Picture of Dragan Rados

"Suicide-by-cop" Official Cause of Death

A Lake Oswego officer who shot and killed Bosnian refugee Dragan Rados on January 7 claims that he fired his gun because Rados charged him with a knife. Rados, a 24-year-old resident of Lake Oswego who had recently lost his job, called 9-1-1 in the wee hours of the morning and then hung up. Responding officers came to the apartment but got no response and left. Rados called 9-1-1 again in the afternoon and hung up. According to the January 11 Oregonian, Rados ran from his apartment with a knife after police arrived. Officer Darryl Wrisley shot Rados three times.

The Oregonian dryly reported, "The Oregon state medical examiner's office ruled Dragan Rados' death a suicide. The cause of death was three gunshot wounds to the chest." What's odd about this ruling is that those three gunshot wounds were inflicted by someone else. In other words, at best Rados' death was a "justifiable homicide" if you believe in such a thing; he clearly did not end his own life. The officer, in an interview with State Police reprinted in the February 7 Oregonian, said that when he "was convinced...I was gonna be seriously hurt or killed, uh, I fired my weapon three times." So the officer, in his own mind, fired in self-defense­not in order to assist Rados with a suicide.

Nonetheless, Oregon state medical examiner Dr. Larry Lewman alleges that Rados tried to commit suicide by forcing officers to fire at him. "This is a well-known method of self destruction that pathologists see from time to time," Lewman informed the Oregonian (January 10). "The manner of death is ruled a suicide and the death certificate is going to reflect that." Lewman further added that Rados had self-inflicted "hesitation cuts" on his left arm and forearm. Rados' friends and cousin, who live nearby, confirm that Rados was depressed and had attempted to injure himself. However, there is still no evidence that he wanted the police to kill him. And, now that a grand jury has cleared the officer of wrongdoing based, in part, on the Medical Examiner's January 31 finding, we wonder if the truth will ever be known.

Law enforcement personnel enjoy a certain amount of immunity from the consequences of their actions, if performed in the line of duty. But a civilian who helps another person commit suicide could be charged with second degree manslaughter, a Class B felony that carries a mandatory minimum Measure 11 sentence of 72 months (ORS 163.117, ORS 163.125). However, a person who uses physical force "to the extent that the person reasonably believes it necessary to thwart" a suicide would not be criminally liable (ORS 161.205). Unfortunately, the person's death is rarely thwarted by police, who give a new meaning to Oregon's "assisted-suicide" law.

While it is unknown how often it truly occurs, deliberate provocation of police by a suicidal person has been given numerous names: Suicide-by-cop (SBC), police-assisted suicide, law enforcement-assisted suicide, victim-precipitated homicide, death by legal intervention, and police state euthanasia.

An August 1998 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin reports that the percentage of all police shootings which involve "probable or possible suicidal motivation ranges between 16 and 46%." The phenomenon has spawned a handful of cop-created web sites addressing the issue. They offer definitions, officers' stories, and links to related sites with such names as Cop Shock, Blue Shoulders, The Heavy Badge, Police Officers & PTSD, and Tears of a Cop. Some of these sites suggest or state openly that "these pathetic folks" choose suicide by cop as opposed to overdosing on sleeping pills or jumping off a bridge. Others seem genuinely concerned about the lack of police academy and on-the-job training designed to recognize and respond in a less lethal manner. There is the occasional offer of videos and/or seminars by assorted psychologists and police officers. You can even find a "suicide-by-cop screening instrument" designed for emergency operators at www.911-emergency.com.

Even though some "suicides-by-cop" do leave suicide notes and use unloaded or toy guns, writer and social critic Cletus Nelson, in "the deadly blue line: police state euthanasia" (disinfo.com, October 18, 2000), warns, "suicide-by-cop has the dangerous potential to become an institutional euphemism to shield the misdeeds of trigger-happy rogue cops." We agree. It's time to train more officers to de-escalate volatile situations. The Portland Crisis Intervention Team (C.I.T.)--currently one officer per shift per precinct--has helped prevent several suicides since it was initiated in 1995. At the risk of sounding like a scratched CD: Give all Officers C.I.T. training!!!

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