Police shot and killed three men on Cowpen Road around noon on Saturday after an officer was “ambushed”, Police Commissioner Paul Rolle said.
Rolle said the violent clash took place after an officer approached a heavily tinted white Honda Accord to speak with the driver, who police now believe was parked in the area to target someone at a nearby funeral.
Police initially noticed the vehicle when it was parked on the eastern end of Southern Cemetery on Spikenard Road. However, as officers approached on foot, the driver left the scene, Rolle said. Police caught up with the vehicle a short while later on Cowpen Road.
Rolle said as the officer attempted to question the driver a second time, shots were fired from the rear seat of the vehicle.
“As he (the officer) attempted to make his escape the other officers that were there engaged the occupants of the vehicle, who continued shooting at the officers,” Rolle said on the scene.
“Once the shooting stopped, they made a check and observed three persons inside the vehicle suffering from gunshot injuries.”
Rolle said emergency medical personnel declared the men dead on the scene. None of the officers was injured.
All three men are known to police, Rolle said.
When The Guardian arrived at the location, a bullet ridden white Honda was parked near some bushes. The bodies of the three men lay nearby, covered by white and blue tarp.
Rolle said police found a pistol in the car.
The deadly standoff comes as anti-police brutality protests are being held in major cities around the world following the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died while in police custody on March 25.
Asked how police officers determine justifiable force, Rolle said, “This is dangerous business. You see the car there for yourself. The window is tinted. There was no passenger in the front passenger seat.
“Two persons were in the rear of the vehicle and that’s where the shots emanated from. The officer was ambushed.”
However, he added that the force is undergoing a retraining exercise on justifiable force.
“We want the public to know that we don’t just walk around with a firearm looking for somebody to shoot,” he said.
He said the public should expect the police to defend themselves when confronted.
Rolle added that the law gives him the authority to determine what types of weapons officers need to do their jobs.
The commissioner said while he is exploring introducing some non-lethal weapons, for right now officers are armed with firearms.
“It used to be batons,” he noted.
“I don’t think you want officers to go on the road nowadays with batons. Everyone is riding around three-deep, four-deep trying to rob people and cause harm. But, yes, we are retraining.”
In an effort to increase transparency and accountability on the force, officials pledged to implement body cameras and dash cameras.
In January, the government signed a contract valued at more than $600,000 with Aston Enterprises (AE) Tactical Ltd. for 200 body and dash cameras. The cameras were expected to be put into use during the first quarter of 2020, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said at the time.