Expert: Dallas PD’s use of bomb robot unprecedented but legal

The Dallas Police Department’s decision to end a stand-off with the man suspected of killing of five officers by killing him with a bomb-carrying robot was unprecedented but perfectly legal, said Pete Blair, executive director of a nationally recognized police active-shooter training facility in San Marcos.

Officers are permitted to use lethal force when a suspect is threatening lives, Blair said, and there is no restriction on what method of lethal force they use.

“Deadly force is deadly force. So if it reaches that level where you could shoot them, you could use other forms of force just as readily,” said Blair, an associate professor at Texas State University and leader of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Center. “If I have a choice between risking the lives of officers with somebody we know has already murdered officers and risking a piece of machinery, I’d rather risk the piece of machinery.”

The explosive employed by Dallas police, a breaching charge, is typically used to blow up doors or barricades to allow police to enter a building or room, Blair said. It is unclear what type of robot was used, but many police departments have robots that are used to defuse bombs or inspect suspicious packages.

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Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Friday morning that using the explosive was the only way to end the stand-off without risking the lives of more officers after the suspect, identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, had already killed five and wounded seven.

“We cornered one suspect and we tried to negotiate for several hours. Negotiations broke down. We had an exchange of gunfire with the suspect. We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was,” Brown told reporters.

Other policing experts agreed with Blair’s assessment of the decision. The event marked a “new horizon for police technology” but not for the law surrounding police use of force, Seth Stoughton, an assistant professor of law at South Carolina University, told The Atlantic magazine.

“If someone is shooting at the police, the police are, generally speaking, going to be authorized to eliminate that threat by shooting them, or by stabbing them with a knife, or by running them over with a vehicle,” he said. “Once lethal force is justified and appropriate, the method of delivery — I doubt it’s legally relevant.”

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