Baltimore police are praising a group of officers who they said disarmed a knife-wielding man during the weekend and rescued a 1-year-old child who had been taken hostage - all without firing their guns.
Officer Kevin Smith of the tactical unit fired a bag of lead pellets from a beanbag gun, hitting the 18-year-old man in the right thigh and causing him to drop a 10-inch butcher's knife.
"This is clearly an example where the officers would have been justified in using deadly force," said department spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella, who noted that the man was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray with no effect.
Police got the beanbag gun in 1997 after a highly publicized shooting that year of a man armed with a knife outside Lexington Market - a shooting captured on videotape that did not show an immediate threat against the officer.
Though ruled a justified shooting by the state's attorney's office, it prompted police to study other ways to control people who make threats with weapons other than firearms.
Officers cannot use the beanbag gun in every case - this month, a man armed with a knife allegedly lunged at an officer, who shot and killed him.
But city officers have used the beanbag gun dozens of times since the department received it.
Getting hit with the bag is equivalent to being hit by a fastball thrown by a major league pitcher, police said.
In Saturday's incident, police said they were called to a domestic dispute in the 900 block of N. Chester St.
Averella said a man was standing outside a house waving the knife, and the infant was trapped inside.
She said officers repeatedly told him to put the knife down, and then sprayed him with pepper spray several times.
Officers called for tactical units, which carry the beanbag gun, and Smith shot him once with it.
The man, identified as Early Pearly, was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a wound to his upper right thigh.
He was charged with two counts of assault - one on police and the other on his girlfriend - and was being held without bail yesterday.