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photo
Hank Earl Carr broke free from cuffs, which were bound in front. [Times photo:
Ken Helle]
Deadly Rampage

Handcuff
procedures
questioned

By JEAN HELLER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published May 20, 1998


While refusing to second-guess two veteran Tampa homicide detectives who were shot to death Tuesday, several experts in police procedure said they train law enforcement personnel to handcuff prisoners behind the back except in extenuating circumstances.

The man who said in a radio interview that he killed Detectives Randy Bell and Rick Childers was shown in television video in the custody of the two detectives with his hands cuffed in front of him, which might have made it easier to reach into the front seat and grab a gun from one of the officers.

Along with the anguish that surrounded the deaths of two highly respected detectives, and the later death of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, the case raises questions about police procedures and spotlights the unusually high death rate among police officers in the South.

• Detective hailed as hero, professional, friend

• Among police, 'the world is paralyzed; everybody is crying'

• Trooper had been on job less than year

• Detective Bell just weeks away from 'dull' job

• Carr lived as he died: in violence

• Made-for-TV tragedy unfolded too quickly for live reports

• Caseworkers received allegations of abuse

• Handcuff procedures questioned

"Handcuffs are only a temporary restraint for the purposes of transporting a suspect, and ordinarily police officers are trained to cuff in back," said Dave Grossi of Naples, a retired New York police officer who now trains about 100,000 officers a year in the United States and Canada in avoiding and surviving armed confrontations.

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."

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