A Baltimore police officer is being praised by the department for de-escalating a situation in which a man with a knife appeared to be trying to provoke police into shooting him.
Instead, Officer Angel Villaronga was able to talk to the man, build a rapport and convince him to hand over his knife without further incident, according to police and the footage from Villaronga’s body camera.
Villaronga “relied on personal experience coupled with his training to relate to an individual going through a difficult moment,” said T.J. Smith, the department’s chief spokesman. “He took full control of the scenario, even telling other officers to back up, as he continued to talk to the man. Simply put: He leveled with him and the man responded.”
The incident, which occurred one evening early last month, was first reported by WBFF Baltimore. Police released the body-camera footage of the incident to The Baltimore Sun upon request.
The footage shows Villaronga, an 8-year veteran of the city police force, arrive at the scene at a point when several other officers were already lining the block.
“He’s stating that he’s not going to drop the knife,” says an officer on the radio.
“I told you before, we’re not trying to hurt you. You have ultimate control of how this ends,” says an officer on the scene.
Villaronga quickly moves to the sidewalk not far from the man and begins to engage him in conversation.
He asks how old the man is, whether he has kids, a girlfriend, friends. He listens as the man describes a complicated domestic situation with his girlfriend. He wonders if they might be able to chat without the knife being involved.
“I don’t want to go nowhere unless it’s in a body bag,” the man says. “I’m not dealing with life no more, sir.”
The man: “I’m done with it, yo.”
Villaronga introduces himself in more personal terms: “Officer Villaronga, by the way. You can call me ‘V.’”
The man suggests the officers should be using force against him, not talking. “Just do y’all job, man.”
Villaronga: “This is our job.”
The man: “It’s not your job.”
Villaronga: “Yes it is.”
The man: “A man has got a knife in his hand, he’s threatening saying he’s gonna hurt someone out here, and all of the sudden y’all don’t do nothing?”
Villaronga: “Why do you want us to hurt you, man? … We could have you sit down right here on this curb and we could talk to you.”
As the seconds tick by, the man starts to walk through the neighborhood. At least a half dozen officers trail behind him, Villaronga leading the way.
“Guys, do not get too close behind him,” an officer says over the radio.
The man then stops, leans against a brightly painted wall at the front of the closed Shake and Bake Family Fun Center on Pennsylvania Avenue. Villaronga, maybe 10 feet away, again urges him to drop the knife.
“Why don’t y’all want to shoot me, yo?” the man asks.
Villaronga: “Because we don’t want to.”
The man: “I don’t want to live, yo.”
Villaronga: “Can you just talk to me right now?”
The man: “I don’t want to live.”
Villaronga tells his fellow officers to “just go across the street, stand across the street,” as he puts a hand up in a gesture of friendship. He tells the man he’s his same age.
“I can relate to you, bro,” Villaronga says. “There’s not a thing in this world that I have not dealt with that you probably have dealt with.”
Then, just as Villaronga mentions having “kids to go home to,” the man steps forward and hands him the knife. The standoff is over.
“I appreciate it man. I appreciate it. Just relax,” Villaronga says.
The man, who was not identified, was taken to a local hospital under an emergency mental health petition.
“This situation, thankfully, ended peacefully,” said Smith, “but it also illustrated the daily contacts police officers have with individuals going through a crisis.”