Rural law enforcement officers have had a tough go of it lately. Two gunfights within a two week period have left one Pennsylvania game warden dead and a Utah park ranger seriously injured. The recent uptick in back country violence is worrisome to those who often patrol alone and without backup.
The question for many in the law enforcement community is what, if anything, can be done to prevent these tragedies? While it’s too early to dissect the above incidents, it might be instructive to get the viewpoint from a conservation law enforcement officer who has survived two shoot situations. The first incident went well, the second one did not.
On the morning of Sept. 29, 2006, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Vann Streety, 39, walked shoulder to shoulder with 200 SWAT officers as they pushed through 300 acres of matted grape vines, shallow ponds and old-growth tree canopy. The hunt was on for Angilo Freeland, 27, who’d killed a Polk County Sheriff’s deputy the day before and wounded another. Freeland had ducked into the woods carrying the deputy’s .45 caliber pistol and his own 9 mm pistol.
Streety was a member of FWC’s Special Operations Group—FWC’s version of a rural SWAT team. He carried a .223 Bushmaster with a weapon-mounted light. The light was on as he cautiously approached a blown-over oak tree, the trunk covered in vines. He thought to himself, “What a great place to hide.”
Streety stepped up to the web of vines and carefully pulled them apart, creating a hole large enough to push his rifle through. He saw a pattern that didn’t fit. He panned his gun slowly to the right and stopped—his light had landed on Freeland’s eyes.
Freeland refused to comply with voice commands and pointed the deputy’s .45 caliber pistol in the direction of the officers. Gunfire erupted. Freeland was killed. Nine officers fired 89 rounds at Freeland, hitting him 68 times.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was asked by a reporter why the officers shot Freeland 68 times? His response, “We ran out of bullets.”
On July 15, 2009, at 8 p.m., Streety was patrolling a wooded area in Brevard County, known for poaching, illegal dumping and trespass.
He was driving down a narrow, dead end road when a Kia sport utility vehicle came out. He made a head-on traffic stop and asked the driver, Christopher Eddy, 23, to step out of the Kia.
Eddy had an active warrant for a traffic violation.
Streety tried to cuff Eddy, but Eddy twisted away and ran toward the door of his Kia. Streety caught up with him about the time he opened the door and struck Eddy in the right arm with a baton. Eddy drew a .45 caliber pistol from the door.
Streety went for his gun, but Eddy beat him to the draw. Eddy’s first round tore through Streety’s gun (right) hand. Eddy’s second shot destroyed Streety’s left humerous.
Unable to draw with either arm, Streety had no choice but to run for his life. Streety’s left arm slapped him in the face with every foot strike, but he didn’t know why. Eddy continued to fire. Streety was hit four more times: two in the ballistic vest; one hit his Gerber tool, and ricocheted into his hip; and the last one hit his wallet and was miraculously stopped by a challenge coin.
Streety made it to his patrol vehicle, where he took cover for a moment to radio dispatch. But the nightmare wasn’t over. Eddy had to drive past Streety’s patrol truck to escape.
Streety ran down the road, and then ducked into the brush. He had no way to part the vines and fell. He steeled himself for the final showdown. With a herculean effort he used his left hand and right arm to draw his backup pistol from an ankle holster. He lay there in the bush clutching the gun to his chest. He’d figured out a way to fire the weapon with the good working parts that remained of his upper appendages.
Eddy drove past Streety, stopped, and blindly fired several more rounds into the undergrowth. Then he sped off. None of those bullets struck Streety.
After numerous operations and a titanium rod inserted into his left arm, Streety returned to work fourteen months later. He is now a lieutenant in Martin County.
1. Proper mental state: Train every day and at every opportunity to prepare for combat. Never think “if” it happens to me. Instead, think “when.” That way, when it does happen, and it will, it won’t come as a surprise. Seventy-five percent of survival is mental.
2. Physical conditioning: Train for endurance, strength and explosive power. Sprints are very important. Combat is immediate and ferocious.
3. Take cover: Streety believes he could have changed the outcome of his encounter with Eddy had he retreated to his patrol truck, rather than chase him with a baton in hand. He would have had cover and been able to call for backup. Most important he would have had his gun up and on target.
4. Think before you act: In remote areas where backup may be an hour or more away, think carefully before you engage a suspect physically. Consider the violation against the potential outcome. Ask yourself, “Do you really want to fight someone who has committed a misdemeanor?” In most cases we will have their driver’s license anyway. If it’s a serious violation, take cover, and call for backup. There is no rule that says you have to physically arrest someone without help.
5. Intermediate weapon: If Streety had carried a Taser to deploy rather than a baton, Eddy most likely would have been taken into custody without incident. Note: FWC has Tasers on order and will be issuing them to officers in the coming months. The decision to transition to Tasers was a direct result of the Vann Streety shooting.
Lastly, you can do what Streety does to insure he always has adequate firepower. He now carries two backup pistols, one on his ankle and the other in a shoulder holster attached to his ballistic vest.
Streety intends to make it home safely to his family at the end of his shift and so should you.