Yakima police arrested a machete-wielding homeless man Wednesday night, following an almost four-hour standoff in the Home Depot parking lot.
A YPD commander said bystanders at the scene were taunting the man, encouraging him to resist police and potentially undermining efforts to defuse the situation in a peaceful manner.
“This isn’t a video game,” said Capt. Jay Seely, who heads the department’s investigations division. “(The man) is obviously in crisis and they are trying to accelerate the situation.”
Police were first called to the home-
improvement store at 2115 S. First St. around 6:45 p.m. for a report of two men fighting in the parking lot, with one armed with a machete, police Lt. Ira Cavin said.
Union Gap police officers were the first to arrive on the scene, Cavin said. The officers found the man, whom Cavin said was a transient, in the Petco parking lot with a machete.
The other man could not be located, Cavin said.
The man with the machete was uncooperative, Cavin said, but police were able to confine him to the south end of the Home Depot parking lot. The man asked police to shoot him and he held the machete’s blade to his own throat, causing superficial cuts, Cavin said.
At one point, police attempted to use less-lethal “bean bag” rounds to subdue the man, but Cavin said he merely flinched when he was hit. Officers also offered the man water and tried to have family members talk to him, but he was not responsive to those offers, Cavin said.
Around 10:35 p.m., the man put down the knife and surrendered to police, Cavin said.
But during the standoff, a crowd of 100 people gathered, with some recording the incident on cellphones while others were taunting the man, trying to provoke him into either hurting himself or getting police to shoot him, Seely said.
YPD officers, who were assisted by sheriff’s deputies, Washington State Patrol troopers and Union Gap police, were using de-escalation techniques that involved slowing down the encounter and using time and distance to calm down the man, Seely said.
Chief Matt Murray recently arranged for the department to receive training in de-escalation from a Denver consultant in January.
“This is what de-escalation looks like,” Seely said of the deliberate efforts to end the situation peacefully.
While people whose cars were stuck in the parking lot during the incident may have been frustrated by the standoff, Seely said it was not an excuse for people who were trying to provoke the man into a violent response.
“We’re supposed to be better than this,” Seely said.
He and Cavin said that some of the bystanders were writing things on the side of a YPD vehicle during the standoff.
The man was taken to Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital for a mental health evaluation and to check his injuries from the machete and the bean bags, and was then booked into the city jail on suspicion of misdemeanor weapon possession and obstruction, Cavin said.
Police say drugs and or alcohol were factors in the incident.