There was a recent news article that enraged me, and maybe I will dissect it later- but Dave asked about the comment that sometimes people die no matter how hard you try. A long time ago I mentioned without following it up that if a threat cannot feel pain, it almost guarantees a serious injury. Those are all connected.
Dave was concerned that it might be personal to talk about. Less for me, but I have restrictions based on confidences and other things, so this post will probably seem more oblique than most.
The force is over when the threat decides it is over. That simple. Humans almost always give up. Unless every long bone in the body is broken or the Central Nervous System is shut down the human machine is still capable of fighting. The whole point of pain compliance (joint locks, pressure points and Taser) is to deliver enough pain that the threat decides to quit. The next step above that does damage, but it takes a truly horrific amount of damage to make it impossible for a human to keep fighting. It is some damage + a fear of more damage that makes the threat quit fighting. The threat quits because of the fear. They quit psychologically.
The next step above this is lethal force. If it is imperative to stop the threat and damaging force has failed, that may indicate lethal force (that is not legal advice).
More often than not (and in almost every case that has made the papers lately and locally) though the officers could justify lethal force, they try to handle the situation at a lower level. Often a much lower level. One example is "the swarm" where as many officers as they can get pile on the threat. The idea is to tire the threat out. Use friction and body weight to cause an exhaustion that will do what pain and fear failed to do. It is dangerous as hell. If you are trying to wrestle and the other guy is biting, clawing, blinding and may have a weapon, it sucks... and I know officers who have been permanently injured trying hard NOT to injure a threat. Even if the threat doesn't have a weapon all the officers do, and the threat could work one out of a holster and turn it into a bloodbath just by chance. So it is dangerous. It would be far safer and often justifiable to stand back and use firearms, but most officers are so reluctant to kill that they try this technique.
Usually it works.
Sometimes (look for "excited delirium") it doesn't. Excited delirium is a condition that most officers are familiar with, but it is hard to pin down exactly what it is or what causes it. It usually follows heavy stimulant use (PCP or cocaine) but sometimes not. Often the threat has a history of severe psychiatric disorders, but sometimes not. Sometimes it is just rage taken to a point that is inhuman. The weirdest part, to me, is that some of the liver temperatures taken at autopsy, well after death have been higher than the body can withstand without brain damage, so there is something physiological going on.
What presents (and none of these are 100%): is someone who often strips naked, sometimes howls like an animal, attacks almost anything that moves and likes to break glass. They don't respond to pain. They fight when any normal human would long have collapsed into a heap. They shrug off bullet wounds that are clearly lethal. The ones I have dealt with have gone relatively well, but close friends have been involved in instances where a relatively small threat was literally throwing (in one case eight, in another five) officers around.
And that's the thing, Dave. Because sometimes the threat just suddenly quits and you get handcuffs on and start to take a breath and realize that he isn't breathing. He didn't give up, his heart gave out.
At great personal risk the officers addressed the threat at a lower level of force than they could have justified and he died anyway. In the end, to the amateur debriefers, it's all the same. If they hadn't fought so long and so hard, the poor boy would have lived. They should have done something else. What? Taser? But all of the cool tools that come under fire- Taser, VNRs (Vascular Neck Restraints, the fancy word for a hadaka jime), ankle to hand restraints, even OC tend to be used more often when you need the edge. You need the edge most of all with excited delirium. As seen from the liver temperature, some of the people in ED are on the fast track to death or brain damage anyway.
Here's the thing- it's possible that a certain percentage of these cases would die anyway, even if they never came in contact with an officer. A rough analysis shows that the percentage who die in custody hasn't really changed with the LVNR and when the LVNR was removed from many agencies; when hog-tying was common and when it was discontinued; when the Taser and OC were introduced.
There's an international study working on in-custody deaths right now. It may be years before they have solid numbers, but then we may have an answer. Until then, the amateurs with an agenda will blame whatever tool or tactic was used, completely ignoring the fact that the officers had no choice about getting involved and risked their lives trying not to use deadly force.