Officer Shoots Motorist to
Web Posted: 07/15/2008 02:43 AM CDT
Lomi Kriel and Eva Ruth Moravec
San Antonio Express-News
In a fatal shooting that refocused attention on the Police Department's
policy of firing at moving vehicles, an officer Monday killed a motorist
who officials said repeatedly rammed his car into the officer's vehicle,
pinning the patrol car against a concrete pole.
Officer Robert Ingram “didn't have anywhere to go. He had to save his
own life,” police spokesman Sgt. Gabe Trevino said.
The morning shooting behind a Northeast Side strip mall left the driver,
Ralph Sanchez, 43, dead.
It was the second officer-involved fatality in three days and the third
Monday's incident again directs attention on when and whether officers
should fire into moving vehicles. Currently, that's prohibited “except
as the ultimate measure of self-defense or defense of another,”
according to SAPD's general manual.
Monday's incident is such an example, Trevino said.
“The car itself was clearly a weapon,” Police Chief William McManus
Ingram was patrolling a retail center near Walzem Road and Parkcrest
Drive around 7 a.m. when he drove behind the strip mall and spotted
Sanchez backed into a loading dock. As the officer drove closer, Sanchez
motioned his head and finger from side to side indicating that the
officer “should not approach,” before accelerating directly toward
Ingram, according to police.
Sanchez's car struck Ingram's patrol car head-on, pushing it back
several feet until it was pinned between a 10-foot-high pillar and
Sanchez's four-door Toyota Avalon. Sanchez backed up again, police said,
spinning his tires as he again struck Ingram's car.
“Fearing for his life,” police said, Ingram fired through his front
windshield as he exited the car and fled for cover.
Sanchez, whose family could not be reached for comment, was pronounced
dead at the scene.
Ingram, an 11-year veteran, was not seriously injured. As is routine, he
will be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of the
Trevino said a hunting knife, pocketknife and crack pipe were found in
Sanchez's car, and a lighter between his legs. Toxicology tests will
determine if he was under the influence of drugs.
Based on a description of the incident, Thomas Aveni, a part-time
police officer and co-founder of the Police Policy Studies Council in
New Hampshire, said, “under those circumstances, without reservation,
the shooting was a justified incident.”
In the past few years, police departments across the country have
drastically restricted when officers can shoot at moving vehicles
because of the risk of hurting bystanders with stray bullets or a
vehicle crash. There was no indication that there were any bystanders in
A recently completed review of the San Antonio Police Department's
high-risk policies by the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive
Research Forum also recommended the department revamp its policy.
Officers, the review said, should not shoot at moving vehicles unless a
person inside the vehicle is threatening the officer or another person
with a weapon other than the vehicle itself.
Such a policy would put the department in line with big cities like
Washington, Los Angeles and Boston.
But McManus, who initially recommended the review after a spate of
alleged police abuse incidents last year, chose not to immediately adopt
that recommendation, instead referring it for further study. McManus
doesn't think the policy should be so restrictive, Trevino said, and
“wants it to be explored.”
Aveni, the New Hampshire police expert, has extensively studied
officer-involved shootings and vehicular assaults on police officers,
and said the answer lies in better, more extensive training for
officers, rather than a knee-jerk tightening of policy.
Officers “ought to be able to use deadly force” against moving
vehicles when “there's no other alternative,” Aveni said, noting that
Ingram's case was just such an example.
Administrators, he said, should instead focus efforts on teaching
officers how to decide when shooting at moving vehicles is worth the
risk or if doing so would endanger more people.
Monday's incident was at least the sixth time San Antonio officers have
shot suspects in the line of duty this year and the third to result in a
fatality. Police shot eight people — killing five — last year.
Also Monday, more details emerged about the shooting of Julian De Leon,
who was fatally shot by police early Saturday after he raised what
Officer Edward Pedraza thought was a firearm but later turned out to be
a pellet gun.
De Leon, 20, had recently moved here from Combes, his family said, and
had a troubled relationship with his girlfriend. Police on several
occasions were called to the couple's residence, and Saturday was no
De Leon had just returned from work at around 7 a.m. when an argument
erupted, and the girlfriend called police. A police report characterized
the incident as a “disturbance,” but De Leon's family said the
girlfriend was complaining about him kicking her dog.
De Leon's family claims he didn't own a firearm, but it's unclear
whether his girlfriend conveyed that to police.
“We don't blame police,” De Leon's cousin, Saul Gallardo, said. “Who
knows what he was thinking?”