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Police-Involved Shooting In Washington Sparks Protest


Another police-involved shooting has touched off protests, this time in the town of Pasco in Southeastern Washington State. On Tuesday, police shot and killed a man believed to be mentally unstable. He was throwing rocks. Yesterday, videos of the incident triggered demonstrations and questions about police tactics as NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Police in Pasco say they responded to a call about a man throwing rocks at cars near a popular Hispanic grocery store. They say they tried a tazer on him, but he kept throwing rocks at them. And they say one rock was as big as a softball. That's where the videos pick up the action. He's about to hurl something at the officers. He's just two or three feet from them and they shoot.


KASTE: Then he walks then runs across the street. They chase him. When they get within a few feet of him, he turns ready to hurl something and they shoot again.


KASTE: This time he falls, fatally wounded. Bystanders can be heard protesting in Spanish then in English.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It was just a rock.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's a rock.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: It was a rock. It was a rock. It was a rock. It was a rock.

KASTE: By yesterday afternoon, that protest had become a chant outside Pasco's city hall. Ali Beltran is a local college student.

ALI BELTRAN: It just breaks your heart. The way that it was handled, it was as if it was a dog.

KASTE: And this is the question that's plagued American policing for decades - when should officers use their guns? The Supreme Court says police may not shoot someone just for running away. They need a reasonable belief that the suspect poses a significant threat of injury either to them or to other people. But does that include a guy with a rock? These are the tough calls says Russ Hicks. He's a veteran patrol officer who trains recruits at Washington State's police academy.

RUSS HICKS: I haven't seen all the facts here, but I can tell you that what Pasco faced is extremely challenging and dynamic. The video was from an intersection in a car and the subject runs past them, meaning that there are a lot of people around.

KASTE: But there has been some rethinking of tactics in recent years. Brian Buchner is the president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. He says some police departments teach their officers that sometimes there's a choice - do you try for apprehension, which means capturing or stopping the suspect as quickly as possible...

BRIAN BUCHNER: Or do you go into what's called containment mode, where you maintain observation of the suspect, you coordinate your resources and you plan to take that person into custody at a later time and when it's safe to do so?

KASTE: Buchner isn't passing judgment on what happened in Pasco. The shooting is under investigation by an outside agency and key details just aren't known yet. But a lot of other people are judging these encounters as more and more of them end up as videos on the Internet. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.