A police officer shot and killed a man armed with a samurai sword in downtown Modesto early this morning, authorities said. The officer, who has been identified only as a woman with three years of experience, was not injured.
Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said a Fire Department official called dispatchers at 5:04 a.m. to report a man with a sword who was acting "bizarre and unusual" outside the Doubletree Hotel on K Street near 9th Street.
An officer arrived soon after and "within minutes" encountered the man holding a sword that Findlen estimated was 2 to 3 feet long. The officer shot the 44-year-old man, who was taken to a hospital and died about an hour later.
The man and the officer were "relatively close" to each other when the shooting happened, Findlen said. He could not say whether the armed man charged the officer, or how exactly close the two were, because the investigation has not been completed.
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Encountering someone with a knife or other "bladed" weapon can be terrifying, Findlen said.
"It's a fear of many officers. And your bulletproof vest is not going to help," he said.
Knives are a "serious threat" to officer safety, he said, because the protective vests they wear are not designed to stop pointed objects. Officers learn in training that someone with a knife or sword can cover more than 20 feet before an officer can draw a weapon. And, if shot, a suspect with a knife can continue to approach.
"It's not like you shoot someone and they drop down to the ground," Findlen said. "Usually there's still some fight in them."
Findlen was stabbed in the back with a 6-inch screwdriver at the downtown bus station in 1997 while trying to take someone into custody. He said, in his case, shooting wasn't an issue because he was attacked from behind.
Findlen said investigators are trying to determine why the man had the sword, what he was doing downtown or what led the officer to shoot.
A Modesto Fire Department battalion chief was responding to an unrelated call at the Doubletree when he spotted the man with the sword, Findlen said. He called it in to the 911 dispatch center shortly afterward.
The man was not shot on hotel property, Findlen said. He was hit either in the street or nearby. The shooting took place near the downtown bus station, convention center and the Brenden Theatres movie house. Police blocked off K Street between 9th and 10th streets. Investigators searched for evidence outside the George Bakus hair salon, not far from the Starbucks coffee shop at 10th and K streets.
The officer who shot the man has been placed on paid administrative leave according to department procedure, Findlen said. Such leaves tend to last about three days, but can vary based on the situation.
The Stanislaus County district attorney's office is investigating, along with police detectives, which also is standard procedure.
Police said they will withhold the officer's name for 24 hours in accordance with departmental policy. The dead man's name will not be released until officials reach his family.
Findlen said the officer was alone at the scene because she was the first to arrive.
Findlen said officers receive various types of training about how to disarm suspects. They practice on a shooting range every two months and also learn hand-to-hand techniques designed to help officers escape hostage situations or attacks from behind.
"Those are close circumstances that we hope never occur," he said.
Samurai swords, which have a gently curving blade, were carried by Japanese "samurai" warriors in the middle ages.
Police ask anyone with information about the shooting to call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can e-mail Crimestoppers, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus the message. Tipsters can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.
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