All of us heard it a dozen times during the 48 hours following the critical incident: Nothing ever happens in a small town in Missouri.
Our town of less than 2000 people sits on the Missouri River. The Police Dept consists of a Chief of Police, a Captain, and four full-time officers. We are supplemented with two part-time officers.
Being a small town, we still have the luxury of carrying our own choice of weapons. The town’s two squad cars have a 12 gauge Mossberg shotgun in the trunk loaded with Winchester Ranger low recoil slugs, and a 12 gauge Remington with beanbags. The department also has two TASERS carried by officers on duty.
Saturday, December 30th, started like many other days. I work fairly straight 3pm to 11pm shifts, being the captain and second in command. Officer Patty called at 2:00 pm, asking me to meet her at the police station immediately. A young man, age 23, had pulled a shotgun on his girlfriend, forcing her to leave the residence.
I knew the suspect. I had written him a DWI several years ago, and cleared him of a sexual assault charge lodged against him two years ago. Worried that he was suicidal, his girlfriend had called about a month before. I checked on him at the time, and he seemed fine.
Upon arrival at the police station, I met with Officer Patty, the girlfriend, and the father of the suspect. The father told me that when he went inside to talk to his son, he was told to leave, or “something bad was going to happen.” The girlfriend said he told her if she did not come down from her home in another city, he would be dead by morning. She came by, and in the afternoon went to get a pizza. Upon returning, she opened the door and he leveled a shotgun at her, demanding she leave. So she did.
Officer Patty had already called for assistance from the County Sheriffs Dept, and had called the Chief of Police. Officer Patty and I staged near the intersection and met with the Chief, along with the County Deputy and Corporal.
While I have had 20 years of experience in police work, it’s all been in small towns. Corporal William, a member of the County Emergency Response Team (SWAT), and Deputy Sam, have dealt with this type of thing numerous times. I turned over the command to Cpl William. He decided Sam and Patty would take the back of the residence, while Chief Smith, in civilian clothes, would take the east side of the street. William and I would block the west end, and I would attempt to communicate with him. My original idea was to have Officer Patty, a woman, attempt communication. It was decided that since I knew him from several encounters, and no one else had ever met him before, I was the logical choice. I then decided to knock on the front door, but Cpl William suggested we attempt a phone call instead.
Mistake 1: His father had given me a rundown on the weapons he had: a shotgun, 9mm pistol, .22 rifle, and an SKS. I informed the deputies of this, but I believe we all focused on the shotgun, since he had already pulled it once today. I also believe we all had in the back of our minds that he probably had already committed suicide. Quite foolish looking back but… nothing ever happens in a small town.
The others were in place when I parked across the street, just west of the suspect’s house. It sat below street level. Officer Patty was on the west side of the structure, below the north window. Cpl William parked behind me across the street, leaving a gap between the trunks of the vehicles. I attempted to call from my cell phone. I had only been promoted to Captain six weeks prior, and purchased my first cell phone at that time so the new officers we hired could contact me.
When I got the answering machine, I began speaking into it. I identified myself as Dave from the Police Dept, which is how most folks here know me. I told him he was not in trouble yet, and asked for his side of the story. I continued to speak into the machine for some time. I hung up and redialed, and started again. This time, I heard a beep indicating the machine was full.
I walked over to Cpl William’s car, and informed him of this. William got on the PA system, and called to the suspect to come outside and talk. After a few moments of speaking, he asked the suspect to come outside, or at least pick up the phone.
Mistake 2: I let my attention drift when Cpl William made the statement to pick up the phone. I walked between the cars in the line of fire and in plain sight, and began dialing the suspect’s number again. I should’ve been watching the house.
While dialing the phone, I heard Cpl William begin yelling at Officer Patty about the window above her head coming open. I looked up, saw the rifle barrel emerge, and saw the muzzle flash of the first shot. I dived behind my car, and heard shot after shot as it struck the county squad car, shattering glass and striking metal with a dull thump. I looked up, saw the barrel turn my direction, and ducked back as the bullets began hitting my car, shattering the windshield and striking the engine. When there was a lull in the shooting, I looked over the fender and saw the rifle barrel slightly moving. Believing he was reloading, I fired one shot from my sidearm, a 1911 .45ACP. I saw the barrel go back inside the house, and held further fire. I believed a .45 would not be able to penetrate the side of the house, and wanted to save my ammo in case the suspect decided to shoot from another window.
When my hearing cleared, I heard Cpl William shouting, “Officer down” and saw him on his back between my car and his on the pavement. I called for dispatch, shouting “Officer down, William’s been hit!” No response.
Mistake 3: Dispatch could not hear us via portables at that location. I should have known this, having worked here for ten years.
I immediately used the cell phone to call county dispatch, and informed them of the situation. I had the ambulance come to the area one block from our location and stage. I then crossed the firing zone between the cars, and pulled Cpl William to the safety of the rear tire.
For just being shot with a 7.62mm, William was incredibly focused. He demanded his radio until I explained that we could not get out of here. Then, he had me call and “activate 04,” which got the county ERT team on the way. He worried about Officer Patty, and kept ordering me to keep my head down.
Cpl William then asked me to find where he was hit. I found what l thought was the entry wound, low on his back. William relaxed, telling me that “low is good.” Since then, I have spoken with an Army Sergeant recently returned from Iraq. He said that this is a very normal response. He had seen it many times.
Deputy Sam, an officer from a neighboring city, living the next street over, arrived to assist. Deputy Sam handed me his shotgun loaded with slugs and had me cover while a newly-responding Officer and he carried Cpl William to the waiting ambulance.
I then moved to a house across the street, taking cover at the corner and watching the residence. These were the shortest four hours of my life. State Highway Patrol officers and County Deputies, along with officers from the next town’s PD began arriving almost immediately. Before I knew it, the County ERT team responded, made the rescue of Officer Patty, who was in a safe spot but unable to leave without exposing her back to fire. Upon the arrival of the MSHP SWAT team, they relieved me of my post and sent me back for debriefing.
From there, I was out of the fight. Attempts were made to speak with the suspect, and after several hours tear gas was sent in. After another 30 minutes or so, the ERT team went in and found that the suspect had killed himself with a 9mm handgun.
Investigation also showed that the .45 went through the wall, close to where the suspect was shooting. There was a fully loaded 30-round magazine back in the rifle. Why did he commit suicide after shooting at us and reloading? That is a question that will never be answered.
Cpl William had been struck in the chest near the shoulder, and the bullet came out low in the back, breaking four ribs and bruising his lungs. He is out of the hospital and recovering well. Cpl William told me he only heard one shot, and believed we were being sniped at rather than an all-out attack. The lessons will be discussed and the necessary changes made. Patrol rifles have been purchased and placed in the front of the squad cars, and a repeater will fix those radio problems. I learned to use the phone, instead of going up to the door, no matter how well I think I know the suspect.
And, as I teach each new officer we get: Do not get complacent. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that nothing ever happens in a small town.
All names have been changed in the article.
— DT, MO
All of us heard it a dozen times during the 48 hours following the…
by Guns & Weapons / Oct 1, 2007