A white teen who stabbed three people, killing two, and tried to eat one of the victim’s faces was subdued by police officers without deadly force last week. The scenario has raised questions about Black men who have been shot and killed despite being nonviolent and compliant, as well as a young Black manin a similar face-eating scenario who was shot and killed by officers.
Nineteen-year-old Austin Harrouff, who is white, murdered 53-year-old Michelle Mascon and her husband, John Stevens III, 59, and bit off part of Stevens’ face. Harrouff also stabbed a third person, Jeff Fisher, a neighbor who intervened and called 911. Fisher was seriously injured and underwent surgery.
Harrouff is currently in the hospital sedated in critical condition. According to his father, some of his organs are failing as a result of a wound to his esophagus he sustained on the night of the attack. When he is responsive, he will be charged with two counts of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, armed burglary and resisting an officer with violence, the sheriff’s office reported.
Not a single bullet was fired during the interaction.
According to Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, officers could not immediately tell if Stevens was still alive or not and therefore refrained from using deadly force.
“The female deputy was about to pull the trigger, and a male deputy didn’t like it and said, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!'” he said. “His concern was for the safety of the victim. There was no reluctance to use deadly force.”
Snyder also added that authorities did not initially know Harrouff had already killed someone because Mascon’s body was not in plain sight.
But, Snyder said, “We certainly would’ve been justified in shooting [Harrouff].”
Officers tried repeatedly to subdue Harrouff with a stun gun, but Harrouff, who reportedly is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, continued his attack. Officers ultimately let an attack dog on Harrouff, and when this still did not work, officers surrounded and handcuffed him.
In what Daily News columnist Shaun King described as “a moment of good policing,” officers were able to subdue the attacker without killing him. However, this contrasts sharply with the deadly pattern of many encounters between Black men in some cases, who are unarmed, nonviolent and compliant and another Florida case involving a young Black man.
In 2012, Rudy Eugene attacked and began eating the face of a man near a causeway exit. When Eugene did not stop the attack, officers shot him. The gunshots initially seemed to have no effect, so officers fired repeatedly until Eugene was dead. In this case, his victim survived.
Eugene was initially believed to be on bath salts, a type of hallucinogenic that would have made it more difficult to subdue him. However, toxicology reports later turned up no such evidence and found only marijuana in his system. Snyder stated to the Washington Post that Harrouff displayed “preternatural strength.” Despite this, though, officers still found a way to subdue Harrouff without killing him. Snyder also reportedly called face-eating Harrouff a “good kid” who “had no criminal record”.
The incident also raises questions about an encounter between police and a Black man in Florida more recently. Charles Kinsey, a caregiver for people with disabilities, was trying to help his 23-year-old autistic patient when the men were approached by police. A 911 call had reported a man in the street with a gun who was threatening to kill himself. Kinsey explained that his patient was holding a toy car, not a gun. Video footage clearly shows Kinsey compliant, on the ground with his hands in the air. Despite all of this, an officer still shot Kinsey in the leg. Kinsey survived the shooting.
In a news conference after the shooting, John Rivera, who heads the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, said that Kinsey “did everything right” and that the officer who shot Kinsey was aiming for his patient, thinking the patient would cause Kinsey harm, but missed.
In sharp contrast to the incident involving Harrouff, in Kinsey’s case officers were not concerned about missing a shot and hitting the believed “victim” which is exactly what happened.
“This is a conversation we’re having very, very often,” Jasmen Rogers, a Black Lives Matter activist, said to the Miami New Times. “When white people are far more violent, and far more erratic, they’re often brought in alive and apprehended using less lethal means.”
According to Snyder, race did not play a factor in Harrouff’s case, adding that the department “shot a white guy” several weeks earlier.
Why are officers seemingly more reluctant to shoot white suspects, even if the shooting would be deemed justified, as Snyder reported in Harrouff’s attack One study, “Fatal Shootings by US Police Officers in 2015: A Bird’s Eye View,” found that an inherent bias may exist when officers encounter white suspects versus people of color. Researchers found that their analysis “suggest the police exhibit shooter bias by falsely perceiving Blacks to be a greater threat than non-Blacks to their safety.”
The study used data collected by the Washington Post on fatal shootings by police. However, The Post reported, that the conclusions are not without limitations: “[The researchers] said, however, that The Post data has limitations it covers one year only and did not include information about non-fatal shootings by police.”
But obtaining data regarding police shootings at all is difficult. The FBI attempts to track this data, but very few police departments report the information because it is voluntary, not required. And when the information is reported, it is not always in a timely manner, so existing FBI data has not been consistent. Out of 18,000 police departments throughout the country, only three percent of them report their police shootings, leaving for very skewed data.
Last year FBI Director James Comey called it “embarrassing” that the Washington Post and the Guardian have kept more reliable data regarding police shootings than the FBI, which is reportedly working on a better data-tracking system. It is unclear if or when it will be in effect.