Janet Wilson didn’t have a gun in her possession when she was fatally shot Wednesday by police in Dearborn, Mich., after a car chase.

But that doesn’t mean Wilson was unarmed, Michigan State Police First Lt. Michael Shaw told the Detroit Free Press.

“Armed or unarmed, what does that mean exactly?” Shaw said. “I think everyone wants it to be clear-cut, but more police officers are killed during the year with a vehicle than guns. … So was she armed? Absolutely.”

Wilson, Shaw said, was “armed with a three-ton vehicle” when she was shot near the Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn.

According to the newspaper, the shooting happened Wednesday afternoon. Here’s the Free Press’s account of how it developed:

The incident began at 4:10 p.m. at JCPenney, around the time when mall security arrived to a scene involving a woman who was “distraught.” Witnesses described Wilson as having “some type of mental incapacity,” and soon after mall security arrived, she became “combative” and drove off, nearly striking mall security with the car, Shaw said Wednesday.

That triggered a police chase, which stalled when traffic clogged the roadway, according to the Free Press. Shaw told the newspaper that Dearborn officers then tried to arrest Wilson.

The Free Press reported that Wilson again attempted to slip away. And, Shaw said, she nearly hit an officer while doing so.

“At that moment in time, traffic cleared, she was able to accelerate, almost striking one of the officers who was on foot,” Shaw said. “And one of the on-scene officers discharged their duty weapon, striking the suspect and killing them.”

Dearborn police said in a statement that the department was “deeply saddened” after Wilson’s death.

“While we are very proud of our long history of civil rights advocacy, as well as our history of appropriate use of force, we will closely examine all of our policies and procedures to ensure that we are employing the latest training and following national best practices in all of our responsibilities to the community,” the statement said.

The shootings were “being independently criminally investigated by outside agencies,” it noted, and would later be subject to internal reviews.

The incident in Michigan is hardly the first time law enforcement officials have argued that a vehicle can be considered a weapon. Last year, for example, police in Colorado were cleared for their role in the fatal shooting of a teenage girl; officers said they opened fire on a car driven by 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez after it moved toward them.

“The facts show this was a defensive shooting by both officers,” Mitchell R. Morrissey, the Denver district attorney, wrote after the shooting. “That is, their decisions to shoot Ms. Hernandez were justifiable in light of the manner in which she drove the car in close and dangerous proximity to them, threatening the life of [an officer] who had little room to avoid the car.”

After Hernandez’s death, the Denver Police Department changed its use-of-force policy to prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles unless someone inside is firing at them.

The Denver Police Protective Association opposed the change, according to the Denver Post, but Police Chief Robert White insisted on the directive.

“We want the first reaction to be get out of the way rather than pull your firearm,” White said, according to the newspaper.

From the newspaper’s report:

The Denver Police Department consulted 30 to 40 departments across the country to figure out the best practice, White said.
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with the Cleveland Police Department that included a prohibition on shooting at moving cars.
The New York Police Department has not allowed its officers to fire at moving vehicles for 15 years, White said.

Indeed, the issue has been debated in law enforcement for years. In 2005, the Los Angeles Police Commission prohibited officers from shooting at moving cars “unless a person in the vehicle is immediately threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle.”

More recently, in 2013, a Police Executive Research Forum study commissioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommended that CBP officers and agents “should be prohibited from shooting at vehicles unless vehicle occupants are attempting to use deadly force — other than the vehicle — against the agent.”

In Denver, after the use-of-force policy change, the police union predicted that it would result in an officer’s death.

“I pray someone will rescind this ridiculous policy so no cops are placed in a no-win situation,” union president Nick Rogers told the Denver Post.

In the Dearborn shooting, Shaw, of the Michigan State Police, told CBS Detroit that the officer who shot Wilson is white. Wilson, Shaw said, was black.

“But, what I think is important to notice about this is: Does it matter?” Shaw said, according to the station. “You have one individual whose family now is mourning their death. You have another individual that had to take somebody’s life. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, yellow, orange, green or brown — that affects all those parties.”

The officer has been placed on leave.

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