Partners Shocked as Officer Opened Fire, Sources Say

Times Staff Writer

Two police officers who were arresting a drug suspect when a third officer shot him to death have told investigators that they thought the proper level of force would have been to use Mace, not shoot him, according to several police sources.

An attorney hired by the victim's family said Friday that other witnesses to the April 22 shooting said the two officers seemed surprised when Officer Timothy A. Fay fired his service revolver, shooting Stanley P. Buchanan six times.

"The expression on their faces was like, 'What are you doing? Why are you doing this?' " attorney Richard Potack said of the two officers, whose names have not been released by the San Diego Police Department.

"They were shocked at what he was doing. Their expressions seemed to tell it all, like, 'Wait a minute, you're way out of line here.' "

Considered Using Mace

Three sources within the Police Department have said the two officers were considering using Mace against Buchanan when he suddenly grabbed one of the officer's flashlights. At that point, Fay, standing behind the two officers in the dimly lit apartment, fired repeatedly.

"The policewomen have said they would have used Mace and were planning to do so when the shots rang out," said one high-ranking police source.

In another development Friday, Police Chief Bob Burgreen said he would not participate in a protest march over the shooting that is scheduled for 10 a.m. today by the Urban League of San Diego.

"If I am to show I am objective and also supportive of our officers' efforts, for me to be walking tomorrow would send the wrong message," the chief said. "It would send the message that I already have my mind made up that the officer was wrong.

"For that reason, I cannot march."

File to Go to D.A.'s Office

Burgreen added that he expects the police homicide file on the shooting to be sent to the district attorney's office next week, where it will be determined whether criminal charges, if any, should be filed against Fay, an 11-year veteran of the force.

Once the file is sent over, the chief said, he will meet personally with Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller, something he said he has rarely done, except in extremely controversial cases like the Sagon Penn incident.

"This is a high-profile case," Burgreen said. "It's important the district attorney and I have a candid discussion about the facts."

According to the official police version of the shooting, Fay and two other officers, both women, were interviewing people about 8 p.m. in an apartment complex in the 4900 block of Logan Avenue when a man suddenly ran away. Another man said the fleeing man lived in one of the apartments, and the officers went there to verify his identity.

At the door, they were invited in by another young man, police said. Inside they found Buchanan, 32, who has a criminal history including convictions for possessing drugs for sale.

Police said they frisked Buchanan and found some rock cocaine. While placing him under arrest, he grabbed a flashlight. At that point, police said, Fay fired his service revolver.

Police Department policies prohibit officers from firing their guns unless they believe a life is in danger, or they believe there is a risk of "great bodily harm" to someone else.

Police investigators are attempting to determine whether Buchanan, by grabbing the flashlight, posed such a risk.

Daniel Krinsky, a defense attorney who often represents police officers and has spoken to Fay about the shooting case, said a flashlight can indeed be a deadly weapon.

"I've seen plenty of cases in court where, if someone is hit with a flashlight, it could split their head open like a melon," he said.

Krinsky also said it is a common phenomenon that, when officers or soldiers are confronted with deadly situations that require them to fire their weapons, they often are stunned to learn later that they fired more than once.

'That Finger Keeps Squeezing'

He said that adrenaline kicks in, and "that finger keeps squeezing, and that trigger keeps getting pulled."

Krinsky declined to discuss Fay's version of the shooting, noting that he has not yet been hired to legally represent the officer. Fay is among the 5% of San Diego officers who are not members of the Police Officers Assn., according to Everett Bobbitt, a POA attorney, so he will not be represented by a POA attorney.

The police sources said the two officers saw Buchanan put his hands on the flashlight and considered firing their tear-gas canisters to subdue him. Instead, they were "shocked and surprised" when Fay began shooting his gun, the sources said.

One police source close to the investigation also said it is reasonable to believe that Fay truly believed the officers were in danger of being hurt when Buchanan reached for the flashlight.

"It was dark in there," he said. "Only a little light was coming in from the kitchen. So you don't know what was going on in the officer's mind, what he's feeling, what he's thinking about. What he can see is even happening."

Woman Arrested on Warrant

Potack, the Buchanan family attorney, said police had been to the apartment the night before and arrested a woman on an outstanding warrant, after searching the apartment but finding no drugs or weapons.

He said that, when Fay and the other officers returned the next night, they persuaded a teen-ager to open the front door, then walked in behind him.

"They had no warrant, and I don't think they had probable cause to go in there in the first place," Potack said.

He said the officers ordered everyone up against a wall, then began searching them.

He said several witnesses, both inside and outside the apartment, said they then saw "two female officers apparently take out their flashlights and start hitting" Buchanan.

"He was not resisting," Potack said. "Witnesses could hear him saying, 'Why are you hitting me?' and moments after that, boom, boom, he's down, and then boom, boom, boom, boom.

"Without resisting, he was shot twice by Fay and went down, and after he was down, he was shot four more times."

Stunned Expressions

Potack said the witnesses told him that the two officers looked up with stunned expressions on their faces. "They couldn't believe it," Potack said.

The attorney said he plans to file a monetary claim against the city Monday, the day Buchanan is to be buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Protesters today plan to march to the cemetery, as part of their continuing efforts in urging the Southeast community to cease the gang- and drug-related violence that has plagued their neighborhoods. The march organizers said they want an end to all the killing, whether it comes from the hands of criminals or the police.

"We want the violence stopped," a march representative Friday told the Catfish Club, an organization of black leaders.

Upset by Comparisons

Burgreen said he is upset that the actions of police officers might be compared by some people to the work of criminals.

"I don't like the statements that seem to compare a shooting in the line of duty by a police officer to drive-by shootings and other gang- and drug-related shootings," he said. "That is an inappropriate comparison, and I think a lot of police officers are going to resent that comparison."

Joining Burgreen in turning down an invitation to march with the protesters are Mayor Maureen O'Connor and Councilman Wes Pratt, all of whom have walked with the group before.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World