A San Diego police officer, the son of the assistant police chief leading a review of the department's shooting policy, shot and killed a man who police said charged him with a 3-foot stake at a University City home Tuesday.
Officer Charles M. Rice Jr. fired three shots at William T. C. Slusar, 39, who moved to within 5 or 6 feet as he swung the inch-thick wooden garden stake, police said.
Slusar died at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla shortly after the 12:31 a.m. shooting.
The victim's mother, Paulette, who witnessed the slaying, said the shooting was uncalled-for.
"How could he have posed a threat to them with a stick when they're all standing there?" she said. "He had a stick--just a stick."
Rice, 30, who has been with the force 4 1/2 years, was placed on paid administrative leave until the department completes its investigation of the matter.
His father, Deputy Chief Mike Rice, was assigned in late August to conduct a thorough review of the department's shooting policy. Police Chief Bob Burgreen ordered the review after a series of controversial shootings by police, including two in which the victims were wielding baseball bats and another a cement trowel.
Neither father nor son could be reached for comment Tuesday. Mike Rice took the day off when he learned of the shooting.
San Diego police have shot 21 people this year, eight fatally. Police are quickly approaching their highest number of fatal shootings in the past six years. In 1988, police killed 10.
Police said Slusar was "rambling incoherently" and ignored several warnings to drop the stake before Rice fired two bullets from his 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun into Slusar's chest.
Firefighters and paramedics were dispatched to the Slusar home in the 5800 block of Scripps Street, after receiving a call that William Slusar was suffering from a drug overdose, said Lt. Dan Berglund, who is heading the investigation into the case. Toxicology results were not available by day's end.
Berglund said police were summoned at 12:19 a.m., when paramedics and firefighters determined that Slusar was, in fact, alive but violent and attempting suicide.
Slusar's parents called for help after the younger Slusar struck his father, apparently with a stick, Berglund said.
Wasil Slusar, 65, needed 19 stitches to sew up one wound, and four stitches each for two other cuts. He was treated for head cuts and released from Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The victim's mother, Paulette, confirmed that her son struck his father. She said he had run out of the house earlier that night, and, when her husband brought him back inside, her son hit her husband.
Mrs. Slusar called the paramedics.
"We called so they could get him some help and take him down to a place where he could get his head back together," she said. "He wasn't that bad off, really."
The first officers to arrive at the Slusar home immediately radioed for reinforcements.
Mrs. Slusar said police had gone in front and back of the residence, so her son "ran out of the garage door and confronted them."
Berglund said Slusar held a metal ashtray stand as he stepped out of the garage. Police told him to put it down.
"But he threw it at the officers and it slammed down in front of them," Berglund said.
At that point, police officers drew their guns.
Slusar then picked up the stake and began swinging it back and forth, striking at shrubs and hedges. He showed unusual dexterity with the stick, flipping it from hand to hand and swinging it as though he had practiced the moves, Berglund said.
"He was approaching officers and rambling incoherently when they told him to drop it," Berglund said. "He was closing the distance faster than the officers could retreat. When he was 5 or 6 feet away," Rice fired.
Berglund said Slusar had asked police to "go ahead and shoot."
Mrs. Slusar, though, said the police had no reason to fire.
"I was standing right there when they shot him. I said 'Don't' but hell, they just shot him anyway," said Slusar, who believed that about 16 officers were at the scene.
Berglund said there were at least three officers present, plus paramedics and firefighters. He could not give an exact number.
Police could not say if Slusar had a police record. Mrs. Slusar said he had one brush with the San Diego police six months ago, in which three police officers dragged Slusar across the ground at a swap meet. She refused to elaborate.
Mrs. Slusar quoted her son as saying, "This time, they're not going to take me" as police approached him Tuesday morning.
William Slusar was an artist who took art classes and was skilled in karate, his mother said. She said he once spent two years driving a tractor-trailer around the country.
Neighbors said Slusar was pleasant.
"He didn't seem to have any hang-ups that I knew of," said neighbor Walter Gredvig. "He liked fishing, he was a quiet, nice guy."
Another neighbor, who requested anonymity, said the family was pleasant, if a little reclusive.
"For some reason they didn't contact with most of us," she said.
"They just seemed like really nice people. As far as I know, they didn't do anything to disturb anybody," she said.
Neither neighbor witnessed the shooting.
The shooting of another person raises further concern about police practices, said Linda Hills, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and Imperial counties.
"I am at a loss," she said. "I keep repeating myself on all these shootings. We're not getting any answers as to what's happening." A wooden stake, she said, "is not being armed with what we would think of as a deadly weapon."
A week ago, the district attorney's office cleared a San Diego police officer who shot and killed a mentally disturbed man waving a cement trowel on Interstate 5 in May. Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller, in ruling the shooting justified, said the use of a trowel rather than a conventional weapon "does not alter its potentially deadly employment as a slicing or stabbing device."
San Diego Police Department policy says an officer is permitted to fire his weapon only during target practice or when "reasonably necessary to protect himself from death or serious injury or to protect another (officer) or any other person from death or bodily injury."
Officers are permitted to use deadly force "to apprehend a fleeing felon reasonably known to be armed with a deadly weapon" and who might inflict "great bodily harm or the threat of great bodily harm."
Police recruits are taught to respond with whatever force they believe necessary if someone moves within 21 feet of them with an "edged" weapon, which includes a broad range of instruments.
Every fatal shooting is reviewed by homicide detectives and goes to the district attorney's office, the Police Department's internal affairs unit, a special police review board, and the San Diego city manager.