Much has been said about the shooting of unarmed suspects. And, understandably so. Any time a police officer is involved in a shooting it deserves scrutiny. Police officers know that, as guardians of peace, any officer involved use of force will be investigated. And, to many, it is a simple equation; armed police shoots unarmed person equals murder.
But, many Peace Officers have a different perspective. And, with good reason.
Many years ago, while on patrol, a citizen reported a small size pickup truck driving recklessly and the driver appeared to them to be intoxicated. The caller stated the truck had gone off the side of the road multiple times.
I immediately steered my vehicle in hopes of encountering the vehicle so as to prevent an accident. Within a minute or so I observed a vehicle fitting the description with one addition, there was a small tree limb stuck in it’s grill. In our profession we call this a “clue”.
We passed each other on the roadway and I observed the female driver had a small child sitting in the seat next to her and a man sitting on the passenger side. I turned my patrol vehicle around and activated my emergency lights signaling the driver to stop. After we both came to a stop and I had radioed my information to dispatch I exited my vehicle to speak with the driver who showed all the signs of intoxication and some. My investigation was thorough and showed there was no doubt she was in no condition to be driving. It was obvious the child was terrified of the drive they had been on but the man appeared pretty much oblivious to the whole situation, undoubtedly because he was just as inebriated as the driver.
In fact, everyone was cooperative and everything was status quo… until the handcuffs came out. The driver started to put up a small struggle and it took me just a moment longer than usual to get the cuffs secured, which was just enough time to distract me while the male passenger exited the vehicle. Fortunately my spidey senses kicked in and I turned in time to see him charging, full bore, at me. I was able to move the driver to the rear of my vehicle and get her inside before he reached me, which caused him to realize I was now able to confront him without distraction. As this realization hit him he turned and ran back to the truck, but this time he went for the drivers seat.
I pursued him and got to the drivers side door just as he was attempting to close it. With one hand he was pushing me out and with the other he was starting the truck and putting it in gear. I was hanging onto him with one hand and trying to get the key to turn the truck off with the other as the truck began to move forward. I was dragged about 50 feet before I was able to turn the key, killing the engine which caused the truck to come to a stop.
That’s when things got real.
As the truck stopped, he shoved me and we both went flying out of the truck. I hit on my back and he landed on top of me. We struggled for what seemed like an hour but was probably about a minute when I felt a tug at my duty weapon. Like most officers in that day I carried a revolver, which has no safety lever. There was no doubt in my mind that, given his excited, angry state I could not allow him to get my weapon. I could not allow this unarmed man to disarm me, knowing that he would use my own gun on me. Now we were both struggling for my weapon and I could feel that it had come loose in my holster as the restraining loop was unsnapped.
We continued to struggle with one hand while I tried to hold on to my weapon with the other and he attempted to take it. Finally, he pulled hard on the weapon and it came out of the holster. I hit his arm as hard as I could and the gun flew out of his hand, landing approximately 5 feet from us. It was as if time stopped. We both looked at the gun and then back at each other. And then, as if we were one, we both lunged toward the gun! I fell on it first and covered it with my body. He had my arms pinned so that I could not reach for it but, neither could he. The realization hit me hard. It was truly possible that he could take possession of my weapon!
Then, suddenly, as if from nowhere, a citizen who was passing by in a vehicle stopped and came to my aid. Together we subdued the suspect.
I have reflected on this incident many times over the years. What would I have done had the citizen not come to my aid? What if the struggle had come to the point where the only way I could save my life would be to shoot my weapon, maybe even to end this mans life? Would the media, special interest groups or others have ruined me? I don’t know. But, I do know this, unarmed does not always mean unarmed.