Crime & Justice

'Rare' police helicopter shooting raises questions

A San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy shot from a helicopter at a car going the wrong way on the 215 Freeway, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 NBC LA
A San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy shot from a helicopter at a car going the wrong way on the 215 Freeway, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 NBC LA
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A Friday incident involving a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy shooting from a helicopter above the 215 Freeway is raising eyebrows in law enforcement.

“It’s very rare,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “It’ll be looked at very closely.”

Shooting at moving cars is a dangerous proposition for officers. Disabling a driver could leave them with a car careening out of control.  Shooting from a helicopter can be even more perilous.

“It’s a very technical skill to be able to do that,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got two vehicles moving at the same time. It's very difficult.”

The shooting occurred as the suspect was driving the wrong way on the freeway during busy midday traffic. Deputies had attempted to stop the man earlier. He was suspected of a home invasion robbery the day before, according to Sheriff’s officials.

The man died at the scene.

“I don’t ever recall one like this,” said retired Los Angeles Police Department Captain Greg Meyer, an expert in police use of force who provides analysis in court cases around the country.

San Bernardino officials said deputies who patrol in helicopters train to shoot from above. McDonnell said the L.A. Sheriff’s Department is also prepared to shoot from a helicopter.

“We do train for it in our counter-terrorism operations,” he said. “For the most dire of circumstances, we need to be able to do what’s necessary to be able to save lives.”

McDonnell reserved judgment on the San Bernardino shooting. 

Meyer said the suspect was a serious safety threat.

“I have no problem at all with taking him out as fast as you can,” he said.

Deputies initially pursued the man's vehicle starting in the Fontana area. That was around 1 p.m. Friday. Eventually the man entered the 215 Freeway going the wrong way, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s spokesman Deon Filer said.

"The suspect sideswiped at least one vehicle, and after that occurred, the helicopter unit used force to stop the vehicle," Filer said. "As a result, the suspect jumped out of the vehicle and began to run from deputies, the ground units, and his vehicle continued southbound and collided with another vehicle."

Three people were injured and transported to local hospitals.

It’s not yet clear whether his death was due to injuries from the shooting or from the crash, Filer said.