Shoot/No Shoot Showdown

“George 150... shots fired at the restaurant.” What does a…

“George 150… shots fired at the restaurant.” What does a person begin to think when they hear that come over a radio? As a Deputy Sheriff, I wondered how many people are involved? Is the suspect still in the area? Are there any injuries? Where is my backup coming from… and am I going to make it home tonight? These thoughts and many others filled my mind in October of 1998.

I reached down and picked up the radio mike as my vehicle came to a screeching halt. Out of instinct, I hit the brake. I turned around and told dispatch that I copied their last transmission and would be responding code three (lights and siren). I could feel the adrenaline build inside me as I tried to get to the town faster. I tried to push the gas pedal through the floor in order to get up there faster.

As I drove the winding curves, I noticed that the speedometer indicated I was traveling between 85 and 100 mph. It would be all over now if I hit a deer as it tried to cross the road. As I continued on, I radioed backup units that as they entered town, they should turn right onto a certain street, that way they could approach the restaurant from the south. I also told them to be careful for deer along the roadway.

Within three minutes of being dispatched, I arrived in town with my vehicle lights blacked out. I pulled up in front of a liquor store and parked my vehicle facing traffic. That way I could maintain observation on the restaurant, which was still a half a block away.

When I exited my vehicle to approach the restaurant, dispatch advised that the suspect was now outside in the parking lot, arguing with the bartender… and still had the gun on him.

A peace officer must think on his or her feet. They must be able to respond quickly, act fast in order to save lives and overcome their own fear of their own safety. I did this. I withdrew my service weapon and began to walk quietly toward the restaurant. I was praying that the suspect would not walk out from behind the fence that separated the parking lot from the residence next to it. My backup still had not arrived.

I continued to approach and as I got near the fence, I saw a middle-aged man standing next to the fence with something in his hand. His back was facing me as he continued peeking around the comer of the fence, watching the activities that were taking place in the parking lot.

Cautious, I whispered out to him. He turned around to see who was behind him. I could not identify the object in his hand, so I pointed my gun at him and told him to step back in my direction. As he approached me, I could now see that what he held was a coffee cup.

I asked him if he had seen anybody with a gun, to which he replied, “Yes.” He then told me the man was in the parking lot, arguing with the bartender and still had the gun on him. I told this man to go down to the next corner and wait, then continued approaching the restaurant. I could feel myself breathing heavily, and my muscles becoming more tense as I approached.

When I finally arrived at the fence, it seemed that the short walk had taken forever. I wondered where the other officers were and when they would arrive because I could hear the sounds of two men arguing and yelling at each other. I peeked around the comer of the fence and, as I looked out across the parking lot, I saw the two men, one much taller than the other.

I tried to sneak across the parking lot without being seen, but because of where the men were standing, this wouldn’t be possible. As I ran behind a parked car for cover, the tall man began shouting, “Come on copper, shoot me! If you don’t, I’m going to go back in the bar and kill everyone in there, then I’m going to come out and kill you.” He shouted this and other words of profanity as he flailed his arms. The way he acted, he caused me to believe that he was a stark raving lunatic. My backup still had not arrived.

Still feeling fear, anxiety and stress, I pointed my gun center mass on his chest and directed him to keep his hands where I could see them. The bartender, who had his back to me and was arguing with the suspect by now, turned around and noticed that I was there, and I had my gun pointed in his direction. It seemed time stopped. As if in slow motion, I could see the whites of the bartender’s eyes as he mouthed, “Oh shit,” and began to run from the line of fire.

I yelled at the subject again, to keep his hands where I could see them and to get down on both knees. He refused and used profanity by stating, “Fuck you pig, you better call SWAT or you better kill me, because I’m going to kill everybody in the bar, then kill you.” As he yelled this, he repeatedly slapped his forehead with his hand. Still my backup had not arrived.

Many questions ran through my head; am I going to have to shoot this subject, this person? Will he shoot me? Has he already shot someone in the restaurant? Is there another subject lying in wait? When will the other officers arrive? I had to focus on the situation as I faced it, knowing that someone may possibly get shot. I tried again by telling him to keep his hands where I could see them and to get down on both knees, still pointing my gun at him.

I know at one point of my contact with him, I heard the sound of someone walking up behind me. I did not take my eyes off the subject to my front because he was the immediate threat. I just yelled out loudly, “You behind me, get back or you will be shot.” It must have worked, because all I heard next was the faint sound of someone running away from me. I later found out that it was the bartender, coming to see if he could help me.

Finally, after what still seemed forever, and the subject still ranting and raving about killing someone, he yelled, “Fuck you,” as he reached behind his back. When he did this, I squeezed slightly on my trigger, taking up the slack, and yelled, “Stop! Or I will kill you!” The distance between us was approximately 20 feet. He was in the open and I was behind a parked car for safety. I had a clear shot to my target, him, if I was forced to.

He paused when he had his right hand behind his back and I saw in his eyes the expression, “Well, should I?” I could see every tattoo on his arm and see every gray hair in his beard. I saw his black t-shirt, his blue jean pants with a hole in the right knee and his brown work boots. My breathing slowed down to almost nothing and I could hear my own heart beat. He continued to look at me, to stare at me without saying anything. The decision was his and he knew it. Where was my backup?

The minutes that followed until my backup arrived were just as stressful. The subject, whom I’ll identify as “Tom,” ultimately produced a gun from behind his back and pointed it in my general direction. He never pointed it directly at me. Because of his actions, his threats and demeanor, I would have been justified in shooting him. I didn’t.

Instead, I chose to talk to him to try and calm him down, then disarm him if he allowed the opportunity. This technique proved to be successful. But, even after he dropped the gun, he advanced on me, threatening, “I’ll kick your ass.” He did not succeed in doing this nor did his wife, who appeared wanting to fight as I placed handcuffs on Tom.

Twenty minutes after being dispatched to “shots fired,” my backup arrived from those few miles away and placed Tom and his wife in their patrol cars to take them to jail. I went over to my vehicle, leaned against it and had an adrenaline dump. Later, when I drove to the Sheriff’s department to process the paper work, I called my wife to tell her that I would be coming home late.

I recall her asking me, “Are you all right?” then explaining how she could hear something in my voice. As I was driving, telling her a little bit of the incident, that occurred, I felt myself having an anxiety attack. I pulled over to the side of the road, finished telling her of the incident then got out of my car. I remained in that location for almost an hour, alone, tired and shaken. This was not the first time that I faced death or the very real possibility of being shot. One never gets used to it.

In December 1999, I received a commendation for bravery for that incident. I was surprised to receive the commendation and honestly felt that I did not do anything out of the ordinary for a peace officer. It came with the territory and the job. As a rural deputy, I was always out there with my closest backup being 40 to 50 miles away. I had to depend on myself and my judgment to contain the situation until backup arrived, and keep myself or others safe from harm.

Since then, I have run into Tom and his wife. The greatest commendation I received was when Tom approached me, extending his hand to be shook. I took it, shook his hand and heard him saying, “I’m sorry, thank you for not killing me.”

I made it home in October of 1998… so did Tom!
— RLE, CO

Load Comments