Fairfax Co. police should expand ‘less-lethal’ force options, audit says

WASHINGTON — An independent police auditor examining the police shooting of a man killed in the doorway of his Herndon, Virginia, town house last year has called for more Fairfax County police officers to be equipped with “less-lethal” weapons.

Police Chief Ed Roessler, in an WTOP interview, says those tools were used, “but unfortunately they did not end the threat, and we had to use deadly force” resulting in the death of Mohammad Azim Doudzai.

Doudzai was killed by police Jan. 16, 2017 after wounding his two brothers, and setting fire to his house. Another housemate was trapped in the third-floor bathroom of the house, as the fire spread.

The report by the county’s independent police auditor, Richard Schott — a 27-year veteran of the FBI — concluded police acted legally and appropriately, given the quickly changing scenario.

“I believe the use of force was objectively reasonable, necessary, and most likely, lifesaving,” Schott wrote in the report.

Earlier, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh determined the shooting was justified.

But in detailing the police decision-making and actions outside the home in the 13000 block of Covered Wagon Lane, Schott suggested officers were hamstrung by not having enough less-lethal weapons on hand.

According to Schott’s report, moments after a SWAT supervisor called for “less lethal” force to be deployed against Doudzai, a supplemental SWAT officer “needed to borrow a single-launch .40mm impact projectile weapon” from a patrol officer.

The SWAT officer fired the hard foam projectile at Doudzai’s abdomen, but failed to fell Doudzai.

“When called upon to fire another .40mm impact projectile, (the supplemental SWAT officer) was unable because the impact projectile weapon that he had borrowed from the patrol officer was a single shot patrol version.”

According to the report, SWAT team members who are issued the devices are issued the multi-launcher version.

“To preserve the sanctity of life to the greatest extent possible in future cases, more less-lethal options should be available to as many officers as possible,” Schott wrote.

In the  WTOP interview, Roessler suggested buying more weapons wouldn’t necessarily have changed the outcome, since first responders faced a dynamic situation.

“You had an active shooter, the house on fire and a man trapped on the third floor in a bathroom, who was being overcome by smoke inhalation,” said Roessler. “We were still trying to build the (crime) scene and have the SWAT officers take full control of the scene by relieving the patrol officers.”

Roessler said SWAT officers are currently the only unit which has received the periodic proficiency training to be assigned multi-launch projectiles.

In his recommendations, Schott specified more “less-lethal” weapons are needed in the department. The report specifically recommended the weapons be available to each shift and that all full-time SWAT officers be equipped with multi-launcher versions.

“That is something we’re increasing,” Roessler said. “Clearly it relates to a budgetary issue, but we have great support, and we are equipping our officers with the latest tools.”

In a statement, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said: “Our police officers are tasked with protecting public safety as well as the sanctity of life. I support equipping our officers with nonlethal weapons and look forward to discussing this item more during our upcoming budget season.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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