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Police investigating use of force after officer drives car into suspect

Posted at 6:52 PM, Jan 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-02 18:52:18-05

The Buffalo Police Department has launched an internal investigation into what led up to an officer using a police SUV to hit a suspect with a knife.

Police spokesperson Mike DeGeorge said the incident wasn't "textbook" but was effective.  With no injuries to police or bystanders and only a minor ankle injury to the suspect, police say this was a "successful resolution".

7 Eyewitness News spoke with a woman who witnessed the events and recorded them with her phone.  She said she expected the officers to use a stun gun to subdue the suspect.

"I actually thought they were going to Tase him so I started taping," Sheila Woodword said.  "It just escalated from there."

A lawyer with the Police Benevolent Association says the BPD is one of the few local departments that doesn't equip every officer with a stun gun.

"It is my understanding that there are only two Tasers available for the entire Buffalo Police Department," said Tom Burton.  "In many other suburban departments, routinely all officers carry it."

Officials with the BPD would not confirm an exact number of stun guns available for officers, but did say only SWAT Team members are currently using the weapon.  DeGeorge said the department "has a limited number" and is currently "evaluating the effectiveness" of stun guns before deciding to increase its amount.

Lt. Jeff Rinaldo with the BPD said a stun gun likely wouldn't have been used in this situation and if it had, might not have even been effective.  He said officers are trained to keep at least 21 feet between themselves and a suspect with a knife.  According to Rinaldo, stun guns are only effective at a range of 15 feet.

"Based on our research the Taser is effective when it makes skin contact," said Lt. Rinaldo.  "The suspect on that day was dressed for winter weather he was wearing multiple layers and it's unlikely that the Taser would have even had an effect."

7 Eyewitness News Legal Analyst Florina Altshiler watched the video and said if the suspect was really threatening police with the knife--as police have said he was--the officer was justified in using his vehicle to stop the threat.  Altshiler said if what police say is true, an officer would have been justified in killing the suspect.

"Deadly force is allowed if the officer believes that the suspect at the time is imminently threatening to use deadly force himself," she said.  "Using his vehicle is no different than using his hand gun."

The police investigation will determine if the use of force in this case was justified.  Police are not releasing the names of the officer or suspect involved.