Interviews released today with 17 witnesses of the police shooting in Hoyt Arboretum, including several who were inside the Arboretum office and saw most of the incident, back up the basic elements of Officer Jason Walters' story of how he wound up shooting homeless man Jack Collins. According to numerous witnesses, Officer Walters told Collins numerous times to drop his knife, while backing up. He then shot two rounds into Collins, waited a moment and shot two more.
- Razor? Knife?
But one thing that's not in the comprehensive collection of police reports on the shooting: a photo of the knife Collins' wielded. While officers are supposed to use the "least force possible" to resolve conflicts, when they are deciding if they need to shoot someone, they weigh the threat the individual presents. One of the contentious points of this case has been whether the knife Collins was holding was a reasonable threat. As chronicled here, the knife has changed from early police descriptions of a "razor knife with a six-inch handle" to an Exacto knife or boxcutter. Officers interviewed as part of the investigation into the shooting describe the knife as both a scalpel and a “hobby style ‘exacto’ razor knife”.
Detective and police spokeswoman Mary Wheat explained to me this morning that a photo of the knife was missing from the released reports because the police do not typically release photos of evidence. I have a public records request into the bureau asking for a photo of the knife. This seems like something the police should make public, especially since the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Walters in the shooting, a decision which ostensibly closes the case.
Public defender Chris O'Connor says that if a client of his was caught with a knife in the case of even a petty misdemeanor, a photo of the weapon would be given to the lawyer, at least. "There’s no legal interest in keeping it secret, except for the obvious political problem," says O'Connor, of the Collins' shooting. "I assume they just don’t want it on the front page of some newspaper."