70-year-old Bobby Canipe was pulled over in just north of Clover, S.C., Tuesday evening for an expired license tag. But when he got out of his pick-up truck and reached for his cane, the officer shot him. York County Deputy Sheriff Terrence Knox said he thought Canipe was reaching for a gun when he fired several times, hitting him once, according to the Associated Press.
At a news conference about the incident, York County sheriff’s spokesman Trent Faris called the situation “unfortunate,” but said, “It does appear, at this time, that Deputy Knox’s actions were an appropriate response to what he reasonably believed to be an imminent threat to his life.”
Canipe is expected to survive. But that is likely not due to any restraint on the part of Knox. Once officers turn to their guns, they are employing what they know to be deadly force, and officer policy is typically to aim for the head or chest to inflict grave bodily harm if not death — not minor injury. Reports of police shootings in response to what turn out to be less-than-deadly situations are becoming a regular occurrence. Last week, a police officer in Georgia allegedly shot and killed a 17-year-old after mistaking his Wii controller for a gun.
These frequent incidents raise questions about why officers turn to a gun when another, less deadly tool might abate an immediate threat. Part of the answer likely derives from training and department policies. But another cause may be a lack of accountability. While national data is scant on law enforcement response to police shootings, available information suggests police are rarely disciplined, let alone criminally charged.