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Shootings affect officers

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by rdbrowning, Apr 24, 2006.

  1. rdbrowning

    rdbrowning Well-Known Member


    For police, firing shots changes their lives
    Sunday, April 23, 2006
    By Scott Hagen
    shagen@citpat.com -- 768-4929

    Officer Mike Lauer was backed into a corner and didn't have anywhere to go. So, when the man came after him holding a knife and threatening to kill him, he had no choice. He had to shoot.

    Thirteen years later he still thinks about it, more now than in the years immediately after he shot Timothy Gonzales. He empathizes with the victim's family and children, and has questioned himself.

    Jackson Police already had sprayed Gonzales in the face twice with chemical irritant, but he continued coming after them in a dark parking lot on the corner of E. Michigan Avenue and E. Ganson Street in September 1993.

    Gonzales ran away from two officers when one shot at him and Lauer thought he would continue to run away. But then Gonzales turned toward Lauer. "I thought, 'I need to get the heck out of here,' But I was pinned," Lauer said in a recent interview. "To be honest, I didn't think he was going to come at me, I thought he would bluff."

    With only about six feet left between the two, Lauer fired three times. Two bullets struck and killed Gonzales, 32. The knife fell at Lauer's feet.

    Lauer and his colleagues spent the next few years defending themselves and dealing with criticism from some in the community.

    Almost the same situation played itself out last week on Steward Avenue when Jackson Police Officer Lisa Medina and Sgt. Kevin Hiller shot and killed a woman who charged Medina with a large knife raised about her head. It was the first time in 13 years area police have fatally wounded a threatening person and one of a few times in the past 30 years.

    Interviews with officers involved with both fatal and nonfatal shootings reveal it is a life-changing event that affects different officers in different ways.

    "To this day I can't think of anything I could have done differently," Lauer said. "Maybe tried to fight a guy with a knife with my bare hands, but I didn't think that was a viable option. I have kids, too."

    Joe Hankis, a Jackson Police officer who retired in 1997, was patrolling the streets when he and his partner responded to an attempted rape off W. Michigan Avenue. His partner got there first and was quickly grabbed by the suspect, who pulled the officer's gun and held it to her head. Hankis took cover behind a metal railing in an alley. His partner broke free for a second, and Hankis took a shot and missed. Even though the incident ended later that night when the suspect surrendered, firing his weapon took a toll on Hankis for years after.

    "I woke up many nights with cold sweats," he said. "I finally went to the department psychologist! My whole things was, 'I could have killed her, I could have killed my partner.'"

    Hankis said he still thinks about it all the time and continues to question if he did the right thing that night. Other shootings take a greater psychological toll on officers.

    Officer Howard Noppe, who retired in 2002, said he was baited into shooting at a man who he believed was trying to provoke Noppe into killing him in downtown Jackson.

    Even though he had no choice but to pull his weapon and eventually fire at the suspect -- who lived -- the incident changed his life.

    Noppe, an avid outdoorsman up until the shooting, never went hunting again and hated pulling his gun. He also refused to pull it when two suspects were wielding knives.

    "I didn't want to touch a gun," he said. "I would rather talk my way out of something than rely on deadly force. Unfortunately, in our job it doesn't work that way."

    He continues to patrol part time for Spring Arbor Township after retiring from the city and continues to hope he never pulls his gun again.

    But for other officers a shooting is part of the job, and when realizing they are left with little choice but to defend their lives, and considering the alternative, the conscience can clear.

    It is part of the job, as former Jackson Police Officer Dean Schuette Sr., now retired, said.

    A 17-year-old teenager was shooting at people at a house at S. Jackson and Morrell streets in 1978, and Schuette responded. He approached the door of the house with a shotgun when the teen came out of the house with his own shotgun and refused to drop it. When the suspect raised it quickly toward Schuette, he took the shot and killed the man.

    "It's one of those things you never forget," he said. "But you don't dwell on it. You're going to think about it. If you dwell on it, then it becomes a problem. Your emotions take over."

    All officers interviewed said using their pistols is a last resort -- only when no other options are available. Many said it is the hope of all officers who take to the street every day that they will never be involved in a shooting.
    "Nobody wants to shoot anybody," Hankis said.
  2. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Well-Known Member

    For many police cadets, and working police officers too, the idea that they may have to fire their weapon in 'anger' is merely an intellectual exercise. They are hardly prepared for what really happens when they pull the trigger on another human being.
  3. redranger1

    redranger1 Well-Known Member

    this sorta problem doesnt typically happen to soliers does it? if it does they sure dont talk bout it as much or they just deal with it in a more personal way. sounds to me like the police training is not as well rounded and adequate.
  4. Leatherneck

    Leatherneck Well-Known Member

    Sure it does--to some.


  5. crashresidue

    crashresidue Well-Known Member

    This thread is a booby-trap - if you get close enough to answer, you're gonna' get bloodied.

    I flew two tours in Nam as a gun-ship pilot - and I killed a sh*t pot full of people. Did it bother me? No. I was talking to the people I was shooting for on the radio. I heard my rounds impact and I heard the relief in the voices coming over the air. I kept "my" people ALIVE!

    If you take a life and have problems with dealing with that fact - your training was faulty. Somewhere, sometime - YOU have to decide that YOU are worth saving! Your life is more important than theirs.

    Maybe I'm scarred from Nam, maybe I'm just very shallow - maybe I'm a realist!

    Before you strap on that "death-dealing machine", pull that same "death-dealer", aim it, or, God forbid - use it - you'd best have decided that "if someone lives through this, it's gonna' be ME!

    If you can't do that, then you need to find another profession. You're not ready for what you paid for.

    We all buy the tickets that are our life - you've got to find it in yourselves if you bought the wrong ticket.

    It's a GRIM reality - but YOU have to decide!

    "Turn, tuck, take it on the armor" - or run like Hell!

    Have I killed anyone else since then - NO. Have I considered it - YES. The deciding factor was "Is this worth going to jail for?"

    Hanoi Jane is one example - I won't kill her, but I'll be the first in line to piss on her grave.

    Do I still have nightmares? Yes, but they NEVER involve the people I've killed - they involve the ones I couldn't save.

    Gentle winds - and I hope you NEVER have to make this decision.
  6. Jamie C.

    Jamie C. Well-Known Member

    Funny... I spent better than 10 years talking to an uncle of mine that did a couple's years in 'nam as a machine gunner and crew chief on a Huey... His chopper was shot down 5 times while he was there, once, he was the only survivor.

    I don't recall the first time that he ever mentioned it bothering him, the number of people he killed.... and he'll tell you, the number is probably in the hundreds. And this I have no reason to doubt.

    Didn't even bother him much, the VC that he had to knife. ( pissed him off that he lost a perfectly good bowie, however ).

    What does bother him is the little Vietnamese boy, and the stupid monkey that he had to leave behind.

    The boy and the monkey were both killed in a mortar attack. He had plans of bringing both home with him, when his tour was over.

    Me? I can kill any thing or any body that I believe needs it. And this is not bravado or ego talking.

    It only takes me believing that's what needs doing. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I know I'll lose no sleep over it afterwards. Just don't ask me how I know this.

  7. My uncle was a machine gunner (.30 cal 1919) in Korea and he told a story one night after consuming a signifcant amount of jim beam (i dont think he would have talked about it otherwise) about when a human wave came across at him and his fire team. there was three 1919's on a ridge line in supporting positions. He said they poured belt after belt of .30 into them as fast as they could feed them. the barrel got so hot his loader peed on it so they could keep shooting or they would be overrun. When they started he had 10 belts of ammo. the ammo bearers brought him 10 more after half an hour and he had 5 rounds left when the koreans finnaly reatreated. He told up he aways felt bad about that day cause he had cut them down up close where he could see if they had shaved that morning or if thier uniforms were washed. I tell you it takes a mighty big pair to go though that an not end up a nutcase.

  8. Eleven Mike

    Eleven Mike Well-Known Member

    We've made honorable and necessary homicide into a dirty thing, and told men they should be ashamed of defending the lives of themselves and others.
  9. geekWithA.45

    geekWithA.45 Moderator Emeritus

    Eleven Mike: +1. You nailed it.

    I've known well probably a dozen retired warriors from WWII, Korea, 'Nam, and the Gulf. Every one of them sleeps well, with crash residue's exception for those they couldn't save.

    That, and one guy who was forced to order his squad to fire on a gun emplacement the VC had ringed with kids as human shields. He knows it's not his karma, but still.
  10. SolaScriptura139

    SolaScriptura139 Well-Known Member

    My grandfather was about the same way. He became an alcoholic after WWII, but it was more because of when he was fighting for the army division sent over to the phillipines. He never really expressed any remorse for the japanese he killed, but what messed him up was that every friend he made died. He talked to my father about his best friend's head being blown off right next to him. So I concur with the others that it's not so much killing others (that need to be killed) that affects you, but not being able to save and protect the ones you love that affects you.
  11. rdbrowning

    rdbrowning Well-Known Member

    The article was about police officers having to shoot citizens. Every shoot sounded like a "good" shoot, given the stituations.

    The responces from military folks are enlightening. Could it be a difference in perspective? Maybe due to "fighting the enemy"? Maybe the difference in skin color? Maybe the training? Maybe the police here still have the "protect and serve" attitude that includes the one they had to kill?

    I was hoping to get confirmation from some of the LEOs that this is pretty much what you can expect if you are ever involved in a SD shooting.
  12. Clean97GTI

    Clean97GTI Well-Known Member

    I for one, am glad that these police feel such emotions and that the shootings effect them in such a manner.

    Reminds me that some police still consider themselves "peace" officers.
  13. redranger1

    redranger1 Well-Known Member

    crashresidue and mike11, i shoulda kept my mouth shut and let you fellas explain it. you nailed it!
  14. shooter58

    shooter58 Well-Known Member

    I am a veteran of two tours of combat in the 'Nam", as well as 10 years as an LEO. I, unfortunately had to use my weapon in civilian police work as well as combat. They are two different things bringing on different emotional responses.
    When in Vietnam, I saw the enemy as exactly that, the enemy. I knew that they were trying to kill me and the fights were impersonal. They were enemy not people (most of the time, anyone that tells you that the civilian victims didn't bother them is either lying to you or to themselves.). In police work, you are firing your weapon against one of your own kind, a neighbor, a citizen of your own community. You generally have an opportunity to see them as a living, breathing human being one minute, and the next, a piece of meat. The effects on the psychy, is a little different. Would I do it again? you bet! I have lived with the fact that I did all I could do to prevent having to shoot.
  15. sacp81170a

    sacp81170a Well-Known Member

    Another difference: in wartime, you shoot the enemy and move on. If any of your peers or superiors react, it will be "good show!" or a pat on the back.

    When a police officer must shoot, the inevitable consequence will be an investigation, your weapon will be impounded as evidence, and the judgement you may have had to make in a split second will become fodder for endless hair splitting on *exactly* what *you* should/could have done to avoid shooting. If a DA is running for re-election and the shooting causes a community outcry, be prepared to be thrown to the wolves. All this is additional stress at a time when the officer will be most vulnerable, second guessing him or herself and shaken by the experience. Thus the very real need for counseling and support, even in the instance of a "totally justifiable" shoot.

    Every time an officer is involved in a shooting in our area, you and your peers will wind up doing a mental check, "What would I have done?" Sadly, in many of the shootings I have seen that went to the grand jury, I can't guarantee that I wouldn't have done exactly the same thing as the officer involved. It gives you something to think about...
  16. XDKingslayer

    XDKingslayer member

    There is a distinct difference in the training between the military and law enforcement. Law enforcement is trained to shoot as a last resort. To try other means. The military isn't. We're trained to kill. We have better and more marksmenship training. It's actually glorofied in boot camp at some times.

    You see it all the time on cop shows. They say "nobody got killed so it was a good day" or "we apprehended the bad guy without violence", or something to that effect. When we were in Columbia, the Columbian Marines with us got into a firefight with the drug cartel that night and we were pissed we couldn't join them...

    There is definately a difference in mindset. And I'll bet you the one cop in the original thread that said it didn't effect him was prior military.
  17. Eleven Mike

    Eleven Mike Well-Known Member

    It is good for officers to wonder whether they could have de-escalated the situation, and these cases should be reviewed, but it is simply wrong that cops are immediately suspect every time they defend themselves from attack. These officers should be awfully proud they were able to survive and to take a violent person off the street.

    Sacp's comments covered this well, but I will add that a soldier keeps the peace by "killing as many of a certain kind or classification of his brothers as he can."* For a soldier, the question of who needs killing is usually a lot easier. So he is less likely to be second-guessed or blamed for killing an enemy soldier, he is praised. I suppose it gets murkier in insurgent warfare, though, or when civilians are killed. Cops should be praised for defending themselves or others against violence, and sometimes they are, but I guess that gets lost in all the legal questions.

    Do you really think skin color could be a factor, when in the European theater, white and black Americans were fighting Europeans? And when cops are pretty likely to have to shoot citizens of another race?

    *John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 1952
  18. Shane333

    Shane333 Well-Known Member

    As a teenager I drove a disabled WWII vet to church every Sunday. "Doc" Austin had been a paratrooper medic. He'd served in Italy and other parts of Europe, had been captured and escaped through the mountains of Italy, personally survived a panzer attack on a US Tank convoy, contracted Malaria, etc.

    I once asked him about how many German's he'd killed. He immediately interupted me and told me that, "you never ask that question." It seemed to be something very, very personal to him.

    My point is that killing is going to affect different people in different ways. Even in warfare.

    I wish I could talk to Doc Austin some more about his service, but he passed away about 5 years ago.
  19. mbs357

    mbs357 Well-Known Member

    Gotta be harsh. I agree with your post. You and the officer saved lives with your kills.
    Thanks for your service.
  20. pcf

    pcf Well-Known Member

    If you're going to talk about Combat Veterans, talk about Combat Veterans as a group.

    I'm a weak person, for months now, I can't work up the courage to drive 26 miles to Walter Reed, and talk to a 20 year old in a wheel chair and take him to McDonalds. I don't know what I'd do, if I ever have to face another 19 year old soldier with PTSD. Lots of young guys down there, not a scar on their bodies, who are going to spend the rest of their lives trying to find parts of their souls. They are not weak, they are not poorly trained, they are Men and Women who deal with what they've done in different ways than others.

    60 year old men show up to counselings and therapy at the VA, 40 years out of Vietnam, haven't had a full nights sleep since they were 19. They have these little demons, can't close their eyes at night, don't know why they break down in tears when they pick up their grandchildren. They're proud men - warriors - they survived, doesn't mean they don't have reservations about what they had to do. It may take them a while to find the help they need.

    Plenty of hard men out there that need to talk about what they had to do, terrible things, because they need find acceptance and forgiveness for their actions. Some will never say a word. There's no set in stone method for dealing with problems, we all have are own ways.

    There are few Veterans out their and even fewer Combat Vets, got to look out for each other. We're all entitled to our opinions, before making blanket assertion about how a Combat Veteran should feel or act, make sure you're not stone-walling those that need our help the most.

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