“After the gun went off, the first thought I had was, ‘Oh my god, I just shot my pistol.’”
BY MICHAEL A. MOORE
Everyone dreams of the perfect job, but, many of us never have a chance to fulfill that dream.
That wasn’t the case for one retired central Kentucky law enforcement officer.
“I always dreamed of being an officer,” he said. “I didn’t want to be anything else. I wanted to wear that uniform.”
Five years into his career on a cold, damp, rainy fall evening in the mid-1990s, the officer’s dream became a nightmare.
He, along with four others, responded to a situation to serve a warrant regarding domestic violence.
“He was an older gentleman, and he was expecting a check, and when he didn’t get it, he went off and started beating his wife,” he said.
When the officers arrived, the man barricaded himself in a detached garage. The officers attempted to make contact, but their attempts were returned with threats on the officers’ lives.
After several hours, the suspect came out of the garage to relieve himself, and while he was urinating, the officers attempted to sic a canine on him. But the dog lost sight of the target.
The K-9 handler ran toward the man anticipating pulling the dog off of him. When the dog lost its target, its handler attempted to tackle the man.
“When the other officer hit him, the subject fixated on me, on my flashlight, and I was running toward him with my light in my left hand and handgun in my right hand,” the officer said. “His hand disappeared into the small of his back, and I immediately knew what he was doing; he was going for a handgun.”
The next thing the officer knew, he had fired his weapon.
“After the gun went off, the first thought I had was, ‘Oh my god, I just shot my pistol.’ My next thought was, ‘Where was the other officer?’” he said.
When the officer reached the suspect, he first made sure the other K-9 handler was OK, and then checked the man.
“My round deflected (off the man’s handgun) and hit him in the chin and then the neck,” he said. “When we rolled him over, we saw his neck was destroyed, and I knew at that point my round had hit him.”
The suspect died within seconds, the officer said.
What came next was an extensive investigation which determined the man had a .22 magnum revolver.
But during the course of the investigation, many thoughts went through the officer’s mind, including an unnerving look from his supervisor.
“It was a terrible look,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh crap, he doesn’t think what I did was right.’”
Following the investigation, the local grand jury found the officer acted within the parameters of the law.
But his journey was not over. For years, he was riddled with guilt.
“I had good days, and I had really bad days,” the officer said. “My wife looked at me one day and said I was acting bad. I told her, ‘I’m not acting bad, I feel bad.’ I never had those emotions before. Sometimes I would be sitting in my house and I would just start crying. I would think, ‘What the hell is going on? Why am I crying?’”
A few years passed and the officer finally reached his breaking point. He decided to give up his dream and quit.
“For me to get to the point of walking away from it, I felt really shitty,” he said.
Before quitting, he spoke to a lieutenant he trusted and respected and basically had a “pity party,” he said.
“This was a couple of years after the fact,” he said. “It took me that long to go to somebody and tell them how I was feeling. My wife didn’t even know what was going on.”
After the lieutenant listened to him, the lieutenant offered advice that helped sway his decision against calling it quits.
“Thou shall not carry that sword in vain,” the lieutenant told him. “You have that pistol on your hip for a reason. Unfortunately, you had to use it. You knew coming into this job that it a was possibility, and unfortunately for you, that’s become a reality.”
Despite a fresh perspective on his career, the nightmares continued – for decades.
“I would dream I was involved in another shooting, and like I said, my scene was very graphic, and the sounds of this man dying, and his body shaking and quivering as life left him, I could never get that out of my mind,” he said. “Even after I retired, I would dream I was still in uniform and involved in a shooting.”
Often, he would wake up depressed, other days he would simply brush it off. The nightmares continued until February 2015, some six years after retirement. It was then he attended a Post Critical Incident Seminar in Columbia, S.C.
“When I went to PCIS, I had a therapy called Eye Movement Decentralization and Reprocessing,” he said. “It doesn’t remove the image, it pushes it to the back of my mind and I have replaced it with another image.”
The officer said PCIS played a key role in his recovery and feels it will play a critical role in the lives of officers throughout Kentucky who have experienced critical incidents such as shootings or other incidents.
After PCIS, the officer’s nightmares finally ended.