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Wounds change officers' lives


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  • Wounds change officers' lives

    Published Sunday August 31, 2008
    Wounds change officers' lives

    • Wounded officer's condition improves
    Even though he knows his closest backup is always at least 15 minutes away, a western Nebraska sheriff didn't think twice about returning to the job after a man holed up in a house used a shotgun two years ago to spray pellets into his torso, hands, arms, face and throat.

    "You can't lose faith in everyday people," Deuel County Sheriff Jeff Ortgies said.

    A Pottawattamie County deputy, nearly killed when he was shot during a traffic stop four years ago, now thinks the job isn't worth the risk of losing his life. If a better job came along, Deputy Brian Loomis would take it.

    "Other people go to work and have a bad day and get fired," Loomis said. "I almost got killed."

    Getting shot or otherwise wounded in the line of duty is a life-altering event for officers, an event that can leave a permanent mark on their minds as well as bodies.

    They face the possibility of a lifetime of injuries that never completely heal. A lingering memory of the day they could have been killed. A wake-up call about how truly dangerous their jobs are.

    No doubt Omaha Police Officer Paul Latschar will confront similar struggles as he recovers from the Aug. 20 shooting that nearly took his life. Latschar's wife has said he plans to return to work.

    Roughly two dozen officers, state troopers and deputies from Nebraska and western Iowa have been wounded in shootings in the last decade. Almost all have returned to the job.

    That includes three of four Omaha police officers, not including Latschar, who have been wounded in shootings in the last 10 years.

    The exception is Officer Jeffrey Holland.

    After being shot in the chest and leg in 2000 as he fought off two bank robbers, Holland was granted a disability retirement for post-traumatic stress disorder.

    At the time of the shooting, Holland also had been under stress from an internal police investigation to determine whether he fabricated allegations of race-related harassment. The results of the investigation were not made public, although officials said when Holland retired that he was leaving the department in good standing.

    Officer Marlin McClarty, who knew Holland well, said the Police Department's dual response to Holland — being lauded as a hero for his actions during the robbery after being investigated as a liar — "was extremely, extremely frustrating for Jeff. It was frustrating for his family."

    Holland told the Police and Fire Pension Board that the shooting made him paranoid and reclusive. He spoke of flashbacks and outbursts of anger that led his wife and children to distance themselves from him.

    "After the shooting, he just changed," McClarty said. "He was very withdrawn. He was quiet. That smile Jeff always had was gone."

    Omaha Police Capt. Diana Kelly said officers who have been through shootings go through a "critical incident stress debriefing" that is led by a mental health professional and officers from another Nebraska law enforcement agency who have been trained in the process.

    The primary officer involved in the incident also is required to see a psychologist, she said.

    After returning to work, she said, the officer's sergeant will monitor how the officer handles daily stress.

    City Councilman Garry Gernandt appreciated the care he received from the city after he was critically wounded in 1986.

    Gernandt, then a 34-year-old police sergeant, was stabbed by a robbery suspect four times. One knife strike was an eighth of an inch close to severing a nerve that would have rendered his arm useless. Because it missed, Gernandt was able to shoot and kill the man during the struggle.

    Before returning to duty, Gernandt went through a battery of physical and psychological tests to determine whether he was fit to continue as an officer.

    He credits the psychological care and a "win-win mindset" with his successful recovery. Even 22 years later, Gernandt still tears up thinking about those days.

    "There are some things that push some emotional buttons, and there always will be," he said.

    Deputy Loomis, 35, still patrols the stretch of Interstate 80 where he pulled over three men in a stolen car on Nov. 10, 2004.

    One of the men shot Loomis four times with a .357-caliber Glock, hitting his chest, right arm and twice his left arm.

    Like Officer Latschar, Loomis would have died if help had arrived a few minutes later.

    His first goal was to restore his health. He spent the next months in physical therapy.

    "As soon as I got released for duty, I went out and made the first traffic stop I could," he said.

    It was someone with a broken tail light. Loomis warned the driver and moved on.

    To arresting the same people over and over again. To getting called to petty disturbances that families should handle on their own. To watching how alcohol and drugs ravage people's lives.

    The fulfilling moments of helping people are outnumbered by the days he wishes he'd never returned to the job.

    "A lot of days, yeah," Loomis said. "The days that you find somebody with a loaded gun in the front seat, yeah."

    Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker said he understands how Loomis' shooting could affect his mindset.

    "He's going to look at things differently from that time on," Danker said.

    Loomis received department-mandated counseling after the shooting and was given psychological testing before he was declared fit for duty, the sheriff said.

    The job may never be the same again for deputies who have gone through such an experience, he said, but the recovery process hopefully allows them to "pick up where things left off."

    "You want to do everything you can to get things back to as close as normal as possible," Danker said.

    Normal to Deuel County Sheriff Ortgies, 38, is a pellet that floats in his lower left jaw and a fused thumb knuckle that aches every day.

    The injuries are constant reminders of the day in March 2006 that a Chappell, Neb., man shot Ortgies from 40 yards away, then killed himself.

    The shooting, he said, opened his eyes to how quickly life can change.

    One minute, Ortgies was sitting in his office; less than an hour later, an ambulance was whisking him to a hospital.

    "I think it would have been a heck of a lot easier," he said, "if I didn't have a wife and two children."
    Some people were just dropped on their heads as children more than the rest of us!

  • #2
    thank you for this information. interesting to say the least...


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