Human Interest

It’s been a month since the Sedona Police Department — with assistance from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office — faced a situation they rarely see. One that had a positive ending but could have been much worse.

On July 20, SPD received a disturbance call from a local restaurant involving an employee, 46-year-old Michael Pastore, who had been fired the day prior. Officer Bill Knuth arrived at the scene but by that time Pastore had already left. In an attempt to locate the suspect, dispatchers contacted YCSO since it was reported that he lived in the Village of Oak Creek.

Earlier, a YCSO deputy had responded to his residence on a welfare check. His wife had reported that Pastore’s behavior was erratic and he was possibly suicidal. He had told her he had a gun and she was concerned for his well-being.

“About the time we started down 179 to look for his car was about the time we were told about the YCSO call,” Knuth said this week. “The key for me was that he apparently mentioned to his wife that he had a gun to which she felt was out of the ordinary since they didn’t own one. But any time someone starts talking about having a gun, it piques our interest, to say the least.”

At approximately 2:45 p.m., Pastore called 911 and reported that he knew the police were looking for him. He told the dispatcher that he was driving southbound on State Route 179, that he was stopping at West Mallard Drive and he had a loaded gun with him.

“While I was driving to the scene, in my mind I was thinking that we might shoot somebody today,” Knuth said. “It had all the makings of a suicide-by-cop situation. He had set it up that way. I’ve been doing this job for a long time and that was the feeling I got.”

Because of the circumstances, the incident quickly turned into a high-risk stop. And during those, Knuth said officers are prepared for the
worst-case scenario.

Pastore had parked his car in the right turn lane along Mallard Drive. When officers arrived they blocked traffic in both directions with assistance from YCSO. Knuth said he got on his vehicle’s public address system and began giving commands to the driver. Pastore finally rolled his window down halfway and put one hand out the window. He was instructed to show both but then rolled the window back up. He did this four or five times.

“At that point, after he was playing this game with us for a while, I told everyone over the air that I thought we were dealing with a barricaded subject,” he said. “He’s not complying. He’s not getting out of the car. When you’re talking about a barricaded subject, your tactics change a little bit.”

Knuth said in a situation like that, a negotiator is normally called in. The YCSO negotiator was already out in the field so officers contacted him since he could get to the scene in a more timely manner than SPD’s. Until then, Knuth continued verbal contact with Pastore.

“Ultimately his door opened and he stepped out in a fashion in which he was concealing his right hand,” he said. “Again, the commands start flying, ‘Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands.’ He just kind of stood there. At some point he made a very erratic movement with that hand that he was concealing. He had something dark in his hand. For me, it took a split of a split of a second to say that is not a gun.”

Knuth said Pastore’s motion was more of a roundhouse movement rather than an aggressive one with his hand going straight out. He said this gave them that extra fraction of a second to see that he was not holding a weapon but instead a case for sunglasses.

“The truth of the matter is, that him making that motion towards us would have justified any of one of us pulling the trigger,” he said. “Plain and simple, if anyone had fired a round in that situation, it would have been understandable. That’s perceived as a threat. He had an object in his hand and he said he had a gun. I’m very grateful — especially with two agencies there and with five or six guns pointed that way — that we all had the wherewithal to know he wasn’t a threat.”

SPD officer Kevin Hudspeth arrived at the scene the same time as Knuth. He recalled his thoughts the moment Pastore existed his vehicle.

“In the back of our heads we’re thinking ‘this guy doesn’t have a gun and he’s trying to get killed — suicide by cop,’” he said. “In the front of our heads, I’m sure for all of us was the thought that this guy is going to present a gun and we’ll have to defend ourselves. He’s going to shoot at us and we’re going to have to return fire.”

Both Knuth and Hudspeth said their training played a big part in how the situation was handled, which helped lead to no shots being fired.

“Part of me believes that had he formed a tactical aggressive stance and pointed right at us, I believe strongly that all of us would have waited until a round was fired [from the suspect],” Hudspeth said. “Like I said, in the back of our heads we’re all thinking that this guy is wanting to do something other than draw on us — he was wanting to be killed.”

The Sedona officers involved were praised for their actions by interim Sedona Police Chief Ron Wheeler as well as others at City Hall.

“Our officers demonstrate excellence every day, but incidents like this serve as reminders of just how difficult their jobs can be,” Assistant City Manager Karen Osburn said. “This incident could have had a much different outcome if not for their quick, decisive and skillful actions.”

All in all, both officers said that this incident couldn’t have had a better ending.

“Everything was done exactly the way it should have been done,” Knuth said. “We were presented with a non-compliant subject. A lot of wrenches were thrown into our works including him throwing in that movement with his hand. These are not stagnate training situations. This was the real deal and it all went best-cased scenario. And from an officer’s standpoint, I have never met — and I hope I never do — an officer who wants to have to shoot somebody someday.”


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