LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad said that the investigation into the deadly police shooting in Old Louisville on Saturday is still ongoing, but he believes that the situation escalated so quickly that the officer had no time to choose a less lethal option.
At a press conference Sunday, Conrad identified the officer involved as Nathan Blanford, a fourth division patrol officer who has been on the force since 2005. Blanford shot and killed Deng Manyoun, a 35-year-old African man, who tried to attack him with a metal flag pole.
Reading a prepared statement before taking questions, Conrad said, "It's important for you to understand that policing can absolutely be a dynamic and complex job. It requires split second decisions that will be looked at and second-guessed and judged and scrutinized literally forever."
"We hope that we never ever have to use deadly force out on the street but in those situations where we are required to use force, it is incredibly important the we conduct a thorough and complete investigation," Conrad said. "We need, in those investigations, to determine whether or not the use of force was justified. We owe that to the suspect. We owe that to the suspect's family. We owe that to the officer or officers involved and we owe it to everyone in this community."
Conrad played surveillance video for reporters which shows the officer retreating as Manyoun swung the flag pole at him. Blanford fired two shots, Conrad said, fatally wounding the man. "I think what you need to see is how quickly this occurred," Conrad said before stressing that he would not make the final determination on the legality of the officer's actions. The department's Public Integrity Unit, which investigates potentially criminal action, will complete a report to be presented to prosecutors. The Commonwealth's Attorney's office will review the information and decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible indictment.
If the case does not go to the grand jury, Conrad said, a different internal investigation by the Professional Standards Unit will look into administrative issues, including whether the officer followed the department's procedures. The unit could also recommend changes to policy or tactics.
Some in the community have questioned the officer's use of deadly force, asking whether he could have instead used a non-lethal weapon, like a stun gun. Conrad detailed the department's use of force policy, which includes an escalating scale of options ranging from simple officer presence to deadly force. He stressed, however, that the officer is not required to try a non-lethal weapon before using his gun. "I believe, looking at the video, he did not have the opportunity to transition to another option," the chief said. Conrad said a Taser might have been effective, but noted that if the officer missed, or if the shock did not stop Manyoun, the officer could have found himself in greater danger.
Officers are allowed to use their guns in defense of their own lives or to prevent serious physical injury, Conrad said, but the officer must be able to justify his reaction as reasonable.
Officer Blanford was originally dispatched to the area on a report of assault. Conrad said a woman had reportedly been assaulted by a stranger while walking down the street. A man intervened to stop the assault and called 911. Officer Blanford arrived on the scene and approached Manyoun, who is believed to be the suspect in the assault.
After the two spoke briefly, the video shows Manyoun advancing at the officer with a flag pole raised over his head, swinging it downward at the officer. The pole, apparently made of two separate pieces, comes apart as Manyoun swings at Blanford. The officer retreats and fires. Manyoun falls to the ground. He briefly gets back to his feet and staggers backwards into a wall before falling to the ground again. The officer then backs up and appears to grab his radio. Other officers arrive about a minute and a half later.
Manyoun was taken to University of Louisville hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators said they think Manyoun was homeless. His last known address was in the 1200 block of Brook Street. An autopsy was performed on Sunday, and investigators expect to receive the final results in six to eight weeks.
Conrad said the woman who was reportedly assaulted was treated by EMS and was not taken to the hospital.
Officer Blanford's personnel file contains numerous commendations for his investigative prowess and a nomination for a life-saving award related to his interaction with a suicidal man. It also contained reprimands for failing to appear in court on several occasions. He was suspended for one day in relation to his court absences. Blanford is currently on administrative leave as the investigation into the shooting continues.
Conrad noted that there have been 17 officer-involved shootings since he became chief on March 19, 2012. In six cases, the suspect was killed. In seven, the suspect was injured and in four, no one was hit.
In eight of the shootings, the officers were exonerated by both the Commonwealth's Attorney and the internal Professional Standards Unit. In two others, criminal prosecutors have cleared the officers, but the PSU investigation is ongoing. In one case an officer was disciplined and in another, the officer resigned pending charges. The Public Integrity Unit is still investigating five shootings, which will then be considered by the Commonwealth's Attorney.