My Life Changing Event

first published on July 10, 2016 by

This was originally written back in 2013 and appeared on The Bang Switch, but when that was rolled into Full30, sadly all of those articles disappeared. This year was the 5 year anniversary of this incident, and this was the first year that this incident did not jump to the front of my mind as the day came and went. Sadly, only a few days afterward, 12 Dallas cops were shot, 5 of who died. Suddenly, this incident was fresh in my mind again, and I found myself very emotional because of what happened in Dallas.  Time to rehash this yet again…

OIS

There have been a few mentions in other articles here (on The Bang Switch) about my having been involved in a shooting. During my career, I have been involved directly in two, and indirectly in quite a few more. The more recent one in which I was directly involved was a much different event that has caused me to make many changes in the way I do things, both at work and at home. As the two year anniversary approaches, naturally I find myself contemplating it. I find writing this out to be somewhat therapeutic, but this is a long one so, if you choose to read it, please hang in there.

Also, as this is my story, some of my personal views may come out. Take those for what they’re worth, but please don’t try and lecture me about my opinions if they happen to differ with yours.

I have been a Deputy Sheriff for just over 17 years. I work in a very wide spread, mostly urban, metropolitan area that includes six incorporated cities, plus the unincorporated part of the county. The unincorporated parts of the county vary greatly, from tightly packed residential neighborhoods with lots of low income housing complexes, to large rural areas that are sparsely populated. My department provides service to the unincorporated parts of the county, in which about 560,000 people live.

The last 15 years of my career have been (were) spent working patrol on swing shift (3pm-1am). I love swings, both because of the volume and variety of calls, but because the hours best fit my life outside of work. My department utilizes a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system and we all have computers in our cars. The cars are also equipped with a GPS locator system that is tied into the CAD, which has a mapping system that allows us to zoom in all the way to specific addresses, including the corresponding lot lines (similar to Google maps, but not as pretty).

It was a hot 100 degree early July night two years ago. That particular night, I was working our north central area, which is mostly residential housing, commercial properties and lots of low income apartments. It is a very small but diverse district, which routinely has the highest volume of calls for any of the patrol districts. It was almost 9pm and I had just finished dinner when I got sent to an incomplete 911 phone call at a local Motel 6. The caller said nothing and hung up. I told the dispatcher that I would handle the call solo because it sounded rather innocuous. While driving to that call, I got an update that on callback, the handicapped female in the room was asking for the fire department to assist her in getting dressed. The fire department advised us that deputies were not needed.

I began exchanging silly comments about that call with my dispatcher via the CAD messaging system. I have known my dispatcher for about 15 years and we have always been friendly. A few moments later, she dispatched me to another incomplete 911 call. This one said that a disturbance could be heard in the background and that someone had hung up. As a rule, when a disturbance is heard, the call takers will not call back. Initially when I was dispatched, I was sent by myself because no other units were available.

One of our canine units offered to cover me. He has a similar number or years of service with our department, but he and I had only recently begun working the same area and prior to this call, I think I had only been on maybe one or two other calls with him. Since as a canine unit, he covers the entire north part of the county, I had no idea where he was coming from. As I drove to the call, which was located in a fairly nice residential neighborhood, I continued to joke with the dispatcher about my previous call, asking how I could request a fire truck loaded with hot women to come get me dressed. She had similar concerns, but was instead looking for the calendar model type firemen instead. As I got within about a mile or two of my call, I decided to look at the CAD map and see about how far off my cover unit was. He appeared to about the same distance from the call as I was, perhaps a little further away. Since I had the map pulled up at this point, I zoomed it in to see where on the street the house I was going to was located.

As I got close to the call, I pulled to the side of the road around the corner from the call location to await my cover unit. That placed me a little more than two houses from the call location. I blacked my lights out and I cracked both windows a few inches so I would be able to hear if anything was going on. I advised my cover unit where I was waiting for him and then I closed my computer lid to avoid illuminating myself inside my dark car.

As I sat waiting for cover, I heard a male voice yelling and it sounded like it was coming from the area of my call. I could hear the yelling, but could not make out what was being said. My car was positioned so I could just see the corner of the front yard of the target house. It was fairly dark and there were no street lights near the house, but there was a light on at the front porch. In that dim light, I thought I saw some movement so I decided I needed to approach to see what was going on. I figured my cover had to be pretty close by now.

2011_Ford_Police_Interceptor_004
(Very similar setup to our cars, but this is not one of my department’s vehicles.)

I put the car in drive, turned the corner onto the street, crossed the street and drove south against the left sidewalk (wrong side of the street). As I slowly approached the house, I saw a male walking from the north corner of the garage, down the short driveway, and south away from me on the sidewalk. It was poor lighting, but he appeared to be carrying a rifle. It looked to me like a rifle with a wood stock and what appeared to be a white sling. As previously mentioned, I am a gun nut, and the first thing that came to my mind was a presentation or parade type rifle, like an ‘03 Springfield or a Garand with a white patent leather sling.

When I saw him holding the rifle, I decided that it would not be prudent for me to go to a rifle fight with my pistol, so I hit the lock on my rifle rack and pulled my personal 14.7” LWRC M6A1-S from the rack. I charged it and put the forward vertical grip in my left hand. Since he was walking toward a parked car, I decided I would wait to see if he was just going to place his rifles in the trunk of the car. He did not. In fact he walked past the car and then started across the street heading deeper into the neighborhood and towards a very dark, unlit area. Open carry is not legal in my state, and we were responding to an unknown disturbance call in which this man was likely involved, so I could not let him just wander off into the darkness toting a rifle. I decided I would hit my lights and using my PA, tell him to put the gun down. I rested my rifle’s forend on the steering wheel, I hit the high beam switch first, then turned the lights on with my left hand and using my right hand, grabbed my PA mic and told him to put the rifle down and turn around with his hands up. At this time, he was approximately 40 yards from the front of my car.

Apparently, this man I had never once met, had other plans. As soon as I told him to drop his gun, he turned around, shouldered the rifle and fired a shot. I saw the muzzle flash, heard the report, saw sparks near the front of my car and heard the round impact my car. Still seated in my car, I shouldered my rifle and brought it up. I immediately noticed that in the stress of the moment, I had neglected to turn on my EOTech (why I switched to the Aimpoint PRO), but since my rifle has a fixed front sight, I decided to use the EOTech as a very large rear sight aperture. Of course, that whole thought process took about 1/8th of a second. I dropped the safety and clicked off several rounds directly through my windshield. I looked up and he was still standing and had the rifle still shouldered. Not knowing if the windshield was affecting my shots, or if the lack of having my EOTech on was causing me to miss, I decided I needed to move (another ½ second thought process).

I stuck the car in reverse and began backing out. This is the point that my in-car camera begins recording. In watching the video, this man can be seen firing two more rounds at me as I back my car out onto the adjacent street. Since the street I had been parked on previously is a four lane street that often has heavy traffic, I checked the oncoming lanes as I backed into the intersection. I cranked the wheel and backed across the road at an angle getting myself out of the direct line of fire. I activated my light bar, which is what activated my in car camera system, and the 30 second buffer is what captured the shots fired as I am backing. I grabbed my radio mic and voiced that I had exchanged gunfire, that the suspect was still armed and that I needed additional units.

I placed the mic back in the holder and exited my car with my rifle. It was at this point that I turned my EOTech on. I stayed on the driver side of my car, near the driver door, keeping the hood, and subsequently the engine, between me and the suspect. About 5-10 seconds later, my cover unit pulled up and stopped on my right and just slightly back from me placing his front bumper at about my front doors. He exited his car with his department issued 16” barreled Colt AR-15, equipped with nothing but iron sights. He saw the rather large hole in my windshield and asked if I was ok. I told him I was fine, I gave him a brief suspect description and pointed to the direction in which I last saw him.

About 2 seconds after the canine handler arrived, one of our CSI units pulled up to the left of my patrol car. Our CSI units are sworn deputies who have completed patrol training. Additionally, the one who showed up has several years patrol experience in one of our contract cities. He exited his truck and had to dig his rifle out of the back of the extended cab.

The CSI officer had just got his rifle out when we saw the suspect approaching us, only now he was armed with a handgun. He was walking at a very rapid pace. I looked past him and saw another male, who appeared to be wearing a black tank top and a pair of dark colored shorts, standing directly in our line of fire. I yelled at him to go back in his home, and thankfully he listened. I redirected my attention back to the suspect. At this time, he was about 40 yards from me and was holding the handgun down at his right side. He was still walking directly at us at a very brisk pace.

Both the canine officer and I began directing him to drop the gun and stop where he was. He repeatedly said “That’s not going to happen”. He kept approaching us at the same brisk pace, holding the gun down at his side. I recall having drawn an imaginary line on the street in the back of my head, and he was not going to come past that line because that would put him within range to easily hit us with his handgun. When he got to that line, I fired, as did the canine officer.

I remember thinking this as it happened, it was the weirdest thing. It was like my brain was controlling two guns. The canine officer and I both fired the same number of times, and almost in perfect unison. Thankfully, the CSI officer used his better judgment and did not fire. He was behind and between the canine officer and me, and if he had fired, he could very well have struck either of us.

Upon being shot, the suspect dropped immediately and began bleeding out very rapidly. I walked past my car with my gun still on him. As I arced around him, to get a better view of his hands, I could see that he was no longer holding the gun. I advised the other officers his hands were clear and then I got on the radio and requested the fire department for medical aid. The canine officer began looking for the handgun and the CSI officer was helping him.

About this time, a motor unit arrived. Since we had not yet contacted the house from which the 911 call had come, that was still a possible threat or a location with other possible victims. I grabbed the motor officer and we covered the front of that home until other units arrived and one of my coworkers relieved me at my position.

Through the investigation, it was found that I initially fired four rounds through my windshield and six rounds in the second engagement. The canine officer also fired six rounds during the second engagement. The investigators determined that one of my first four rounds struck the suspect in his right side causing a large laceration, but not hitting anything vital. They told me they were able to determine that because there was windshield safety glass embedded in his shirt at the location of that wound.

It was also found that what precipitated this event was that the 44 year old suspect, a man who had battled bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia his entire life, had just gotten into an argument with his elderly parents, with whom he lived. He told them he was going to kill himself which was why they called 911. When he heard that 911 had been called, he told them he was going to go out in a shootout with the cops.

I firmly believe, and after mentioning this theory to the canine officer, so does he, that the suspect was walking away from his home to set up an ambush for us, and that my early arrival may have very well saved our lives. The suspect was leaving the home with a loaded Mosin Nagant M44 bolt action rifle (coincidentally, I own the identical rifle), for which he was carrying spare ammo. What I saw that I thought was a white patent leather sling was actually a section of white rope he was using for a sling. He was crossing the street and heading to the darkest area on the street, which has an excellent view of his front doorstep providing him an excellent place from which to ambush us.

m44_angled_cc_v2
(Not the actual gun)

When I began replaying the incident in my head that night, something stood out in my mind as not adding up. When he fired his first shot at me, I remembered seeing sparks at about the same time as I heard the impact, but jacketed lead bullets don’t spark when they hit a plastic front bumper cover or plastic grill. I began examining the front of my car and was not able to find any holes, which further stumped me, until I heard what type of gun he was using. An examination of the ammo he had revealed it was steel core Russian surplus. What had happened was his elevation was off significantly. His first shot hit the street about eight feet in front of my car, causing the sparks when the steel hit the asphalt. That round ricocheted up and struck a frame member directly under my driver seat, leaving a ½” deep dent in the steel frame.

Some of the work related things this incident taught me consist of:

1) Had I relied on my department to issue me my gear, I would have been carrying a department rifle instead of my personal gun, and this incident would have played out very differently. At the time, our department issued 40 year old military surplus M16A1 rifles, with iron sights. It is not because they don’t care, but the budget is just not there to purchase 300 new rifles for every patrol deputy. The guns we got were free, and any long gun is better than no long gun. Since my shooting, I have tried to shoulder that full length rifle in my patrol car, and even with the seat back all the way (which is where I have it anyway since I am 6’3” tall), it would not have been possible to return fire from inside my car. My LWRC is significantly shorter in overall length and was easy to maneuver inside the cramped confines of my patrol car.

2) I am thankful that I have always taken range training serious, and that I have always practiced as if it were a real gunfight. I will continue to do so, and will make every effort to ensure others take their range time seriously as well.

3) I made some changes to what I carry on my gun belt, and I added a way to carry a spare AR magazine at all times (Blade-Tech Double Pistol & Rifle Combo Mag Pouch). I always had multiple spare mags in the trunk, but in case of a rapid deployment, like this incident was, I want to have a spare on me just in the off chance that it could turn into a prolonged firefight.

4) I retired my beloved, personally owned, blinged out Sig P220, and got a department issued P226 in 9mm. With the purchase of three 18 round flush fitting Mec-Gar mags, and with one of the issued 15 round Sig mags, I more than doubled the amount of pistol ammo I am carrying (from 25 to 70). Plus, I have the other two issued 15 round Sig mags as spares in my tac vest, along with my other 6 spare AR mags. Taking fire really made me paranoid about the possibility of running out of ammo. I do not plan on ever letting that happen.

5) I have played multiplayer first person shooter video games for many years (much to the amusement of my beat partners), but have always tried to play with a realistic mindset. I honestly think that the 80,000+/- simulated firefights I have been in on the computer helped me think very quickly when the real one happened. I never froze or stopped to think once during the incident. Firing through the windshield, backing the car out to get to a better place to engage him, staying behind cover, etc. All of that came naturally since those are things that I do when I play video games. Granted, video games don’t help with all the physical aspects of shooting a gun, but I feel they can definitely play a role in training your mind to react quicker when you are confronted with a real world gunfight, plus their just plain fun.

I made some changes in my personal life after this incident also:

1) I make sure my wife and kids know that I do not take them for granted. I make sure I tell them how much I love them every day, usually several times a day, and especially every day before leaving for work. As much as having coworkers killed in the line of duty over the years (7 on my agency during my career, 1 was a personal friend) has made me reflect on this, nothing drives it home like being involved in your own incident firsthand.

2) I used to be reserved when it came to sharing my opinion on matters of politics, but no more. I have become much more involved in the entire political process because one thing my career has taught me, is that the liberal policies that rule the state in which I live and work have bred an entire population of people for whom I spend 40 hours a week acting as their parent or babysitter. We need a society that promotes self-sufficiency, not dependency, and I am doing everything I can to spread that message. If you disagree with that assessment, you are entitled to your opinion, but I challenge you to spend a few shifts on a ride-along with a law enforcement agency in a large metropolitan city and experience the fruits of those policies firsthand. It was this unwillingness to be quiet that lead me to writing political commentary, which landed me a writing gig for Joe The Plumber, which in turn lead me to writing here, at The Bang Switch!

Three other cops were killed in the line of duty that very same night across the country. Two were killed in car accidents (one of which was a pursuit), and the third was shot to death. As the anniversary of this incident nears, I find myself thinking about them and how I could have easily been number four. The fact that I was not added to that list makes me very grateful for everything I have, and makes me appreciate even the smaller things much more.

Thanks for bearing with me during this very long account. Remember to take some time each day to appreciate the little things in your life, and lets all stay safe out there!
Matt


To address some things brought up in past discussions:
– No, I did not get a 72 hour “calming” period before talking to investigators. I was interviewed by the Homicide investigators that night, about 90 minutes after the shooting, after they finished their initial walk through at the crime scene. Prior to them, I had to tell my story to the deputy handling the main portion of the report and to several different supervisors each time a new one arrived.

– Yes, I had an attorney there but she only asked a couple of clarifying questions after the interview was over. As a cop, I cannot plead the fifth and must cooperate with the investigation if I hope to keep my job. Coincidentally, that is exactly what I would do anyway since I had nothing to hide.

– Yes, I was automatically put on paid administrative leave for the next five days, which was most definitely not a vacation like everyone seems to think. I finally fell asleep at about 5pm the next day after the adrenaline dump finally wore off, the following day I had to go to the range to get a loaner rifle since mine was now residing in the crime lab (shooting at a target of a man pointing a gun at you takes on a whole new meaning), the next day I got to go sit down with a shrink (oooh, yay!), the next day I had to go to the critical incident stress debriefing and talk about how the incident made me feel (because you know, cops really like sharing their feelings with their coworkers), and on the fifth day, I finally got to sit down with my wife and kids and try, very unsuccessfully to forget about the whole thing.