SHARON, Pa. (AP) — A police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man who had a utility knife and told officers he would kill them or they would have to kill him, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
"This was a life-and-death circumstance right from the very beginning," Mercer County District Attorney Miles Karson Jr. said in announcing that the officer would not be charged in the Jan. 6 shooting of Sean Ryan Hake.
Hake's mother, Cynthia Loya, had called 911 to report her 23-year-old son was out of control and had held a razor blade to her throat. By the time three Sharon police officers arrived, Hake's mother had left and her son was sitting in a car with self-inflicted cuts to his wrist and throat, Karson said.
An officer called for an ambulance and tried to speak to Hake, but he got out of the car and started moving quickly toward the officer, Karson said. Hake, armed with a utility knife, didn't comply and ignored the similar commands of two other officers who arrived seconds later, Karson said.
Instead, Hake moved quickly toward the first officer saying, "You are going to have to kill me or I am going to kill you," Karson said.
That prompted the third officer to yell to get Hake's attention, and Hake then moved toward that officer, who fired two shots, both of which hit Hake in the torso, the prosecutor said. When Hake continued toward the third officer he fired a shot that stopped Hake, Karson said. Hake died a short time later at hospital in Youngstown, Ohio.
Karson didn't identify the officers, who remained on administrative leave, which is common in officer-involved shootings. It wasn't immediately clear when that status may change.
Karson said all three officers have Tasers, but "they didn't use them, nor should they have under the circumstances of this case."
Richard Lichten, a retired sheriff's lieutenant who spent 30 years in southern California law enforcement before becoming an expert witness on the use of police force, said officers needn't exhaust lesser use of force, like stun guns, before shooting a suspect. He spoke to The Associated Press generally about police force, not about the Hake case specifically.
Tasers, which send skin-piercing barbs attached to electrical wire, have a range of about 21 feet, Lichten said. Karson said Hake had moved within 6 or 7 feet of the officer who shot him.
"A suspect with a knife can reach out and stab someone within a second-and-a-half from 21 feet away," Lichten said.
The American Civil Liberties Union last week had pressed authorities for a "full accounting" of the shooting of Hake, a transgender man. Hake was born a girl named Sean Marie Hake but had legally changed his name, though he had not undergone any gender reassignment procedures, said Frank Moore, an attorney for the family. He said Hake's gender is a nonissue.
But Moore said he has questions about the shooting in Sharon, about 60 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. He said the officers should have tried the Tasers first. He said he hasn't seen the official autopsy report but believes there may be reason to believe Hake was shot while still in or getting out of the car — not while outside the vehicle and advancing on the officers.
Karson said Hake "set the tone for the encounter," not the officers.