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Shots Fired, Officer Down! (Part Two)

And after that brief commercial break….our story continues.

Well, the keys explained why the car wasn’t moving. The wife told me that her husband wasn’t hit. Ross’s return shots had all went right through the center of the back window and out the front….unbelievably missing both occupants.

I could hear the siren of back-up Officer Fritz approaching the scene from my west. The hammer on my Smith & Wesson was ready to strike it’s mark….as the suspect started to exit the vehicle. I asked for hands and he showed me hands, no gun. He was screaming, “please, kill me!!” I would have gladly obliged him, but again, no gun.

In a split second, he turned and ran right into the path of eastbound traffic and headed across the center median of the four lane highway. Officer Fritz saw this and drove his unit across the median, in hot pursuit.

I quickly slammed handcuffs on my pregnant prisoner and left her where she sat. Ross was protected by his vehicle and not laying on the roadway. I needed to pursue the suspect and help Fritz. I got into my unit and went back to the crossover.

The suspect had crossed the westbound traffic, without becoming road-kill, and was now running towards a small grouping of houses just off the highway. I knew that if he jumped a couple of fences, he would have to come out on the street that my patrol car was fast approaching. I told the dispatcher to tell the ambulance to pull up and help Ross. I could hear screaming sirens from EVERY direction!

Looking back now, this was not a guy that wanted to commit “suicide by cop.” That is a technique where someone wants to end it, but doesn’t have the balls to do it themselves. They point a weapon towards an officer and let law enforcement do the deed. This guy was a coward, through and through.

Officer Fritz rammed the back fence of a house just as the suspect’s feet cleared the top of the chain link. Fritz jumped the fence and was now in foot pursuit. As I turned the corner and hit the street…I saw the suspect running from the side of a house, directly in front of me. I stopped, jumped out of the car and did my best impression of Lawrence Taylor. (football reference for all non-sporty girls and guys)

I hit him from the front as Officer Fritz hit him from the back….the three of us tumbled onto the gravel driveway in one big heap. Now when an officer is shot…your friend…and you don’t know yet, his condition….and you find yourself sitting on top of the suspect…well…let’s just say the suspect was injured in the “fall.” He also got the business end of my .357 pointed right between his eyes…this time he did not plead for me to kill him, but begged for mercy…..I gave it to him…mercy people, I gave him mercy.

We made the evening news the next day and watched it from the hospital room of Officer Ross. His bullet-proof vest stopped 3 rounds that were surely fatal…the fourth hit him in the left buttock region. The doctors decided to leave the round in as more damage would occur trying to remove it than it was worth. The suspect would forever more…you guessed it, literally be a pain in the ass for Officer Ross.

Officer Ross recounted that as he initially approached the vehicle on the traffic stop, the suspect had raised his weapon from his waistline, a .380 automatic pistol, and started shooting. The first shot hit Ross in the metal plate of his vest, right at his heart, and knocked him backwards. Three more hit their mark as he tumbled to the rear of the suspect vehicle. Ross stood up and fired four shots through the back window before falling where I found him.

The suspect received 60 years for his deed and would not be eligible for parole until after 15 years of that sentence because of his use of a deadly weapon. The baby born, the next day, would graduate high school before ever meeting his father. Some guys just don’t want to go to jail for DWI and for driving a stolen car.

My department, shockingly, up until that night, did not require its officers to wear bullet-proof vests, it was optional. Optional because they cost about $600.00 each and the budget did not have any room for the expense.

Officer Ross liked arresting DWI offenders and was number 2 in the department in that statistic. I often have wondered what would have happened if I had not checked out the tire store, but instead had observed a weaving tan four door, with no license plate, entering my district.

Number 1 in the department for DWI arrests was not wearing a bullet-proof vest on that fateful night in November of 1988…and that, to quote Paul Harvey,…is the “rest of the story.”

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Shots Fired, Officer Down! (Part One)

It was November 6, 1988 at about 12:40 a.m. and I was on patrol on the east side of the city. I checked out at a tire store because I saw a suspicious car pulled up by the back door. I gave the dispatcher the plate number of the vehicle to run on the computer and began to investigate.

I let my guard down a little when I checked the hood of the car and found the engine was cold. I started walking the perimeter, along with my handy Mag light. The dispatcher called out, “221?” Go ahead, I replied. He told me the vehicle was “clear,” meaning not stolen and no warrants attached to the registered owner. The address was local, so I checked a few doors and went back to my unit.

I had graduated the police academy just 9 months before this night.
Low seniority had bestowed upon me a place on the midnight shift, 11pm-7am….some cops call it the “dog shift,” for obvious reasons.

As I was walking back to my patrol car, I could hear another officer alert the dispatcher that he was stopping a car for investigation of driving while intoxicated, it did not have a rear plate. The officer was working the district next to mine and I was a mere 4 blocks away from him.

The officer was a friend, in small departments you tend to develop close bonds to people. Although I don’t have any military experience, I hear soldiers say the same thing. When you entrust another with your life, you develop a connection that is tough to match in other occupations. His name was Officer Ross, and his radio number was 230. He loved arresting drunks, so I figured I was about to get stuck waiting on a tow truck.

I pulled out of the tire store parking lot. Even though it was a cold November night, I kept the driver side window down about 2 inches. This enabled me to hear my surroundings, plus the police radio, and the regular car radio or “good times radio,” as it is called in law enforcement. Even then I listened to the oldies channel and Peter Frampton was singing about how he loved my ways….pop, pop, pop, pop!!!

I was now driving west on an access road that ran along side a major four lane highway. The traffic stop site was eastbound, still two blocks up, on that same highway. An old truck was passing me in the parallel westbound lanes of the highway. Did I just hear gunshots or did that old clunker just back-fire? BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!

Holy shit, that’s gunfire! Dispatch! I hear gunshots, start additional 10/27 towards 230! We used 10 codes to talk on the radio and 10/27 meant back-up. I flipped on my overheads, took off my seatbelt and sped towards my fellow officer.

This particular highway did not have on-ramps but had crossovers. I had worked several fatality accidents at the very intersection I was now crossing, because…well, crossovers are really hazardous. The time was about 12:50 a.m. and traffic was light in both directions.

As I hit the center of the crossover and looked to my right, I could see the suspect vehicle facing me, a tan four door, with Officer Ross’s unit parked right behind it. The spotlight from his car blocked my view of anything further at that point. On the radio, Officer Ross screamed,”230!!”….then silence.

Small caliber guns pop when discharged and are sometimes confused with other sounds. When I heard the returns, I knew it was the larger caliber of Officer Ross and his .357 revolver. I knew this because I had a Smith & Wesson .357 caliber gun just like it on my duty belt.

I crossed over the eastbound traffic and turned west on the opposite side of the highway, on the access road once again. I slammed the car into park and got out. I used the engine block for cover and draped myself against the left front quarter panel. My unit was cattey-corner from the suspect’s vehicle, with about 12 yards of the grass median between us. That is when I got my first look at my friend, Officer Ross. Shots fired, officer down!

Ross was laying on his back at the right rear of his unit. He was conscious and holding his weapon in his right hand…it was shaking violently. I asked him if he was hit. Ross responded, “four times.” He was giving it his all just to maintain, as I focused on the suspect vehicle.

I had arrived so quickly to the scene, the suspect was miraculously still in the driver’s seat. The thought went through my mind that he too might be hit or dead. The car would have already made hasty exit but for not that very reason, right?

The passenger window was somewhat foggy and I could see there were not one, but two passengers. I had my gun directed at the head of the driver. I was fully ready to use deadly force, I could not let anyone exit the vehicle, walk back to the downed officer and finish the job!

Also during this time, I advised the dispatch that we needed an ambulance, but to have them stay 2 blocks off until the scene was secured. My backup was flying towards me, as were two Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. The troopers had monitored my radio channel while on a coffee break in the next town over. If you want to see it “rain” police, yell “shots fired, officer down” across the airwaves. Help was on the way, but the welfare of Ross was all mine.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not calm…I was professional, but I was not calm. My normal voice went up a couple of octaves and I was screaming at the shooter to obey my commands. I wanted the driver to exit the vehicle showing me his hands, so I could get him prone on the pavement and create some stability. Getting him out of the car would prevent a vehicle chase. Believe me, my requests were loud enough for him to hear and littered with language better left out of this war story.

I maintained a line of site, but it was not a clear one. The right front passenger was moving about the car. I also had eastbound traffic passing on the other side of the suspect car. A round not stopped by metal or body, could pass through to an innocent.

The right front passenger made a move and exited the car. My finger was definitely applying more pressure to the trigger…and then I saw her. A Hispanic woman, appearing to be, about nine months pregnant, was running right towards me screaming. I couldn’t make out her scream and her hands were holding her stomach at a low point where I could not see them.

Well, this is a scenario that they didn’t go over in the police academy, a potential pregnant killer charging you! I didn’t know at that time if she was the shooter or not, couldn’t see her hands, and didn’t know if she intended me harm. I had 3 seconds to make up my mind. Count to three and tell me what you would do?

In hindsight, it would have been a justified use of deadly force. I let her get to within arms length, then with my left hand, pulled her to the ground beside my unit. I kept my gun trained on the suspect car and could see she didn’t have a weapon. She told me her husband was the driver, he had a gun, and he wanted to die. I told her to sit down on the access road and if she moved, she would die.

Officer Ross had now lost consciousness. I asked the woman if her husband spoke English and she responded, “yes.” I asked her why he hadn’t fled the scene? I glanced down as she opened her hand to show me the car keys.

End of Part One