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Lethal Force encounter - second guessing my training...

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  • Lethal Force encounter - second guessing my training...

    Well, I've been riding out several times over my Christmas break from law school. I'm still riding with a senior deputy, learning all the ins and outs of Harris County.

    We got sent to a theft-of-service call, where a cab driver had called in about a fare who was refusing to pay his bill.

    We spot the cabbie standing in the street in front of a very large house at the end of the street on a cul-de-sac. It's dark, there is very little ambient light, and what is there is blocked by very large trees in the front yard. The lots are over-sized, with long driveways leading up to the side of the houses, and walkways leading up to the front door.

    Cabbie says the fare is a white male who is very drunk, and he just went inside refusing to pay. The bill was $56, so this would be an arrestable offense if we can get the guy to come out, or perhaps we could just get a responsible person at the address to just pay the bill.

    We approach the front door, which is darkened. I hear a voice calling softly from what I believe is the neighbor's house, to my far right. I believe he is saying, "he's not there," or something like that. I ignore the voice for a moment as the front door opens before we have reached it. An elderly woman comes out with cash in hand. Ah... the bum must still live with his 'mommy.'

    My partner breaks off to attend the woman with the cabbie, to ensure he is satisfied.

    I begin walking across the yard, rounding a stand of 5-6 large trees, to where the voice is now whistling or something. I now realize the voice is coming from the fence line separating the yards, which is on the opposite side of the driveway and a good 60-70 feet away from the stand of trees. I've figured out by now that the drunk must have come out the back of the house and is now trying to get our attention. Who knows, maybe to keep us from telling on him to his mommy...

    It is somewhat cold outside, and I am wearing a long sleeve uniform shirt, no jacket, carrying a Streamlight SL-20P (plastic) in my left (non-gun) hand.

    As I round the trees, I illuminate the area to spot a man standing by the fence. Bingo. I start walking towards him, when I realize his arms are not down to his side. In fact, I can't really see his hands. He is wearing dark clothing, which is making it difficult to make sense of what I am seeing...

    I hesitate and focus my attention (and light) on his chest, where I see something shiny. It is small, very small, in fact it is the size of a button...

    At this point, things get a little fuzzy. What I knew and what I know begin to blend. Time lines mean little. I'll try to relay what I BELIEVE happened, in order.

    I knew he was holding something, assuming his hands were up at his chest holding whatever was reflecting back at me. I go into my training, which is to assume everything is a gun. I backpedal to the stand of trees, and get cover behind/near the one closest to me. I am holding my light in my left hand, high and to the left. I have already drawn my weapon (Glock 21 w/ M3 weaponlight), but I am not exactly aiming it at him ready to shoot. I am about 60 feet away, holding my pistol one handed, attempting to figure out what he's holding.

    I shout "drop the gun! Drop it! Now!" I don't really know it's a gun at the point. I just never shout "drop the item in your hand that is making me think you are possibly armed and a threat to my life!" It seems easier just to say 'drop the gun.'

    My partner tells me he was not paying attention to me at the moment, but snapped back in hard when he heard my commands. He began to take up a position behind the trees to my left.

    I now realize what the hell I was seeing.... a muzzle. The weapon was a black, synthetic stocked .22lr rifle, a Mossberg 702 Plinkster. His hands were around the black stock, which made his arms/hands disappear, and the black stock blended in with his dark clothing. All I could see was the reflection of the muzzle, which is very small on a .22lr rifle. I assume it is probably a BB gun, but act as if it is a .308win.

    I am behind cover (mostly), sixty feet away, have the subject illuminated with a large flashlight in my left hand, and am holding my pistol in a high-ready position in my right hand. To say I was drawn down on the subject is something of a misnomer, as I would consider that a position ready to fire. I was not ready to fire. I was about to be ready to fire...

    At this moment, he lowers the gun to the ground, which gives me a bladed profile look of the rifle. For the first time, I know for sure what I am seeing. It's a gun. Damn... Before this point, I was 'curious', 'unsure', 'speculative', and then 'believing' but never 'sure.' I was now sure. But, the gun was already on the ground.

    Just for comparison's sake, my partner never cleared leather. Why? Because this happened so fast, by the time he got behind cover and began to draw, the rifle was already on the ground.

    After laying down his rifle, he followed my commands (pretty much) and was taken into custody.

    So, that's the story.

    What's got me shaken up is that I wasn't ready to shoot him. Either physically, in that I had not taken up a shooting stance yet, and mentally, in that I couldn't discern that what I was seeing was a lethal threat.

    So here are the 'ifs' I've got playing in my head at 0200 hrs, keeping me from sleeping...

    If I had a brighter flashlight, maybe I could have seen the color contrast between black synthetic stock and a dark blue shirt?

    If I had been trained in identifying a muzzle in the dark, instead of what a gun looks like from the side. I always assumed I would see someone POINT a gun at me, not just see a POINTED gun at me. See the difference? I saw no movement. He just stood there. There were no context clues as to what I was seeing. I have explained that what I saw appeared to be a man holding a dime (but smaller) in front of him. Not "out" in front of him, perhaps just holding it up to his chest. That's all I really saw...

    If I had trained with my SL-20P instead of my M3 weaponlight all the time, I would have quickly went into a combat fighting stance with my light, instead of just a high-ready.

    If I would have ditched my SL-20P and employed my M3 sooner, I would have been ready to fire. When you have a handheld in your hand, and draw your weapon, what do YOU do? (Assuming you have a mounted weaponlight)

    If we would have focused our attention to the darkness AROUND the house before making our approach on the front door, would we have seen him over there together, giving us a better coordinated chance at identifying him as a threat? You see, the cabbie told me afterward that he clearly saw a rifle in the man's hands, because he was standing offset from me (where the rifle was being aimed).

    If my partner and I would have been together instead of handling two things at once, one of us would have enjoyed this perspective. On the other hand, if we would have both given our attention to the noise, would the woman have drawn a gun out of her bathrobe and shot us from behind?

    If I would have waited to investigate until my partner was done with the cabbie/woman, would he have shot us while we stood there? Tough one...

    Action Plan:

    I'm going to start practicing either ditching a handheld upon draw, or using the handheld in a combat shooting stance. I won't just keep practicing strictly with the M3 without any transition training.

    Thanks for 'listening.' I think I can get to bed now...
    Last edited by jwise; 01-15-2010, 03:13 AM.
    J. Wise

    AR-15 - AK-47 - NFA Trusts - My Pick - Carry Guns - 1911s

    "Some say you can tell how the world stands by the prices of AK-47s...." Chit2001

    Any comments contained herein regarding the legality of firearms, or the application of law, are strictly applicable to Texas. If you live in CA, NY, IL, MA, D.C., etc., the above comments will probably shock you, and should be read for educational purposes only. Most likely nothing I write will apply to you.

    sigpic

  • #2
    Sounds like you handled it pretty well to me. In my experience when you get caught off guard with stuff like this you second guess yourself. Training is very important but battle plans rarely make it past first contact. A good shooting position is ideal but all u really need is sight alignment and sight picture. From the sound of it to me you reacted instantly once the threat was identified. You moved to cover, cleared leather and gave verbal commands. You were informed by the cabbie that an intoxicated white male had entered the house refusing to pay. I realize no call is routine but based on the info you had to immediately approach the house seems reasonable to me. If you focused your attention on the darkness around the house you might have missed something in the house. I think it sounds like you did just fine. I think this is post incident realization that you could have bitten it tonight and your trying to figure out what you did wrong. The truth about this line of work is that you can do everything right and still get hurt. Take the experience and use it but I think it sounds like you did it right Jwise.

    Comment


    • #3
      Reason for Editing.
      Last edited by lazycop; 02-24-2010, 01:10 AM.
      Work smarter not harder!

      Comment


      • #4
        Reason for Editing.
        Last edited by lazycop; 02-24-2010, 01:10 AM.
        Work smarter not harder!

        Comment


        • #5
          I think a Streamlight Ultra Stinger might become an early birthday present. 295 lumens out of a smaller, handheld, rechargeable light.
          J. Wise

          AR-15 - AK-47 - NFA Trusts - My Pick - Carry Guns - 1911s

          "Some say you can tell how the world stands by the prices of AK-47s...." Chit2001

          Any comments contained herein regarding the legality of firearms, or the application of law, are strictly applicable to Texas. If you live in CA, NY, IL, MA, D.C., etc., the above comments will probably shock you, and should be read for educational purposes only. Most likely nothing I write will apply to you.

          sigpic

          Comment


          • #6
            So if you had not been in a training situation would this call have been one responded to by a single vehicle with just one officer? Single man calls would be pretty scary to me.

            I was stopped in a situation once with another vehicle and before the officer dealt with the vehicle not mine, he asked me if I would stay there with him until a second patrol vehicle could arrive. Turns out there was a report of 3 escaped convicts and three men in the other vehicle, so I don't know if I was there to help or just be a potential witness.

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            • #7
              Yes, this would have been a one-car call. Not so at my former department, where everything but delayed calls received two officers.
              J. Wise

              AR-15 - AK-47 - NFA Trusts - My Pick - Carry Guns - 1911s

              "Some say you can tell how the world stands by the prices of AK-47s...." Chit2001

              Any comments contained herein regarding the legality of firearms, or the application of law, are strictly applicable to Texas. If you live in CA, NY, IL, MA, D.C., etc., the above comments will probably shock you, and should be read for educational purposes only. Most likely nothing I write will apply to you.

              sigpic

              Comment


              • #8
                You did the right thing because:

                A) You and your partner made it home at the end of the shift.

                B) You didn't over-react and you didn't under-react. Your conscious mind might not have "known" that it was a gun now that you "look back" on it, but your brain sure as **** knew it was a gun at the moment it happened. Otherwise you wouldn't have reacted like you did.

                C) You were ready to use the necessary force, whether you consciously believe it or not. Had that guy started pointing, you would have started shooting, trust me.

                We are our own worst critics sometimes. Close calls like the one you had make me second guess myself, just like you are doing now. It's our way of coping, learning, and preparing ourselves for when the time comes. Those situations always seem surreal, it's normal. Our brain does funny things, ever read "On Killing" and "On Combat" by Lt Col Grossman? If you haven't, do it now.

                Good job by the way
                "You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

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                • #9
                  One more thing to add. When the bullets start flying, flashlights usually hit the ground, and NO ONE is holding a pretty shooting stance. Just saying...
                  "You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    JWise,

                    Don't second guess yourself, of course play it over, use the experience for next time, but there are so many things you can't account for you'd go crazy trying to figure out every little thing for each and every call.

                    You went to a theft of service call, and honestly, who thinks much of a simple call like that. Even though the amount was barely a Class B, most of us are not going to be on high guard.

                    I work for an S.O. relatively near y'all, we've been running about three Deputies for the county as of late and I'll just tell you this. Get used to doing things alone, get used to not having easily accessible back up, and get used to having stuff like this happen and scare the living beejesus outta you. I've approached stolen vehicles alone, fought a guy on the side of the road for almost ten minutes (pepper spray didn't work), cleared houses alone, gone to domestics alone....and so on....granted your agency has far more Deputies than mine but you gotta keep on truckin'.

                    Bottom line is, learn from what happened, but don't beat yourself up over it. Your next light may be bright but the throw may not be great at larger distances..... You did good, and that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.
                    Moooooooooooo, I'm a goat

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                    • #11
                      I would guess that (even in daylight) there will always be a lapse in time between the moment when you first think you see a threat and the moment when you're sure about it, and in retrospect, it will always feel like that time lapse was too long. Training and experience may shorten that time, but it can't be entirely aviodable. I'm glad that you reacted appropriately before you were sure of what you were seeing. And I'm glad you made it home safely.

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                      • #12
                        +1 to Yellowreef's comment. You did good. If your partner didn't pat you on the back, pat yourself on the back. The second-guessing game will be a constant, especially when things have the real potential to go pear-shaped.
                        Sure, that badge will get you midgets, but those midgets will get that badge!

                        The more I learn about people, the more I prefer the company of my dogs.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by BCSD Frank View Post
                          +1 to Yellowreef's comment. You did good. If your partner didn't pat you on the back, pat yourself on the back. The second-guessing game will be a constant, especially when things have the real potential to go pear-shaped.
                          He did. Literally, and reflected in my training evaluation for the day!
                          J. Wise

                          AR-15 - AK-47 - NFA Trusts - My Pick - Carry Guns - 1911s

                          "Some say you can tell how the world stands by the prices of AK-47s...." Chit2001

                          Any comments contained herein regarding the legality of firearms, or the application of law, are strictly applicable to Texas. If you live in CA, NY, IL, MA, D.C., etc., the above comments will probably shock you, and should be read for educational purposes only. Most likely nothing I write will apply to you.

                          sigpic

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Right on.
                            Sure, that badge will get you midgets, but those midgets will get that badge!

                            The more I learn about people, the more I prefer the company of my dogs.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I agree with yellowreef's and BCSD Frank's comments (as well as many earlier posters I can't remember). Sounds like you did good and have already considered taking a proactive approach in obtaining a brighter flashlight. I am a firm believer in LED lights and am in the process of slowly getting rid of all non-LED lights as I replace them with LED lights of the same or close to the same size.

                              I have trained myself to throw anything in my hand except my pistol with a Surefire X200 LED light mounted on it down if I need my pistol. If I'm close to the threat I'll throw it directly at their face as I've trained doing just that for years by throwing a piece of plywood or PVC pipe at the head of a target as part of the draw stroke. Those items are cut to the same or approximately the same size as my clip board, ticket book, non weapon mounted flashlights. It's human nature to try to protect one's eyes so I figure I'll give them something to protect their eyes from which can't hurt and should help.

                              I concur with yellowreef's closing remark that when the bullets start to fly flashlights or anything else that's in your support hand will be promptly dropped. Why not use that knowledge to your benefit and throw whatever is in your support hand at the threat's face and help you close the reactionary gap? That's my theory anyway.

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