Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Shooting of Calif. mountain lion ruled unjustified

Shooting of mountain lion in S. Paula ruled unjustified

By Kathleen Wilson (Contact)
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The police shooting of a mountain lion cub in Santa Paula was an unjustified use of deadly force, an outside review has found.

The review found that the shooting did not meet the Santa Paula Police Department’s rules for such action. That policy says deadly force may be used in self-defense, to prevent substantial harm to officers or others, or to end the suffering of a badly injured animal.

"Based on the information provided thus far, it is our opinion, the actions taken by the officers was (sic) not appropriate and outside of the department policy," says the review by Larry Nichols, a weapons and tactics specialist with the Burbank Police Department. "No person was placed in immediate jeopardy."

Santa Paula Police Chief Steve MacKinnon, who requested the investigation, presented the results of the report to the City Council on Monday night. He said police have been trained on less lethal techniques for handling mountain lions in the wake of the shooting, which has been criticized by citizens and animal rights groups.

"With the exception of the past five to six weeks, we had no experience handling wild animal calls at all," he said. MacKinnon said that since the shooting, patrol vehicles have been equipped with beanbag shotguns. Weapons that launch nonlethal, sponge-type projectiles are also available, he said.

Two Santa Paula police officers confronted a mountain lion reported in a residential back yard on Feb. 17, shooting and killing the animal. Police said at the time that the animal presented an imminent threat.

Initially, police said the cub weighed about 35 to 40 pounds, but an examination of the dead cub found it weighed 15 pounds, leading to complaints that police overreacted.

MacKinnon said police have received 21 calls reporting sightings of mountain lions in the town of 30,000 in the past six weeks, the last two on Friday. Wildlife specialists don’t know why the town has attracted so many mountain lions, he said.

Nichols recommended that police consider launching a nonlethal sponge-type of ammunition in such incidents instead of guns designed to kill.

"It is accurate to 50 yards, makes a loud noise and is not designed to kill," the report says.

Some residents had questioned why a Taser electroshock weapon was not used, but Nichols discounted that as an effective strategy.

The officer would have to get too close to the animal to have any effect, he said, and the animal would be fully capable of retaliating and very agitated once the Taser gun was turned off.

Nichols and R. David Manning, the Santa Paula Police specialist who assisted him, recommended that the department add a shooting review policy.

They did not recommend any changes or additions to training.



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