fact, he says, he would have done the same. But in his assessment, the former officer says he would not have driven as rapidly at the man.

"You can see from the video that the police supervisor is accelerating. I would not have accelerated," Flakes said.

Buffalo Police Lt. Jeffrey Rinaldo says the department's Internal Affairs Division is continuing its investigation of the incident, but praised the responding officers for using restraint in dealing with the 60-year-old man, whose name has not been released. Police said the man has a lengthy history of suicide attempts and violent outbursts.

“Officers used great discretion to bring a potentially lethal situation to a safe conclusion,” Rinaldo said.

What isn’t seen in Woodard’s video is that the man had come at the officers with the butcher knife, Rinaldo said.

He acknowledged that the incident has gotten widespread attention. “Social media allows for Monday morning quarterbacks to pass judgment without knowing all of the details. Officers in this case showed great restraint in not using their firearms.”

Police officials pointed out that an electric Taser probably would not have succeeded in this situation.

“That’s due to the fact that the suspect was wearing multiple layers of clothing,” Rinaldo said.

A Taser fires darts attached to thin wires delivering an electrical charge.

“The darts need to make contact with the subject’s skin to be totally effective,” Rinaldo said.

Police, including SWAT and the Crisis Management Team, at the time were not armed with a Taser. The man had also refused to speak with a crisis negotiator, police officials said.

So using the SUV to defuse the situation was a gamble, according to Thomas H. Burton, an attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.

“This is certainly not something taught at the police academy, but it worked,” said Burton, who described the tactic as “an unconventional way to end a circumstance with someone having a psychological problem.”

The city police department only has two Tasers, which Burton said give officers a less-than-lethal option when circumstances such as Saturday’s arise, said Burton, who trains officers in the rules of force and deadly force.

“Tasers are especially appropriate with an individual such as this who has shown suicide intentions on multiple occasions before this one,” Burton said, adding that most local police departments have a number of Tasers.

Woodard, a 32-year-old unemployed pharmacy technician and mother of two teenagers, says she believes she did the right thing in recording and posting the standoff.
"A mentally unstable person is not going to comply with commands," she said. "The police need more Tasers or more training on how to deal with the mentally unstable."

Police officials countered saying that officers receive ample training in how to handle situations with psychologically disturbed people but that sometimes force is required to bring such situations under control. They also say that Tasers are not a solution and that while they can disable a person, there is also the chance that the devices can be deadly.

The officials also pointed out that in order to use a Taser, an officer has to be within 15 feet of the suspect and that proximity put officers in harm's way when the suspect is armed. And again citing the fact that the man in this case was wearing multiple layers of clothing, the officials said the outcome, had a Taser had been used, could have resulted in injury or death to an officer or the suspect.

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