Handcuff procedures questioned
Although Tampa police officials said cuffing procedures are at the discretion of individual officers, Pinellas sheriff's spokesman Greg Tita said his department's procedure is to cuff behind the back.
"Exceptions might be made for a pregnant woman or a particularly large person whose arms don't bend back naturally," Tita said. "But our policy is to handcuff from behind."
When the man initially identified as Joseph Lee Bennett, and later as Hank Earl Carr, was taken in for questioning by uniformed officers, television video showed his hands cuffed behind him. When the detectives returned with him to his house to pick up his rifle, his hands were cuffed in front. When and why the cuffs were changed is unknown.
It also is not known how significant the change is. He told a radio station he wiggled out of one cuff, which he might have been able to do regardless of the position of his hands. He then grabbed a gun from the detective who was driving, shot the two men, retrieved from the car trunk a rifle that had been taken from his home, then fled in a stolen truck.
He died late Tuesday, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot, after taking a hostage at a Shell station in Hernando County.
Along with the matter of how a suspect should be cuffed, there were questions about where the three men were riding in the car and how the detectives stowed a loaded rifle in their trunk, a weapon thought to have killed Carr's 4-year-old stepson earlier in the day.
Bell and Childers were in the front seat, Carr in the back. That, the experts say, is the way it should be done.
"When you have two officers, one drives, and the passenger becomes the cover officer," said Grossi. "His job is to watch the suspect in back."
Because the two officers were detectives, it might have been easier to get one of the guns, he added.
"Security holsters, which have devices that hold a gun in place, are a standard weapons retention technique, but they might not have had them," Grossi said. "Uniformed officers always have them because their weapons are exposed, but detectives don't always use them since their weapons are concealed under a coat or jacket.
"We also teach police officers to keep their weapon on the side away from the suspect," although that might be more difficult to do and still keep the weapon within reach of the gun hand.
As for transporting Carr's loaded rifle, Capt. Gerald Garner of the Lakewood (Colo.) Police Department, also a police training specialist, said there is no hard-and-fast rule.
"If you were trying to preserve evidence and could transport it safely without unloading it, you would do that," Garner said. "It wouldn't be unusual to unload it, either, if you weren't risking evidence."
According to FBI statistics covering the decade from 1986 through 1995, of the 706 police officers killed in the line of duty, 92 percent, or about 650, were killed with firearms. Of those, 502 were killed with handguns -- 215 of those in the South.
"That is more than twice the number killed by handguns in any other of our five regions," said Tampa FBI Special Agent Brian Kensel.
Of the total slain over the decade, 84, or 13 percent, were killed with their own weapons.
Such cases in the Tampa Bay area include Belleair police Officer Jeffery Tackett, killed with his own gun in 1993 by a burglary suspect; state Trooper Jeffrey Young, who in 1987 was shot in the face and killed by his own weapon, grabbed from him by a drug suspect; and Hernando sheriff's Deputy Lonnie Coburn, shot with his own weapon by two men outside a convenience story in 1978.
"It's bad enough when it happens to one officer," Kensel said.
"But this . . . I've never seen anything like this."