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PALM BEACH, FLA. -- Another teenage driver is dead.
Another officer's action investigated.
And once again the question arises: When is it appropriate to shoot at a moving vehicle?
The answer for many experts is rarely.
On Aug. 2, Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy Eric Bethel shot 16-year-old Ruben Charles DeBrosse in the back of the head as the unlicensed teen backed a stolen car toward the deputy. A sheriff's spokesman said the deputy feared for his life.
DeBrosse's mother plans to bury him today.
The circumstances are at least partially similar to those three years ago when former Delray Beach police officer Darren Cogoni shot Jerrod Miller in the back of the head as the unlicensed teen drove a borrowed car down a breezeway at a high school dance.
It was one of several high-profile fatal police shootings across the country that year, prompting departments to reevaluate their policies on using lethal force against moving vehicles.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office tightened its policy, making it more difficult for deputies to justifiably fire at a fleeing car -- even one coming toward them -- unless it is the absolute last resort.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw says that was the case in the DeBrosse shooting and he is comfortable with the policy.
"It addresses the issues, and it doesn't allow indiscriminate shooting into a moving vehicle," Bradshaw said.
He declined to elaborate further, citing the state attorney office's investigation into the shooting.
Though experts say shooting at or into a moving vehicle is rarely a good idea, at least two agree that given the circumstances, Bethel acted appropriately.
Bethel was running backward and fell as DeBrosse was backing his stolen car into the deputy, sheriff's office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said. Fearing for his life, he fired four shots. Two hit DeBrosse. Two hit the car.
However, the sheriff's office policy on firing into vehicles, which is similar to that of many departments across the country, appears to contradict itself, says Thomas Aveni, a New Hampshire police officer and member of the Police Policy Study Council. The council does research, training and consulting with an emphasis on the use of deadly force.
The sheriff's office prohibits deputies from shooting at a moving vehicle unless an occupant is using or threatening to use deadly force by means other than the vehicle, for example a gun.
However, it also permits shooting at a moving vehicle if the vehicle is being used as a weapon to hit a deputy or a citizen and all other means of defense, such as running away, have been exhausted.
"I'm surprised they have it worded that way," Aveni said. "You've got on the one hand them saying you can't use deadly force against somebody using a vehicle as a weapon ... then on the other hand, they're saying if the guy's using it as weapon and attempting to strike the officer then he can use deadly force. That's a pretty transparent, pretty manifest contradiction."
Aveni suggested the policy might not hold up in court in the event of a lawsuit.
Among the reasons Aveni and others cite for not using firearms to stop a moving vehicle is that it's difficult to hit a moving target, particularly when officers are likely to also be moving fast to avoid being hit.
Also, handgun bullets are not likely to stop a car, and hitting the driver could incapacitate or kill him, making the vehicle an unguided missile that could hurt bystanders.
"You're not really protecting yourself except in the oddest of circumstances," said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, who specializes in high-risk police activity. "For example if you're backed up against the wall and you have nowhere to go and someone is driving at you, or if you slip and fall."
Alpert says research shows that most suspects are trying to escape, not run officers down. "Even still, your time is better spent getting the hell out of the way than trying to fire a weapon," he said.
Aveni says there are times other than when an officer is trapped or on the ground, when firing into a vehicle is appropriate.
He pointed to a case in Nevada when a suspect was purposely hitting pedestrians outside a casino with a car, and another in Chicago where an officer reached into a car to grab the keys not knowing the suspect still had the car in drive. The suspect accelerated with the officer hanging from his car, dragging him down a busy city street. The officer shot and killed the driver, was thrown from the car and survived.
Aveni says many police departments have created deadly-force policies that are too restrictive in response to controversial, high profile police vehicle shootings.
He added that more police training is needed and suggested departments use a flexible policy such as: "Officers should not use deadly force against moving vehicles unless other alternatives have been exhausted or were not available and where human life is in imminent danger."