Netizens and news reports are contradicting the police version of events that led a police officer to shoot and kill a thief who was trying to make a getaway in Wenxian county, Henan Province.
A Sina Weibo posting on Saturday claimed the officer shot the thief four times and had fired his weapon six times after being led on a wild chase through the county.
An initial police report said Li Shixuan, deputy chief of the public security bureau at Wenxian county, fired his gun just once and killed the suspected thief, surnamed Wang, after he threatened to hit the officer with a brick.
The Weibo user told the Global Times that her friend witnessed the incident.
"My friend first thought the shooting was part of the filming of a movie," said the user. Her friend is refusing to speak to the media.
Police say Wang was riding a three-wheeled motorcycle when he led them on a wild chase through several streets. Wang ran into a police motorcycle and injured two officers. He also hit several pedestrians but none was seriously hurt.
Li used a loudspeaker to warn Wang to stop. Li then abandoned his vehicle and fled into a ditch, said the statement, adding that Wang was a repeat offender who had been in jail several times since 2004.
The statement said Li fired a warning shot and when Wang threatened the officer with a brick before he fired once killing Wang.
The statement contradicts a report by the news portal dahe.cn, which quoted local residents as saying the police office never entered the ditch and the suspect was shot dead from long range.
Calls to the county's public security bureau went unanswered as of press time.
"Whatever the man did, it shouldn't have cost him his life," the Weibo user said, reflecting an opinion that was shared by many netizens who asked under what circumstances the police are permitted to use deadly force.
"China has strict regulations on the use of firearms by police," Liu Tao, a criminal professor from Chinese People's Public Security University, told the Global Times. As a rule, Chinese police on patrol do not carry firearms but their use is allowed if a violent suspect flees arrest, breaks out of prison, or threatens the life of another.
"People may have different interpretations of the regulation," said Liu, "It would be difficult to judge afterwards whether the situation was only borderline dangerous. However, smashing someone on the head with a brick could kill."
Li, 47, is a senior officer and was honored as the county's outstanding police officer in May.