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Teen's Death During Chase Drawing Fire

Teen's Death During Chase Drawing Fire

San Antonio Express-News via YellowBrix

January 19, 2010

SAN ANTONIO – Even when off the clock, San Antonio police officers have a responsibility to take action if they witness a crime.

But how much action — and to what degree — was debated after a local teen was killed in a crash involving an off-duty patrolman who chased the teen and his brother, ramming his SUV into their truck.

The officer, a two-year member of the department, said he used deadly force only after the teen in the bed of the truck fired a shotgun at him, according to a police report.

“This defensive action by the officer was in response to the suspect’s threat of deadly force,” said Sgt. Chris Benavides, a spokesman for the San Antonio Police Department.

Benavides said a civilian also would have been justified in defending himself against such a threat.

The officer, Alonzio Hardin, 41, has been placed on administrative duty while the Police Department’s shooting team investigates the incident in which Ethan Owen died. Owen, 18, suffered fatal injuries when he was ejected from the bed of the truck after it crashed. His older brother, Eric, was driving the vehicle, police said. The 23-year-old was charged with aggravated robbery.

Criminologist Brian Withrow from Texas State University said the investigation should focus on whether Hardin’s use of deadly force was appropriate.

“He’s in the legal right to do that, but whether or not he used proper judgment is a different question altogether,” Withrow said.

Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina, said the issue becomes muddied because the younger sibling fired the shotgun.

“If you were just a good Samaritan following this person, I don’t think you’d be indicted,” he said. “I think the shotgun trumps everything.”

But Norman Owen, a former Bexar County deputy and the father of the teen killed, said the officer overreacted.

“I can’t understand why an off-duty police officer would chase those kids in a private vehicle,” the father said. “You’re trained to use a cell phone and call in, maybe, but not to do something that stupid.”

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