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This article first appeared in Force Science News
When it comes to training scenarios, nothing trumps real-life encounters. Knowing an exercise has actually been a street problem for other officers heightens the impact and reinforces that the important caution to expect the unexpected in police work is firmly rooted in reality.
Predictably, our request for Force Science News members to share their experiences with naked subjects they've confronted (in the line of duty!) produced rich results (see "Naked Subjects No Laughing Matter," Transmission #16, http://www.forcesciencenews.com/home/detail.html?serial=16). Now we present some case histories that offer opportunity to open challenging what-would-you-have-done dialogue with your trainees and between yourself and your partner.
These scenarios include contacts in which officers had to deal with a naked subject attempting to amputate his arm with a shard of glass, a nude man who provoked a foot pursuit through a cornfield, an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) in a diaper working on an invisible house in the woods and another in his birthday suit chasing antelope through snow-dusted sagebrush on a mission from God.
As you read about these confrontations and how they were resolved, keep in mind the following observations from Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, who has tracked reports of naked-suspect episodes for more than 20 years.
1. As explained in Transmission #16, EDPs who appear in public without clothing are generally in the grip of a severe psychotic disconnect from reality. They are experiencing a high level of emotional distress, are highly unpredictable and potentially very dangerous.
"Most police encounters with mentally ill individuals are nonviolent," Lewinski stresses. But the suspect described below who was cutting himself illustrates a person so out of control there is no longer any conscious mental process operating. This could be severe excited delirium, which is often generated by an extreme psychological disorder and/or serious drug abuse.
"When you encounter something of this nature, medical attention should be on standby, because by the time you get him subdued, both you and he may need emergency medical treatment. At the very least, you are likely to have a blood pressure spike that may require immediate medication for your safety, and he will require prompt hospitalization," he says.
2. Show up at such confrontations "with a lot of officers," if at all possible, Lewinski advises. "These subjects can be resistant even to the most skillful tactics, as well as to electronic and chemical weapons. Manpower will be necessary to construct a generous perimeter around them, so they don't feel compressed and crowded in upon but at the same time can be contained."
At some point, sheer manpower may be necessary to overwhelm, subdue and control them. The more officers you can get there, the safer it is likely to be for both the officers and the subject.
"Simple commands that clearly direct specific desired action e.g., 'Get on the ground!' 'Drop the knife!' have the greatest chance of influencing the subject," he says. "They will probably prove useless, but they have to be made. Just don't count on them. Vague commands that lack a specific direction like, 'Don't make me shoot you!' are totally useless in these encounters because the subject, in [their] confusion, can't figure out what you want."
3. With suspects who are not already violent and with whom you may still be able to establish communication, it can be important to think outside the box in trying to build rapport. Sometimes officers can win compliance after offering naked subjects water to drink.
"EDPs who are naked have a high level of dissociation from their bodies," Lewinski explains. "Because of this, they tend to overexert, especially in hot weather, and dehydration may occur.
"What's most important about the water, though, is that the officer's effort to provide it can be seen by the subjects as a nonthreatening attempt to reach out to them. They may be able to frame in whatever rational component is left of their mind that you are a helpful intervener, rather than fitting you somehow into their negative, paranoid ideation.
"Trying to deal in a helpful way with their basic biological needs is no guarantee. They may be too far gone to reach that way, but it is certainly something to have in your tactical toolbox."
As Lewinski points out, and as you will see in the accounts below, naked subjects challenge our abilities to open up channels of influence to them.
God Told Him To
One November, I was patrolling I-80 in western Wyoming when I started hearing truck drivers on the CB talking about someone who was chasing antelope. This was a treeless area covered with low-lying sagebrush and a few inches of snow, so I began looking for someone on a snowmobile. I intended to impress the local game warden by bringing this person to justice.
Making a pass through the area, I could see no sign of snowmobile activity, but I did come upon a set of luggage sitting next to a reflector pole at the side of the road. About one-half mile ahead, I could see a man running from the fence line down a cut slope toward the interstate.
As I drove toward him, I noticed a jacket at roadside, accompanied by gloves and a hat. Next, I came upon a pair of shoes and socks. Then came a button-up shirt followed by a T-shirt. A short distance later, I passed a pair of blue jeans, then a pair of short pants and then a pair of underwear.
As I got to the underwear, I returned my gaze to the man coming down the cut. I realized for the first time he was au naturel, wearing nothing but his birthday suit.
As I pulled closer, I could see his skin had a bluish hue from the cold, and he was shivering (the temperature was in the 20s). Recognizing this was not a person in a normal state of mind, I did not drive up to him. Instead, I had him stand at roadside until I retrieved the short pants, threw them to him and had him put them on. He stood silently and complied with my requests.
His shivering grew worse. I noticed blood between his toes, which further confirmed my suspicions he had been running through the snow for more than a walk to the fence line. I then handcuffed him with his hands behind his back and seated him in my patrol car. I did not see a need to frisk him.
I got his name and date of birth, and started running a 50-state driver's license check. I asked how he came to be in the middle of nowhere on a cold, wintry day. He said he'd been riding cross-country with his father, who was a truck driver, but his father had to turn off to make a delivery at an oil rig and left him on the side of the road. (The nearest turnoff was miles away and the nearest place of habitation was about 10 miles away.)
When I asked him his father's name, he replied, "Howard Hughes." Yes, he confirmed, the reclusive billionaire. Hughes was purported to have died years earlier. My new friend said this was just a media ploy to allow the billionaire to escape the spotlight and enjoy life.
I asked him why he was chasing antelope. He said God told him to, and he did not question God's will. I then asked if God had given him any instructions as to what he was supposed to do if he actually caught an antelope. He said, "No, but I am sure He will."
The good news, for me, was that the state mental hospital was in my patrol area, so it was only a 50-mile drive to get him to some help. Investigation revealed he had checked himself out of a VA hospital in Minnesota several days before and had not taken his medication with him. His family had no idea where he was or even where to start looking for him.
From a tactical point, even though this was before we started training officers on how to deal with the mentally ill, I recognized this person could be unpredictable, and in spite of the obvious absence of weapons, other than hands and feet, I did not relax my approach to the situation. Even after I got the handcuffs attached, I was still leery that he could lose control and start kicking or biting. However, he was compliant and passive throughout the encounter and the subsequent trip to the hospital.
Dan Zivkovich, director, Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy
High on Angel Dust
I was working patrol in a high crime area when a call came in about a man screaming outside his home. Responding officers (including a defensive tactics (DT) instructor) confronted a nude man in front of the house, punching out porch windows. He was drenched in blood from cutting his arms and hands but kept up his tirade. Another DT instructor and I were called for backup.
When we arrived, the subject was at a standoff with the officers, holding a hooked piece of glass in his right hand and threatening to stab any officer who came close. We maced him with no effect. He just laughed as he cut his left forearm down to the bone in a circle all the way around his arm, nearly amputating it. Bleeding profusely, he then ran into his house and slammed the door.
In my mind that was fine. If he was by himself we could have waited for him to bleed out. But one of the gung-ho officers followed him through the door. In a split second, I could see the subject swing his arm with the piece of glass from behind the door. The officer triangulated out to a corner and drew his gun, but he was blinded by blood that covered his face. I didn't know if he'd been slashed or if it was blood from the subject.
I pushed the door hard and pinned the subject behind it. I had my gun in my right hand and my flashlight in my left. As a last-ditch effort before shooting through the door, I swung my flashlight and luckily connected with the top of the subject's forehead. He dropped the glass.
The four of us (mind you, three DT instructors) used every technique we could think of baton strikes all over his body, joint manipulations, knee strikes to the face, head and body all with no effect. The subject was like a superhuman Gumby.
At one point we got one handcuff around the arm that was cut, and when an officer pulled the cuff behind the subject's back, the muscle peeled away from the bone like a well-cooked spare rib. That had no effect on the subject, but the officer let go and started to puke.
Finally, I got a lateral vascular neck restraint on the subject and rendered him unconscious. We were exhausted and breathing as hard as if we'd just run a marathon. I told the other officers, "If this guy gets back up, shoot him."
To our disbelief the subject came to and stood up with all of us hanging on. Mind you, most of us were in the 5' 10" 6', 200-lb. range, while the subject was about 5' 7" and 140 lbs. None of us could believe it! I knew if this guy got away from us someone was going to die.
Once again a plethora of impact techniques the likes of which usually result in death were delivered. In the melee we inadvertently moved back onto shattered glass and the subject was frantically trying to reach a piece.
Somehow I was able to apply a reverse lateral vascular restraint as we were both face down on the glass and again rendered him unconscious. Three of us were then able to handcuff both arms as the other officer continued puking in the doorway.
To get the subject away from all of the glass, we dragged him outside and threw him into a snow bank. When our boss arrived, there was so much blood at the scene and on us that he called in an officer-involved shooting, assuming that the person lying in the red snow bank was dead.
To my amazement the subject survived. He was high on angel dust at the time.
A year later I saw a one-armed man riding a bike in my sector. He flagged me down. When I went over to him, I recognized that it was the guy who'd brought me the worst brawl of my life. He thanked me and apologized.
He had been in rehab for the year and said he didn't remember the incident, but his neighbor told him the police had shown ultimate restraint that day. The neighbor said if he'd been the police he would have shot him. We saved that man's life in more ways than one that day.
I shook his hand and drove away. I never thought I would condone the shooting of an unarmed man, but that incident changed my mind for sure. Ten years later, now retired from the force, I still occasionally have nightmares about it.
We were fortunate we were able to control the subject. From that point forward, anytime we had to deal with someone threatening and nude in public, we developed a game plan before we even stepped foot on the playing field.
Guy Rossi, program coordinator/curriculum developer, Rochester (N.Y.)Public Safety Training Facility
A House in the Woods
About two years ago, I dealt with a male EDP in his 40s, who was hiding in a grove of trees near the lake where I work. He was nearly naked, wearing only a diaper and sandals.
An unarmed Army Corps of Engineers park ranger initially found this subject. This ranger, a low-key individual, was able to develop a rapport with him. The ranger had kept his distance and not threatened him probably big keys to the successful resolution of this situation.
When I arrived, I could tell that the man could change his demeanor in an instant and flee, resist or become violent. He did not want to come out of the woods but kept wanting us to go in his "house" that he was "working on." There were no houses in the woods.
We took our time and did not try to force him to comply with our requests. We just kept talking to him and asked him what he was working on in the house. We did not put our hands on him and tried to keep our distance at first. When we discovered he hadn't had anything to drink for about 24 hours, we built rapport by getting him a bottle of water. He immediately drank it and wanted more. We told him he'd have to come with us to get another bottle.
During this time he hurt his foot by stepping on a thorn. I removed the thorn, and from that point forward he was okay with me helping him to a waiting ambulance by using an escort hold.
At first he did not want to get into the ambulance, but again we did not force the issue. We told him that he would get more water when he got into the ambulance. He eventually complied and was taken in for treatment and evaluation.
By the time we got the man out of the woods, we had several agencies on scene and had enough manpower if any problems had arisen.
Sgt. Eldon Wulf, Missouri State Water Patrol
Running through the Corn
My sheriff, the chief deputy and I responded to a call and found a male EDP naked, disoriented and sweating profusely, standing in a cornfield next to a heavily traveled state route, causing predictable traffic problems. He was 6' 2", 220 lbs., in good shape.
We attempted to corral him, but he was faster than we were, and the nature of the cornfield made it difficult to corner him. He would not respond verbally at all and kept at least 20 feet away from us at all times.
After we chased him for an hour in the hot August sun, he was obviously overheated and in some distress. I went to his house nearby (we'd had contact with him before) and got a glass of water. I offered it to him, and when he took it, I grabbed him and the other guys piled on. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.
We took him to the hospital and had him committed for observation. He was released from the state mental hospital after about two months, whereupon he went off his medication, shot up his house with an illegally purchased shotgun, was taken into custody by us again (the seventh time in five years) and sent back to the state hospital. On an earlier occasion we'd had a shoot-out with the subject's father, who was sent to prison. There is a history of personal and familial mental illness.
Dep. John Langan, Juniata County (Pa.) Sheriff's Department