I was in an on duty shooting. It wasn’t my day to work. I was working for another girl who couldn’t get the day off for a wedding, so we traded shifts. It was Saturday, and it was Sweetest Day.
The suspect, a woman, Fran, had depression issues. She had tried to commit suicide in the past. We don’t know what happened in the home prior to the incident, but we knew the relationship between her and her husband was not good. During the evening, he left to go to the party store around the corner. They were both heavy drinkers. She grabbed her husband’s fully loaded Chinese SKS assault weapon from the closet, hopped in their car, parked under the highway facing towards the party store. This was just around the corner from their house.
I felt really bad for the poor soul that had just been released from Kent County Jail. He spent hours walking all the way home from the Kent County Jail to the West Side of Grand Rapids. As he was walking by, she started shooting at him. He ran into a nearby gas station and the clerk called 911 for him.
I was nearby, and the second officer on scene. Negotiation attempts by the first officer to get her to put down the weapon failed. He kept trying. All the responding officers were yelling on the radio. This made it difficult to understand them. I saw that there were a number of things that needed to be taken care of. We had been warned of tunnel vision occurring during an incident like this, but I didn’t have it. I felt a calm assurance fall over me. I asked dispatch in a calm voice to send officers to close down nearby roads, get people inside the nearby businesses (because they were outside gawking) and for everyone south of our position to take cover. All of our weapons were pointed in that direction.
The dispatcher later told me he realized everything was ok because I was there, I was calm and that had a calming effect on him. The woman tentatively raised and lowered her weapon several times, just short of shouldering it, verbally refusing to comply. Finally, she raised and shouldered the weapon, pointing it toward other officers. I was in good position to take the shot. There were 5 of us that fired our weapons on Stocking St under the highway. Three male and two female officers. Tina and I are the only two women in the history of the police department who have been involved in this type of incident while working at GRPD.
The entire incident from beginning to end took 11 minutes. It felt like an eternity (yes, the slo-mo did happen). We did not want to take her life, but we had no choice because she was going to take someone else’s.
We also later learned that a program on “Suicide by Cop” had run on a news program the night before. We believe this was her end goal.
While we were still on the street in full uniform, they took our weapons as evidence. There had just been a training that said not to do this. It left us like sitting ducks, no way to protect ourselves while in full uniform. Our Policy and Procedure manual said that if we were in uniform we were to carry our weapon. We were each taken to the Detective Unit and placed in a separate interrogation rooms. They assigned us each an escort. A new female officer was assigned to escort me to the police department and stay with me all night, even trips to the restroom. We were now the subjects of investigation in a homicide.
Woody, the training Lt. I had complained about was called in. He entered the interrogation room, looked directly at the officer assigned to babysit me, and told her “Oh, we were worried about you” even though she wasn’t at the incident. He didn’t say anything similar to me, but asked me if I was right or left-handed. I told him right-handed.
He came back later with a temporary replacement gun. I stuffed it in my holster and secured it. I worked second shift, but didn’t get home until after third shift. My babysitter had stayed the night when I called her and told her what happened. She was awesome! (Thank you Jennifer M.S.). I sent my young girls to school (they and their classmates would have no idea), and I started making phone calls to my family members and close friends so they would know I was ok when it all hit the news. Then I went to bed, of course I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts revolved around how it was textbook trained, how we did everything we were trained to do. I was most worried about what the department would do, make us sacrificial lambs for politics sake? I was less concerned about the public. Many members of the public had witnessed the whole scenario. One citizen even videotaped the whole thing (I am so glad he did, thank you!). It showed we were honest in reporting what had happened and how the threat had become deadly requiring our actions. The public wanted to know why the “Overkill.”
Well, here’s something to think about. In a split second you had 5 people, in a position to do something, who came to exactly the same decision at the same time. What are you gonna do? Hesitate and yell across the street to the other officers? Hey! AJ! Are you gonna shoot? Cause if you are then I won’t. There’s no time to “take a poll”, and in fact that would have been deadly for a citizen or an officer. The others had to take cover or didn’t have a shot.
We were placed on administrative leave until the prosecutor reviewed the case and cleared us. We were sent to the shooting range, probably to be sure we wouldn’t freeze, and to get acquainted with our temporary replacement weapons. I am right-handed. The majority of people are. This means the magazine release is under your thumb on your shooting hand. The one I was given was a lefty-gun. I discovered he had given me a left-handed gun. You don’t just find those laying around. You either have to look for one on purpose or modify a weapon by switching the mag release button (under your thumb) to the other side. I knew he had done it on purpose (I know this because he did it to another female officer, Cheri W).
Fortunately, I was proficient with my weapons and I didn’t have a safety issue because of it. It could throw you off, Especially given the circumstances. I knew immediately. The others were able to practice while I waited for a range-officer to drive back to the Police Department Armory and get me a proper gun.
After the shooting, we all went through a group critical incident stress debriefing. The department did a good job with this. Chief H.D. was present and told us he was honored to have us as officers and we had done a good job. My Female Captain praised me for my calmness on the radio, calling me phenomenal. We were told to take time off and the prosecutor reviewed the case and declared we were justified in our actions. It helped that a citizen had videotaped the entire incident. A Female Sergeant wrote up a commendation letter requesting that the 5 of us be awarded combat medals. When she submitted a copy to my Captain, he crumpled it up and threw it away, saying “Why would you commend anyone for killing someone.” Even though we followed our training and did exactly what the department expected from us. This is exactly the kind of behavior we came to expect and experienced on a regular basis from many of our Commanders.
Even after all this I jokingly told the girl I had worked for, “This is the last time I’m working for you!! You are bad luck!”
TINA, the other female officer in the shooting ***name changed
Tina went back to her field training. She was pretty new, not from the area, and still in her probationary period. They started giving her a hard time. When Patricia heard what was happening, she confronted Tina’s trainer and asked him why, He said, I was told to. She reminded him of how bad he was when she had trained him. She reminded him that he always got lost and couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag. She told him what he was doing was wrong. Patricia had heard they (The Training Unit/Lt Woody) were going to get rid of Tina because now that she had been in a shooting, she would apply for disability down the road and the dept would have to pay her disability. Eventually She was told quit or be fired. She quit. No one wants a firing on their record. She considered joining the suit but didn’t.
After we returned to work, Light duty and hidden from public view, Lt. Woody set up a meeting with me to discuss the complaint I had made about him. He says “Now don’t you think, in light of this shooting you were involved in that it was good you had the extra training?” I couldn’t believe it. I said to him, I have no problem with training, I’ll go to all the training in the world, training is good, but this situation was handled badly by you and it was totally unnecessary for me to be treated that way.
They left me alone for a year or so. I went in to detective unit/general case for better hours for my kids (someone else wanted out). My male partner immediately put in for a different job. I got a new male partner but his rudeness and behavior, screaming at suspects, caused me to go out on my own or borrow someone else. He could be heard screaming at people but the supervisors never did anything, because he got confessions, solved cases. I did too, but I never screamed at people. You can catch more flies with honey…and I did.
To be continued…