Body cam video shows police officers fatally shooting a man after he threatens them with a machete
Ligonier Township has released body camera video that shows police fatally shooting 59-year-old Robbie Saunders after he threatened them with a machete.
Police were called to Saunders' home on Gravel Hill Road on July 2 after a 911 caller said Saunders threatened to kill a woman at his home with a machete.
According to Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Zicarrelli, emergency dispatchers were aware that a man was inside the home with a machete and was threatening to kill a woman.
Video showed officers, confirmed by Ligonier Valley police to be Ryan Hall and James Friscarella, arriving at Saunders' home on July 2 and speaking with a woman outside the home. She said Saunders tried to rip her hair off, threw a rock through a window and threatened her with a large knife.
The woman told officers Saunders was sick and wanted to kill himself.
Body cam video then showed Hall and Friscarella approaching the front door. Officer Hall confirmed to Pittsburgh’s Action News 4, he was wearing the body camera associated with the viewpoint released.
Saunders can be seen opening the door, wielding a machete, and moving toward the officers.
"Put the knife down," both officers yelled before deploying their weapons at Saunders.
Friscarella hit Saunders with a stun gun, and Hall fired his handgun, shooting Saunders.
EMS transported Saunders to a hospital in Johnstown, where he died.
Upon the release of the body camera video, Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 reached out to the family of Saunders, but they declined to comment.
Attorney Phil DiLucente offered his legal perspective on the footage, saying what the officers knew prior to arriving on scene matters.
“From the video, it’s very clear that there was a clear and present danger to this police officer on a call from a domestic, with a warning from an individual in the driveway,” DiLucente said.
Retired State Police Maj. Frank Monaco weighed in based on his training.
“Generally, the old rule of thumb is 21 feet, if someone with a knife, because they can charge you so quickly. Well, this was like 6 feet or less, and it was a split-second decision for the officers,” Monaco said.
After reviewing body cameras, reports, and witness interviews, Zicarelli ruled deadly force was justified because Saunders threatened the officers with the machete. She said the officers and others nearby faced an "immediate and imminent threat."
“They told him to drop the knife and if he had dropped a knife, maybe things would’ve come out differently, but again, I wasn’t there, and it’s a very, very sad incident,” Monaco said. “I feel for the family and the victim and the officers, and I’m sure the officers have all kinds of problems thinking about taking a life.”
Both officers were placed on administrative protocol while county detectives investigated the shooting. Both are back on full duty.
On Tuesday, Ziccarelli’s spokeswoman, Melanie Jones, said the district attorney’s office was not part of the decision by the township to release the video, the Trib reported.
In 2020, Saunders was charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault after he allegedly tried to run over a police officer during a high-speed chase on Route 30. Those charges were pending at the time of the shooting.