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Calif. police shoot and kill driver who flees with cop inside car

By Henry K. Lee
The San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland police shot and killed a drug suspect who tried to flee the scene with an officer still inside the car during a downtown confrontation early today, authorities said.

The shooting happened at about 2:35 a.m. at 14th and Jefferson streets, just blocks from Oakland City Hall.

An officer saw a suspicious car parked on Jefferson Street and made contact with the two occupants, said Officer Jeff Thomason, Oakland police spokesman. The officer smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the car and tried to handcuff the driver, but a fight ensued, police said.

The suspect started the car and stepped on the gas, propelling the officer into the car, Thomason said. The car crashed into some parked vehicles. That impact flung the officer into the back seat, police said.

A backup officer saw what was happening and fired shots at the driver. He was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where he was pronounced dead. A second man in the car was detained.

Police found a gun and drugs in the car, Thomason said.

The officer who was pulled into the car suffered minor injuries in what police characterized as a kidnapping of an officer.

The officer who fired shots was placed on routine paid administrative leave pending investigations by Oakland police and the Alameda County district attorney’s office. The names of the officers involved in the incident were not released.

Thomason said officers are trained to handcuff drivers behind their backs while they are still in the car, instead of ordering them outside the vehicle. That gives officers some leverage and minimizes the chances that the suspects flee in cars or on foot, he said. In most cases, if an officer is stuck in a car, he or she is able to get out in time, Thomason said.

The officer fired only when he was confident of his target, Thomason said. His fellow officer was in the back seat and wasn’t in the line of fire when the shots were fired, he said. “We are trained to shoot only when we know we have our target,” Thomason said. “The officer who shot was sure of his target and hit his target.”

It is the sixth fatal Oakland officer-involved shooting this year. There were five such shootings in the city in 2007.

The latest shooting brings to 89 the number of homicides in the city this year. Police shootings are included in Oakland’s official homicide total, even if authorities later conclude that the killings were justified.

Copyright 2008 The San Francisco Chronicle