As my Chief was four hours away visiting relatives with his family, I’d been on call all day. It was a hot August afternoon, and as usual, I was catching a nap while my fiancée cleaned and did dishes. Being one of only two full-time police officers in a small Iowa community of about 1,500, I always had to catch sleep here and there during the summer. The phone rang about 2 p.m. Back in those days when I was on call a lot, sometimes for up to two or three days at a time, the phone would always go through me like a knife. I wish I had slept through this one.
It was the Sheriff’s office, as it had been a thousand times before. But this time, the dispatcher sounded strangely hesitant, almost scared, which was unusual. “I’ve gotten multiple reports of a woman in a nightgown chasing an adult male through yards in her car…trying to run him down…he’s on foot…you’d better get up there fast.” I sprang out of bed and threw my vest and uniform on.
Now every cop out there who knows his beat has that one house, or address, that he knows by heart. Most times the dispatcher just has to tell you that you got a call and you go there like a robot, expecting the same kind of B.S. and chaos. This was one such situation, and I wasn’t surprised to be going there in the middle of the afternoon for a fight, or as it turned out, an attempted murder.
As I ran to the squad car in my backyard, I was visualizing what might be going on. I had already dealt with the combatants multiple times before, and already knew them by both name and sight, so I felt a degree of comfort as I sped to the location.
As I got closer, I was told by dispatch that the woman had crashed the car into a pole, and was now chasing the man down our main highway with a knife. I went directly to the area.
As I pulled up, I saw the woman, as described, clad only in a nightgown and nothing else, with a 4-5-inch-bladed knife in her right hand. I called in that I had them in sight and was going to be out dealing with them. I didn’t even ask for assistance, as I figured it had already been sent from the Sheriff’s Office or a nearby PD. The nearest help was at least 10-15 minutes away at 100 mph or better, that is.
I pulled up behind the woman on the shoulder, and exited my patrol car. I drew my department-issue Beretta 92FS and took it to a ready position. The woman turned and faced me, and walked toward me. I told her to stop where she was and she did, about 15 yards from me.
“I’m sick of this! Nobody helped me! He keeps beatin’ me and you don’t do nothing!” I told her to drop the knife and we could talk about it.
“Go ahead and shoot me! I want to die, c’mon!” At that point, she started walking toward me with the knife upraised. I fell back on my training at that point, and continued negotiating with her while backing away, keeping the car in between us as a barrier. I found myself checking the background for anyone or anything that I didn’t want to hit, or where my rounds would go if I missed or had a shoot-through.
It was at about this point that I saw her boyfriend walking towards us, about 50 yards on the highway. I also saw the woman’s teenage son pull up in the now smashed-up car she had been trying to run him down with. He got out and yelled at his mother.
“Mom, cut it out!” he said. The son then turned to me and told me, “Just shoot her, man, she deserves it for this!”
I ordered the son back into the car for his own protection, and he
complied. I then turned my attention back to the woman and tried to de-
escalate this situation.
“You ain’t gonna do anything, so I will!” She yelled, and with that took off running right at the boyfriend, who was now about 30 yards north of where we were, and, like an idiot, walking toward us. I crossed the highway after her and gave chase, weapon still in hand.
As the boyfriend and the woman continued on their crash course together, I sized up the situation in what seemed like minutes, but was actually seconds. Each step got me closer to making the ultimate decision, and I was dreading it. I recall thinking about the fact that if I shot this woman, I’d have to contact the Chief for the investigation, and he was four hours away. “Shit!” I thought to myself, “This is the worst cluster yet!”
Now the combatants were only about five yards apart. I continued the barrage of verbal judo techniques at her, “He isn’t worth it, it’s not worth getting hurt!” I then saw the sights of my Beretta come to bear between her shoulder blades, and saw the hammer move slightly. It was just like watching some kind of 3-D movie in slow motion. I then saw the boyfriend step directly in front of the woman, and realized I’d better ease up on the trigger. I dared not fire and yelled at him to get back, for what seemed like the millionth time.
I saw the two make contact, her with the knife raised and him flailing his arms at her. He went to the ground, holding his right hand with his left, obviously cut and bleeding. She then dropped the knife and started punching him in the arms and torso as hard as she could. I snatched the knife up and put it in my belt as I holstered my weapon. As he backed away, she started trying to throw herself in front of oncoming traffic. I then tackled her and handcuffed her without incident or interference from anyone else. Just then, a construction worker ran up and assisted me in getting her back to the patrol car and securing the scene until my help got there. Later, I noticed that I couldn’t get my thumb snap fastened on my holstered weapon and I discovered my Beretta was on half-cock. I had never carried it in that condition before, so I then realized just how close I was to shooting the woman. She later pled guilty to Aggravated Assault.
I had been involved in some tight spots before this, and many since. However, I had only attended training and read about the “Police-Assisted Suicide” phenomenon, and never saw or experienced it myself. It was this training, I believe, coupled with my familiarity with the equipment and procedure that got me through this without using deadly force. I’ve had officers tell me I should have shot her, but I feel confident in my decision not to. I’m proud I was able to get through the situation without any serious injuries to anyone. I have since left that department and have been working with a larger one that had a similar situation with a less fortunate result: two people died, and the officer involved has to live with the fact that his hand was forced.
About 1-1/2 years later, an officer in a town nearby was forced to shoot in a very similar situation, even though he and his fellow officers tried everything they could to avoid doing so. It’s quickly becoming a scary world, even in small towns.
I believe that all officers should think about these situations, and use mental imagery to train themselves ahead of time to avoid the kind of anguish and stress that can result. If you’re prepared, whatever the result, you can get through it and live with it, whether you have to shoot or not. I hope all cops out there remember that they are good people and know that most people do appreciate the hell that they sometimes go through to serve the public. I hope this account can help some other officer out there who’s either been in such a situation or may be some day. —HJ, OH
As my Chief was four hours away visiting relatives with his family, I’d been…
by Paul Markel / Apr 1, 2008