Friday, March 16, 2007

Surreal

I have mentioned in earlier posts that I have been involved in a few noteworthy incidents. I would like to tell you about an incident that occurred early in 2006 while working in Rancho Cordova. I must preface that a call like the one I am about to describe does not occur every day; in fact officers can go their whole career without being involved in something like this. I will warn you that this may be a bit graphic for some.

It was a little after 2:00AM and there was not much going on in Rancho Cordova. A two man unit was dispatched to a call of an assault in progress at a local apartment. The call said that a neighbor could hear 2 to 3 people fighting and a female yelling for help. I was in the area and asked to be placed on the call. Apparently, there was another unit close as well and asked to be put on the call. (Mind you, it is not common for four officers to be on a call, but I sure was glad that there were four of us there later)

We all arrived at the apartment complex at about the same time. We parked along the south side of the apartments. As a precaution, I decided to grab my taser out of the car and put it on. (The taser is a great tool, but it tends to be a bit bulky to wear all of the time) None of us knew exactly where the apartment was in the complex, so we started walking northbound along the side of the complex.

As we were walking, we got an update that there was a related call that came in that indicated that somebody had possibly been stabbed in the apartment and that there was blood on the ground. Now, this does not necessarily alarm us yet, as we have all been to calls of “someone stabbed” and seen baby daddy stuck with a fork. We still had no idea of what was yet to come.

As we walked along the apartment complex, we observed a black female a couple of buildings away. She was waving to us in a non-chalant manner saying, “Over here….” (Again, we didn’t rush over because our internal intensity meters were still on “low”) We walked up to the woman and immediately observed that she had blood running down both legs. (Intensity starts going up!) She points out a male victim that was lying along the top landing of the apartments’ outside stairs. The male was lying there motionless. (Intensity getting up there)

Immediately after seeing the victim on the stair landing, we observed a black male come out of the top left apartment. He had two kitchen knives in his hand. (Intensity peaking) One of us threw the female victim to a safe location, then we all drew our handguns and placed the male suspect at gunpoint. We were all yelling, “Put down the knives! Put down the knives!”

The male leaned over the male victim on the landing, turned his head towards us, looked at us with a blank stare, and then started stabbing the victim on the landing. (Intensity has now gone off the scale!)

One of my partners and I were at the base of the stairs, pointing our guns at the suspect up and to the left. My partner was to my left. My other two partners were behind us. I remember that it took us a second for all of it to sink in. I know that I could not believe what I was seeing. The word “Surreal” is the best word I can think of to describe it. You should note that law enforcement is typically a “reactionary” entity. 98% of the time, we arrive on scene and the suspect has usually left the scene, or has at least stopped whatever crime he was committing. We, typically, are there to take the offender to jail, write the reports of what happened, and then forward that report to detectives to investigate.

The suspect stopped stabbing the victim and began a “sawing” motion with the knife near the victim’s neck. I said something to the effect of, “He’s cutting him.” We had no choice but to use deadly force to try to save the victim’s life. Almost simultaneously, my partner to the left of me and I began firing shots from our handguns. I fired four shots and my partner fired five. I remember seeing the suspect in the doorway, then all of the sudden, gone.

Not knowing if there were additional victims still in the apartment, we quickly decided we needed to follow the suspect into the apartment. We headed up the stairs, not knowing what to expect. As we got to the top of the stairs, we observed the suspect kneeling right inside the doorway of the apartment. He was leaning back on his legs and was still grasping the knives in his hands. (At this point, we still had justification to use lethal force again. If he had made any sort of movement towards us or the victim, we would have had to.)

We decided to step down the force and try to get the suspect to drop the knives by using a taser. I re-holstered my handgun and pulled my taser from its holster. I fired the taser at the suspect. The two taser darts hit the suspect and began to incapacitate the suspect. (The taser uses two small darts tethered with to the taser unit with very thin wire to administer a non-lethal dose of electricity to incapacitate a suspect). The taser did its job and incapacitated the suspect, although he did not drop the knives. It took four to five additional activations of the taser to finally make the suspect drop one of the knives. One of my partners ended up kicking the other knife from his other hand as he was incapacitated by the taser.

By this time, we could see that he had been hit by some of the rounds fired from our handguns. He was bleeding profusely and appeared to go unconscious as we finally secured him in handcuffs. We cleared the rest of the apartment without locating any additional victims or suspects. We advised dispatch to send in the fire department who had been staging nearby to enter the scene to tend to the victims’ and suspect’s injuries.

Fire arrived and tended to both victims and the suspect. The female at the bottom of the stairs was transported to the hospital with multiple punctures to her legs. The victim at the top of the stairs was pronounced deceased at the scene from injuries due to the numerous knife wounds and loss of blood. The suspect was pronounced deceased at the scene from two gunshot wounds.

I originally hesitated to describe this incident in this forum. There are times that law enforcement responds to incidents and deal with circumstances that the general public quite frankly does not want to know about. It can be different to read about an incident like this in the newspaper as opposed to reading it and knowing an officer that was involved.

I can tell you that I prepared myself early in my career that an incident such as this could force me to make the decision to take another person’s life in defense of another’s, or possibly my own. That preparation, along with the amazing support I have (see previous post), made it much easier to get through this incident without any issues. The way I see it, the suspect did not give us any other option, and we did what we had to do to save the victim’s life.

On March 8th, 2007, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department awarded me with the “Silver Star” for outstanding performance and conspicuous bravery in the line of duty. My partner who also fired his handgun also received a “Silver Star”. My two other partners received a “Bronze Star” for outstanding performance and bravery in the line of duty. Although I do not do this job to see what awards I can win, it is nice to be acknowledged as a contributing member of the department. I would like to thank my wife, Tracy, my brother, Joel, and my mother for joining me on a very nice day for the awards ceremony.

I can never say enough about the department that I work for and the people that I work with. These are the things that keep me coming back to work every day.

3 comments:

Joel Bittle said...

Wow.

Every time I hear this story I'm amazed by it. The awards ceremony (and your blog) was as appropriately humble and classy as possible and I was proud to be there.

Tracy Bittle said...

I am so proud of you and the department you work for. I attribute your ability to work through these type of incidents to the support you receive from your colleagues as well as that at home.

You go out there and do a great job. You don't pre-judge people and are respectable to everyone. That quality is almost unheard of in this day and age. I can only imagine the pride your mother feels regarding you because I know how much *I* feel.

I love you.....and support you in your career. I know you will be as safe as possible so you can come home to your family.

Anonymous said...

To say I am proud is such an understatement. Your actions as a man, a husband, a father, and a police officer all showcase the character that isin you. I am so pleased that the organization that you are so proud to work for is smart enough to recognize what they have in you. Thank you for what you do. I love you.
Mom