It was my last day with my Fourth Phase trainer and it was supposed to be a quasi-off day. He didn’t want me taking any reports. Do a few traffic stops, contact a few folks, but for the most part take it easy and probably go 10-7OD early. Now I found myself barrelling down the highway code threee, at 115 MPH. We had just been on a traffic stop for a driver using his cell phone, when a call of a fight at a graduation party gone wrong involving 50 or more people went out. I quickly cut my traffic stop loose with a warning, jumped in my cruiser, threw on the lights and sirens, and, like every other deputy in a 15 mile radius made my way to the fracas just as fast as my Crown Vic could carry me.
As we flew down the freeway details of the fight started to come in. There were reports of bottles flying, gangbangers squaring off, possibly armed with knives, someone possibly injured, and people taking off in all directions, on foot and in vehicles. We were quite a ways from the scene when the call went out, and deputies started arriving when we were still a good distance away. Deputies were calling out vehicle descriptions as they tried to flee the area, and one deputy reported there was a man down in the roadway, possibly bleeding from the head. Initial reports were he had been hit by a fleeing vehicle, possibly intentionally. When we arrived there were so many patrol cars and fire trucks already on scene we had to park fairly far away. As we walked up toward the commotion, a few deputies had subjects detained, mostly teenagers, and I could see the medics surrounding the man down.
As we got closer I could see him facedown on the pavement, a broken cinderblock lying next to his head, which was lying in a small pool of blood. In most cases on FTO, this would’ve been mine to handle even though several other deputies arrived on scene first. That’s part of the “fun” of training, you “get” to take paper on everything. But not tonight. My trainer told the sergeant on scene that I wouldn’t be taking it. I did still assist of course, questioning one of the detained teenagers, who (of course) wasn’t at the party. He just happened to be walking by on his way home–even though he told me he was walking in the opposite direction of where he said he lived. When he finally admitted to being at the party, he inexplicably forgot the names of the two friends he came with. The lies never get any better. You never know your friends names, you only had two beers, and these aren’t your pants.
He didn’t give us much, and truthfully, probably didn’t know anything useful anyway. Just a stupid kid at a stupid party doing stupid things (he was HBD). After his mom came to pick him up, we made our way back to the station to call it a night, a couple hours early.
So, why were we ending the night early? Why didn’t my FTO want me handling anything more than a traffic stop? And why was I still with a trainer eight days after I was supposed to have already completed The Program? And why am I a deputy no longer?
I promise not to go eleven months before the next installment. I’m feeling the urge to get the rest of this story off my chest, so stick with me and check back soon for updates.
If the sounds coming from the room at the opposite end of the hallway sounded inhuman, its because they were. At least partially. The yelps and growls of the K9 neck deep in its work and the shrieks and wails of the object of the dogs aggression, made for quite an unsettling cacophony. Over that ruckus was the K9 handlers shouts of “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!” I was at the other end of the hall, gun drawn at low ready, my back to the action, watching the living area of the house for any other occupants that may still be hiding out. We had already called two subjects out of the house prior to entering and other than me, my FTO, the K9 and his partner, and the victim of the K9’s canines, the only people we knew were in the house were the two small children fast asleep in the bedroom across the entryway from me. Fortunately, they seemed to be oblivious to the fact that their grandfather was being mauled by a dog and that he had shot their grandmother in the hand minutes before.
Third Phase of FTO was a good phase. As mentioned in the last installment, the town I was assigned to wasn’t very big and was far from being a cesspool of criminal elements, but it did have its share of bad guys. It was the kind of place where next to nothing would happen all week then all of a sudden you’d get one big event. That first week it was the vehicle pursuit. It was also here that I had my first foot pursuit (which I won’t got into detail about right now….he got away).
I got along great with my trainer, who was actually the brother of a friend of mine that worked for another agency. Though it wasn’t a particularly busy place to work, I got plenty of practice doing the day to day stuff a deputy sheriff does: making traffic stops, contacting people on the street, patrolling problem areas, and so on.
In about my third week of Phase Three, I was dispatched to the hospital to meet with a woman who had come in with an injury to her hand. Her husband had shot it. As we prepared to drive to the hospital, another deputy said he would meet the victim at the hospital so we could go to the house and find out exactly what had happened. Information continued to come in as we made our way the house. The victim had been driven to the hospital by one of her two sons. She stated her other grown son and daughter were also at the house with her husband, as well as the daughter’s two small children. She stated her husband had been acting strangely that evening and when she went into the back bedroom to check on him, she found him with a gun in his hand. There was some sort of a struggle and now here she was at the hospital.
We arrived at the house with about four other units, including a sergeant. I had just recently been reading through the trainee expectations for each phase and at Phase Three the trainee should be handling every call on their own unless it is something they have never handled before. The first part of that statement kept running through my head as we approached the house. Then just about when I hit panic mode, I remembered the last part, “unless it is something they have never handled.” Now I could relax a little. I’d never dealt with a shooting before, so I knew my FTO wouldn’t leave me hanging. And he didn’t.
My trainer and I crossed the street from the house and took cover behind a pick up truck parked in the driveway of another house. Another deputy took up a position behind a car directly in front of our target house and the K9 and his partner walked up on the sidewalk in front of the garage of the house. They were somewhat exposed, but out of view of any doors or windows. The sergeant and at least one other deputy took up positions behind the house, trying to get a visual on any movement inside.
From our position, we could see someone walking around inside near a window. It was dark, so we couldn’t make out much about the subject, but it appeared they were looking out the window in our direction. The subject spoke, “Is someone out there?”
My trainer announced our presence and ordered the subject to come out with his hands up (yes we really say that). The subject complied and we had him walk out towards our partner taking cover behind the car. He was handcuffed and sat down on the street. The subject told us his dad, sister and two small children were still inside. About that time the sister came to the door and she was ordered out, and I handcuffed her.
We asked the two what had happened. They said they thought their dad had taken some Ambien and went to bed and the next thing they knew they heard a loud bang and their mom’s hand was bleeding. Their other brother had taken her to the hospital. They said their dad was still in his bedroom. Though the gun that had been fired was taken by the other brother when he drove the victim to the hospital, the two we had detained told us there were several other guns inside the parents bedroom.
Based on the fact that shots had been fired, we an armed and unstable man inside the house with two small children, we made the decision to enter the house. The K9 and his partner lead the way, followed by my FTO and then me. We entered the front door and made an immediate right turn down the hall. Since we didn’t have time to clear the rest of the before making contact with our suspect, I remained at the end of the hall near the entry way to cover my partners’ backs. Before long the miserable caterwauling previously described was filling the house. When the ruckus finally died down to a mere commotion, the small girl in the room across from me, sat up, looked at me, gun drawn, then laid back down and went to sleep.
Obviously, I didn’t see what had happened but here’s how it was explained to me. When the K9 and his partner entered the room, they found our suspect lying on the bed, his back to the door. The handler ordered the suspect to show his hands, but he was unresponsive. The handler continued to shout commands at the suspect, who’s only response was to look over his shoulder and raise his right hand in a one-fingered salute to the deputy. Meanwhile, his left hand was still concealed under the covers. Fearing there may still be a firearm in play, the handler deployed his partner and the German Shepherd latched onto the suspects right shoulder. The suspect continued to resist, even as he screamed in agony. He punched the dog in the snout repeatedly, to the point where he knocked out at least one of the K9’s teeth. Finally, after what seemed like forever, but was really about 10 seconds, the suspect relented and the handler disengaged the dog. My FTO cuffed the suspect and the handler removed his partner from the area.
Medics were brought in and as they tended to the suspect’s injuries, I tried to question him as to what went on. He insisted he and his wife had not been in any kind of a fight and he didn’t understand what had happened. Somewhat understandably, he was not very cooperative. Even with the trashing he had taken from the dog, I’m not sure he was totally shaken from his Ambien induced haze.
Questioning him further at this point was futile, and he needed to get to the hospital anyway, so we let the medics load him into the ambulance. After releasing the brother and sister, getting their written statements and checking on the kids, we headed toward the hospital for follow-up. After he was treated, I spoke with the suspect. He had taken an Ambien earlier in the evening and rather than going straight to bed, drank some wine. Ambien and wine do not make for good bed-fellows. He claimed to have been in such a state as to not have realized what had happened. He stated he remembered getting the gun out of the safe and his wife coming in the bedroom. He said he heard a loud noise, but the next thing he remembered he was getting eaten by a big dog. It seemed a convenient statement, but it did seem to match with the victim’s and witnesses statements. They all said they knew he had taken an Ambien and had seen him drinking wine soon after. The victim had gone into the room to check on him and found him holding the handgun. She tried to take it out of his hand and when she did it went off. As it turned out she hadn’t actually been hit with the bullet, but the gases discharged from the gun split her hand open and gave her a pretty nasty burn. The suspect was charged with resisting arrest, but there was no intent to fire the weapon, so no further charges could be filed.
All in all, it was a strange experience, but I got high marks from my trainer. He said other deputies had commented how I remained calm and collected and didn’t let the situation overwhelm me. That was nice to hear. Things seemed to be progressing as planned. I only had about another week before Final Phase and felt good. And yet, I am a deputy no longer.
It was not quite 0500 hours (5 AM to the layman) and after one last spin around town looking for bad guys, my Third Phase FTO and I were heading back to the station to finish up paperwork for the last hour of our shift. It was my first night behind the wheel (and second overall) with this new FTO and it had been a pretty uneventful night. As I steered our patrol car toward the station, a beat up looking late 70’s model sedan approached us from the opposite direction with only one operating headlight. It was worth a stop and who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll turn into something. After it passed us, I flipped a u-turn to get behind the cycloptic jalopy preparing to make a traffic enforcement stop for the inoperable headlight. As I completed my u-turn, I was surprised to see the sedan far ahead of where I expected it to be…and seemingly suddenly turning down a side street.
Things had been progressing fairly well on FTO. However, my First Phase (after Orientation Phase) had been pretty rough for three reasons:
- I was working a 1600 – 0200 swing shift which meant my family and I were ships literally passing in the night. Everyone would be fast asleep by the time I got home and would be out of the house by the time I work up. Then I’d be gone at work by the time they returned in the afternoon. FTO is stressful enough, but when you don’t get a chance to see your family for over half the week, it’s much worse. I felt very alone that phase.
- I was now being evaluated. Every action I took or didn’t take was now fully documented and scored. Like I said in the last post, they tell you not to get too hung up on the scores, especially early on. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes and it’s expected. But that’s easier said than done.
- My FTO for that phase was tough. He was more intense–by a large margin–than any of my other FTO’s. He wasn’t a yeller, but when I messed up I could feel him fuming. He was a former violent crime detective and super sharp, and could be quite amiable when he wanted to be. In fact, if he was behind the wheel we’d have some very pleasant conversations about all kinds of stuff. But when I was driving it was all business. Oh, and he hated my driving. You hit one curb! It’s not exactly that he was trying to be kind of a jerk…ok, maybe a little, but that’s his training style. He would add that extra layer of stress to see how you’d handle it. I understand his method, but being on the receiving end I certainly didn’t enjoy it. Also, I don’t think I learn as well under that style of training. It seemed like we hardly ever really de-briefed our calls like I did with my other trainers. With all the other ones right after every call, when able, we would talk about it. What went right, what went wrong, how could we have done it different, etc. That was very helpful. With this trainer, we hardly ever did that, at least not to the same level of detail. He might throw out a quick sentence about how I should have done it this way or that, than that was it. If I had a question I could ask, of course, but it seemed like he wasn’t too ready to volunteer anything. I don’t know, maybe that’s part of his style too. At any rate, it made for a tough and draining five weeks and by the end of it I felt like I’d regressed rather than progressed.
Phase Two was better. My trainer was another laid back sort. A member of the SWAT team and a range master, he had a lot of good insight on the tactical approach to things and seemed to take a genuine interest in my training. Our beat was actually a small town our department contracted with for police services and it would take us about 20 minutes to drive out there. On the way he would always quiz me on criminal law, policy, and procedure. That might sound like a drag, but you really need to be confident in that stuff so you have a clear understanding of what you can and cannot do in a given situation. You only have split seconds before you have to decide whether or not it is legal for you to put your hands on somebody or go through their stuff or force your way into their home. So, I appreciated his focus on that.
The town we were assigned to was definitely not a hot bed of criminal activity, and in hindsight it would’ve done me good to be in an area that was a little more active. Part of that is me wishing I’d been a little more proactive also. However, I did make progress in how I was handling various confrontations and it was the one and only time I got to remove my shotgun from the between the seats and rack a round into the chamber. That was pretty cool. By the end of Phase Two I felt I was turning a corner.
The first day of the first four phases is a free day–no evaluation. It gives you a little breathing room as you get to know a new trainer and a new area. I usually let my trainer do the driving that day so I could see the areas they like to check out and the way they do the everyday stuff–traffic stops, suspicious vehicles, consensual contacts, that kind of thing. That first day of Phase Three was no different. I was in another town my department contracts with for police service for this phase, though it was about four times larger and had a history of being a little more active, though less so in recent years. My new trainer was a super energetic guy who couldn’t sit still for more than a couple minutes. He warned me right away that sometimes he would just have to drive. Not because I was doing anything wrong, but because he couldn’t stand sitting in the passenger seat not doing anything. I wouldn’t describe him as laid back really, but very personable. When there was something to critique he did it quick and to the point, not sugarcoating it, but then it was over with and we’d be discussing the Giants the next minute.
That first day when I was driving had been pretty uneventful. The only thing I remember up to the point we saw that one-eyed Ford was a suspicious person call that I didn’t handle all that well. Not a huge deal, but not the kind of first impression I was hoping to make. I made up for it.
I accelerated to catch up with the sedan as it made its right turn down the side street. It was probably a couple hundred yards ahead of me. It was sort of a surreal moment. I was pretty sure this guy was trying to avoid me, but this being my first experience of this kind, I was also thinking “Is this really happening?” My trainer was telling me something to the effect of “Go go go!” As I made my turn onto the street the sedan had ducked down, I could see he was already at the other end making the next turn while running a stop sign. Now it was clear this guy was making a break for it. At this point I threw on my overhead lights and my trainer grabbed the radio and put out that we had a vehicle that was attempting to elude us.
There’s a phenomenon that occurs in high stress situations called tunnel vision. When faced with something that causes a sudden rush of adrenaline you vision narrows and you lose your peripheral vision. Everything looks like its being viewed through–obviously–a tunnel. It’s something that occurs regularly in law enforcement as you can go from boring to terrifying in exactly zero seconds on a fairly regular basis. Obviously this can be dangerous, especially driving a large patrol car at high speeds.
Fortunately, I didn’t experience this. But I did experience a similar phenomenon called tunnel hearing. Even right after the event was over, I remembered almost none of the radio traffic. I remember things my trainer said to me, but it was like I could only hear his voice. I only remember hearing maybe one or two things that actually came over the radio. It was kind of bizzare.
I chased the sedan through the narrow but empty streets of a fairly upscale neighborhood. The streets were all pretty short so our speeds never got that high, but he was definitely moving way to fast for the conditions and ran about three stop signs and mis-navigated a traffic circle. As he emerged out of the neighborhood onto a main street, two pedestrians were on the corner and jumped back as he made a sharp turn just in front of them. We were now on a straightaway and the sedan began to pick up speed. The signs said 35 mph, but I was doing just over double that and not yet gaining on our suspect. The road was straight but not exactly flat, with a few small rises and plenty of potholes. The patrol car rattled and bumped as I accelerated. It must be terrifying for a trainer to be in the passenger seat for these things. Mine was alternately telling me to speed up and be careful.
As I got within a hundred yards or so of the suspect he disappeared over a slight rise in the road. It was still dark out and my trainer warned me to slow down as there was a 90 degree turn just ahead. As we came over the rise I saw the turn and right at the angle there was a large oak tree. Hit that corner with too much speed and you’d fail to navigate the turn and run smack dab into that tree. And that’s exactly what happened…to our suspect. He didn’t hit it straight on, just clipped the right side of the tree with the drivers side of the car. He then plowed through a barbed wire fence and into a field.
We didn’t see the impact. When we got to the corner, the sedan was already resting in the field, about 20 yards off the road. There was no sign of the driver. We jumped out of our car, guns drawn and approached the sedan. The field was full of tall weeds about waist high and beyond the car about 50 yards there was a line of trees at the edge of the field. I didn’t think he would’ve been able to make the trees if he had foot bailed but I scanned the area around the car as we waded through the sea of tall grass, looking for any movement. As we reached the car I could see the suspect lying down across the front seat, his hands not visible. I yelled at him to show me his hands. He didn’t respond at first, playing a little bit of possum. I ordered him again to show me his hands and my trainer echoed my demands. The suspect finally sat up and raised his hands sheepishly. My trainer said, “Grab him and get him out of there. I’ll pop him if he tries anything.”
I opened up the mangled door, grabbed the suspect by the arm (who had the couresty to unbuckle himself), and yanked him out of the car and onto the ground face down. I dropped a knee in his back to keep him pinned down and my trainer came around to help me get him handcuffed. And then it was over. The whole thing had lasted barely two minutes and covered exactly one mile.
Other units arrived, along with medics. The suspect was lucky and didn’t have a scratch on him. Another foot to the left and that oak tree and he would’ve become one. He wasn’t drunk, not on drugs, and had been on his way to work. After he was advised of his Miranda rights, I asked him why he ran. He said he didn’t know and that it was stupid. He said he was just glad nobody got hurt. He was on felony probation, but there was nothing he would’ve been violated on, unless he tossed something sometime during the pursuit, which is entirely possible. But this night he was going to jail.
Once everything was over, my trainer gave me a high five and told me I did an awesome job. He told me he kept glancing over at me during the pursuit and he said I looked like I was on a Sunday drive. I’m not so sure about that, but I did feel strangely calm during the whole ordeal. And yet, I am a deputy no longer.