A district police chief was shot dead in Antalya on Wednesday while trying to restrain an armed assailant shooting randomly at a gas station, but the tragedy could have been avoided if the police chief had exercised his right to fire a non-fatal shot at the assailant, security experts say.
A man named Celal Gökçe (50), who pulled up at a gas station in Antalya’s Konyaaltı district at approximately 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, asked the station’s employees to fill his tank. According to witness accounts, Gökçe was displeased with what he claimed was the slow service, took out a handgun and started firing bullets into the air. When the gas station staff called the police, a squad from the Konyaaltı Police Department was dispatched to the scene, led by Konyaaltı Police Chief Uğur Gökcan. According to eyewitnesses, Gökcan attempted to convince the assailant to put down his gun and surrender, at which point the assailant attempted to take the police chief hostage. When a group of other police officers intervened, Gökçe’s gun went off, fatally wounding Gökcan, who died in an ambulance taking him to the Akdeniz University Hospital.
“The suspect tried to take the police chief, who was trying to reason with him, hostage. Then the other police officers panicked, and there was a scuffle when they intervened, during which he and the police chief fell on the floor. I think the gun went off by itself as that was happening. I heard people screaming for an ambulance after that,” said Ayhan Yazlık, a witness at the scene.
Experts say the police have the right to shoot in cases where a person is posing a threat to the life of the officer or other individuals. If an ordinary person did the same thing, it would be considered self-defense. What should have been done was to render Gökçe ineffective by shooting but non-fatally wounding him after issuing a warning. In other words, the police chief should not have risked his life, according to Vahit Bıçak, a criminal law professor and an instructor at the Police Academy’s department of security sciences.
“In the incident that happened in Antalya, of course the police had the right to shoot,” he said.
Hasan Yücesan, a former Ankara police chief, said: “In capital offense cases, the assailant should be first warned to lay down his weapon and told to surrender. Because in this incident there could also be elements of a robbery, according to the authority vested in the police by the Police Duties Law, officers have the right to render an assailant ineffective. Of course, here the police do not shoot to kill, but such encounters can result in killing. Obviously, the Konyaaltı district police chief believed he would be able to convince the armed assailant. Gökcan didn’t want him to get shot. But in the end he was killed. It is a tragedy. He should not have taken such a huge risk, no matter what.”
Head of the Retired Police Chiefs Association Barbaros Hayrettin Aydın said: “When the police was called, the police chief must have been close to the crime scene. Gökcan risked himself first and not his officers. He could have created more of an emotional pressure on the assailant by issuing the necessary warnings and persuading Gökçe to surrender after making sure everyone was alert and ready to act. Obviously, Gökcan was overly confident, and he thought he could convince him. But when he got near, there was a scuffle and this tragedy happened. I wish he hadn’t been so self-confident, because it cost him his life.”
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday phoned Gülhan Gökcan, the widow of Konyaalatı District Police chief Gökcan, and offered his condolences.
There was a memorial service at the Antalya Police Department’s services building on Wednesday morning. The slain officer’s 8-year-old son Gökalp Gökcan sang the Turkish national anthem with tears in his eyes during the ceremony. His 16-year-old daughter also attended the service.
Antalya Deputy Governor Fuat Ergün, Antalya Mayor Mustafa Akaydın, Antalya Garrison Commander Kemal Korkmaz and the officer’s colleagues participated in the ceremony. President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Erdoğan and Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin sent flowers.
The suspect, Gökçe, was taken to court on Thursday after being interrogated at the Antalya Police Department. He first said he didn’t regret what had happened, saying, “No, he [Gökcan] wasn’t listening to me,” but then said, “I do regret it because he was a police officer.”