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Chief Defends Officers in Fatal Shooting, Cites Their ‘Great Restraint’

Times Staff Writer

Police Chief William B. Kolender, complaining that his department “has been put unjustifiably on the defensive” over the May 28 fatal shooting of a knife-wielding student, said Monday that he has no plans to revise police policy because of the death.

Kolender replied to criticisms that the two officers who killed Wayne Douglas Holden may have overreacted. In fact, Kolender said, the Police Department is considering issuing the officers formal commendations for showing “great restraint” before they finally shot Holden after a foot chase in San Carlos.

“The bottom line is: Don’t come towards an officer with a knife,” Kolender told reporters at a morning press conference that he scheduled to rebut criticisms that had been made in the wake of the shooting.

Kolender said the Police Department has a policy that officers are not to come within 12 feet of a suspect wielding a bladed weapon.

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The chief also dismissed suggestions by some, among them Councilman William Jones, that a citizens’ commission be formed to monitor officer shootings and other department activities of a controversial nature.

“That’s what the courts are for,” Kolender said. “Why should a ‘kangaroo court’ rule whether a cop” is guilty or innocent?

No San Diego police officer in recent memory has been charged criminally after shooting someone in the line of duty, according to police homicide Lt. Paul Yabarrondo, who attended Monday’s press conference.

San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller ruled last week that Sgt. Robert Stinson and Officer Carl Smith were legally justified in shooting Holden, 21, UC San Diego student who reportedly was despondent over his relationship with a girlfriend.

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Holden had threatened suicide with a 12-inch butcher knife at the home of his father, Robert Holden. Police arrived after the elder Holden called the county’s mental health hospital in Hillcrest to request help in calming his son.

Officers spoke with Wayne Holden for 10 to minutes before Holden, dressed only in underwear and a heavy overcoat, began running through the quiet neighborhood, slashing at passing cars. Five officers pursued him, drawing their service revolvers as Holden slashed at them.

The chase ended when Holden crashed through a window in the home of William Ballard in the 6700 block of Sunny Brae Drive. Holden fell over a sewing machine and became entangled in the window’s blinds.

As Holden struggled to gain his feet, Stinson fired a Taser gun, a non-lethal device that ejects an electrified dart that temporarily immobilizes its targets. The dart, however, apparently bounced off Holden’s coat as Holden stood with the knife raised above him.

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Fearing that Holden was about to attack Ballard, who was retreating in a nearby hallway, Stinson fired at Holden once with his revolver. Smith fired five more rounds. All of the bullets struck their mark.

“This department has been put unjustifiably on the defensive,” Kolender said Monday. “At no time when the officers were endangered did they attempt to shoot Mr. Holden . . . . It was only when he was going to kill an innocent citizen that the officers shot. That shows me great restraint.”

Kolender described Holden as “an extremely disturbed individual who obviously flipped out.”

Holden’s father has argued that officers should have attempted to surround his son and subdue him by non-lethal means, possibly using their batons. Others have suggested that those involved could have merely wounded Holden or stopped him with one of several large restraining nets that the Police Department purchased this year.

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Kolender, however, discounted each option. The department’s policy of staying 12 feet from knife-wielding suspects precluded the use of night sticks, and the nets are too unwieldy to have restrained the quickly moving Holden, Kolender said.

Others in the Police Department have said that when San Diego officers shoot someone, the officers’ training requires them to “incapacitate” rather than to wound. Incapacitating a suspect generally means aiming for a vital area of the body, particularly the chest.

Kolender expressed sympathy for Holden’s father but added that he was not influenced by the elder Holden’s criticisms of the Police Department.

“I feel sorry for the fact that he lost his son,” Kolender said, “but it seems to me that he lost his son a long time ago.”

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