There was no reason to expect trouble tonight. After all, it was just a part-time security job. Easy money, most would call it, but Cpl. Guy Smith, a 32-year-old veteran of the mid-size city police department, didn’t see things that way. He had been hired by the owner of the small, inner-city grocery store after a number of holdups had occurred in the area. Still, it had been 11 months since he had taken the job and nothing had happened so far. It would have been easy to slip into complacency, but Smith had had too many close calls during his nine years on the job—most of them in the city’s roughest neighborhoods—to play anything cheap.
Besides, he took all his duties seriously, and the store’s security was his responsibility. In fact, when he’d first been asked to work there, Smith agreed to take the job only if a video surveillance system was installed. Under his direction, cameras had been placed at key points throughout the store and the monitor was put in the store’s back office, where the safe was also kept. From there, Smith guarded the safe while also monitoring everything going on inside the store, without being seen by the customers.
Smith had come directly to the market after completing his regular day shift at the department and was still in uniform, as required by department policy when working off-duty security. After greeting the store employees and checking the positions of the surveillance cameras, he sat down in front of the monitor in the office, fully expecting an uneventful shift but nonetheless alert. His job was made easier by the fact that the front door was equipped with a bell that sounded every time someone entered the store, thus making it possible for him to briefly shift his attention during lulls in business and then back again whenever anyone came inside.
As the hours went by and it neared closing time, Smith was watching two women shoppers when three males came into the store and began walking casually down the aisles as if shopping. It appeared that one of them knew one of the women, because he stopped briefly to talk to her—a commonplace occurrence in this small neighborhood market. There was at this point nothing about the men’s behavior or appearance to cause Smith any concern, but that soon changed. After making their purchases, the women left the store with the three men following close behind. Then, as soon as the door closed behind the women, all three men turned around and headed toward the checkout counter at the back of the store, immediately putting Smith on high alert. As they moved deeper inside, one of them, a local 17-year-old named Louis Bonner, split off to his left and headed toward the back office, while 21-year-old Tarrence Mitchell paused near the center of the store. The third, a 22-year-old three-time looser named Almetric Debrow, headed straight for the cash register, drew a large autoloader, and pointed at the cashier.
Smith felt a surge of anger. He’d been working at the grocer for almost a year and everyone in the neighborhood knew it. So why had they chosen this store to rob? But the thought had barely entered his mind when things took a turn for the worse. Bonner was now just outside the office, not more than a few yards from its open door, holding a revolver gangster-style in his right hand and pointing it at store clerk Johnny Hall. Hall, who had been sweeping the floor near the office when Bonner came toward him, had decided to put up a fight by trying to knock the gun out of the gunman’s hand with the broom handle. It was a valiant but futile move. Bonner had simply jerked the gun back, blocked the broom with his left arm, and then shoved Hall backwards. Realizing he’d only made things worse, Hall dropped the broom and raised his hands in submission. In response, Bonner grabbed him, spun him around and pushed him toward the open doorway of the office.
Meanwhile, Smith, having witnessed the brief confrontation on the monitor, immediately made up his mind to use deadly force. The threat to life was too grave to ignore, and it was his job to stop it. His position inside the office was keeping him out of Bonner’s sight for now, but he couldn’t stand up without being seen and Bonner was coming right at him. Staying seated, he drew his .40 caliber Glock 22, left it down next to his holster where it would be out of sight, and waited.
Suddenly, Hall was propelled through the doorway by a powerful shove from Bonner. He stumbled forward and crashed headlong into Smith. Smith, though surprised by the unexpected turn of events, was undaunted. Staying calm and now fully focused on protecting Hall, he saw an opportunity here. Before, Hall had been between him and Bonner, which would have made it very difficult to fire without putting him in danger, but now Smith had a chance to remove him from the line of fire. He quickly shoved the startled clerk off to his right, sending him crashing into a wall but well out of danger.
But, as he turned to deal with Bonner, he saw the gunman’s revolver looming just inches from his chin. It was so close he could read the words “.38 S&W Special” imprinted on its barrel as Bonner growled, “Gimme that gun!”
Bonner repeated the command, more angrily this time, but Smith had already made his decision. Instantly, he did what he had been trained to do. Leaping up from his chair, he slammed his left hand into Bonner’s right arm, knocking it well off to the right. The gun’s muzzle was now well off to Smith’s right side and he was still moving forward. Crashing into his startled assailant’s upper body, he thrust the Glock forward until it nearly touched the man’s his chest and snapped off two shots. Without a word, Bonner recoiled slightly from the first round, spun to his right as the second tore into his left back, and slumped to the floor. He remained there motionless as Smith kicked the gun away.
Smith turned toward the doorway, where he spotted Tarrence Mitchell, the suspect who had paused briefly near the center of the store, running away from the office. Only seconds earlier Mitchell had been approaching the open office door, apparently intending to give Bonner a hand, but Smith’s devastating counterattack had convinced him to seek safer pasture.
Although Smith didn’t see a gun in Mitchell’s hand, he knew the holdup man at the cash register, Almetric Debrow, was armed and a clear menace to his safety. Nevertheless, he was determined not to let either of the two escape. Cautiously, he moved toward the doorway.
Then, just before Smith reached the threshold, he heard a gunshot as a bullet slammed into the doorframe just inches in front of his face. It was a .45 caliber slug from Debrow s’ gun, but, like Mitchell, Debrow lacked the stomach for a fight. As close as the round had come to striking Smith’s head, Debrow had fired it haphazardly by thrusting it backwards under his left arm as he ran for the front door.
Smith followed, pausing only briefly at the front door to scan for danger and locate the fleeing suspects. Almost immediately, he spotted Mitchell running down the sidewalk to his right, and went after him. He had been trained to stay off to one side of suspects during foot pursuits in order to confuse them about his exact whereabouts, and to make it easier to spot any threatening movement they might make. In keeping with his training, he swung out wide to the left of his quarry as he gave chase.
Then, without warning, another gunshot cracked as a ball of flame burst ahead of him. His attention had been so focused on catching Mitchell that he hadn’t noticed a Ford SUV stopped in the street about 75 yards down the street. Standing halfway inside the vehicle’s right front door was Debrow, and he was firing the lethal .45 at him again, but this time with deliberate aim.
Dropping to one knee to make himself a smaller target, Smith immediately returned fire as more rounds came at him from the SUV. The exchange of gunfire was intense but brief. Seconds later, Mitchell dove into the right rear door of the Ford, and the gunfire ceased as the vehicle sped from the scene.
Alhough physically unscathed, Smith was hit hard with fear for his fellow officers as headed back into the store. He felt that he could have somehow done more to stop his assailants, and the idea that another officer or an innocent citizen might come to harm at their hands concerned him gravely. Pushing aside his disappointment, Smith focused on doing what he could to assist in apprehending the suspects. He keyed the mic on his portable radio and tried to call in their description, vehicle information and direction of travel, but was again disappointed. The radio was dead. Now realizing that he had forgotten to exchange its battery for a fresh one before leaving the station, he used the store telephone to make the call, ensured Bonner’s gun was well out of the downed gunman’s reach, and checked Bonner’s vital signs.
Smith was correct: Bonner showed no pulse or other signs of life. The first .40 caliber hollowpoint from Smith’s gun had entered Bonner’s right chest and penetrated his right lung before exiting his back, causing a devastating wound, but Smith’s second round had been the fatal blow. It entered his upper left back, and then sliced its way through his heart before exiting his torso, killing him within seconds of impact.
Debrow and Mitchell were apprehended within the next few days with the help of evidence gathered from the surveillance tapes, but the driver of the getaway car was never identified. Debrow was later convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder of a police officer, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mitchell was convicted of robbery and sentenced to eight years. After the shooting, the holdups that had been plaguing the area for so long ceased.
Cpl. Smith was later promoted to sergeant and is still with the same department, where he serves as a detective supervisor.
Discussion & Analysis
Cpl. Smith took his responsibilities seriously, even when working his secondary security job at the store. As a result, he was prepared not only for the robbery when it occurred, but for the severe escalation in danger presented when Bonner attempted to disarm him at gunpoint. His high level of preparation, training and mental toughness enabled him to respond with devastating effectiveness and terminate the threat despite of the odds against him.
There’s a great deal more to be learned from this incident—lessons that can save lives—and we owe it to Cpl. Smith to learn as much as we can from them.
An in-depth analysis of this case reveals a number of crucial learning points, including lessons about the proper equipment to carry when working off-duty security jobs, whether to wear or uniform or plain clothes when moonlighting, how to respond to close-range armed attacks, post-shooting considerations, how to counter tunnel vision and a winning mindset.
Space limitations prevent us from printing a full discussion of these hard-won lessons in our magazine, but a thorough analysis of this critical incident is posted it on our Web site, LawOfficer.com. You can find it at www.lawofficer.com/officerdown. Before you read it, however, review the discussion questions below and work through your answers.
Brian McKenna is a retired lieutenant from the Hazelwood (MO) Police Department, where he served in patrol, traffic, mobile reserve and training. He is a 32-year police veteran, with a strong background in police training at both the recruit and in-service levels, and served his department as lead firearms instructor as well as in various other training functions. He is a state certified police instructor, and holds a Master’s Degree in human resource development. Brian is a member of ILEETA and IALEFI, writes extensively on officer safety topics, and trains police officers nationwide in mental preparation for armed encounters and other topic related to officer safety. He recently completed a book based upon this column, Officer Down: Lessons from the Streets, which is now available for purchase on his Web site. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at www.winningedgetraining.com.
Tell Us About It!
Law Officer intends to run an “Officer Down” article by Brian McKenna every few months. In order to obtain incidents that provide clear and relevant case studies, we’d like to draw from our largest available resource—you, the reader. If you have, or can obtain, factual information on actual incidents you think we can use, please contact Brian at:
7412 Lynn Grove Ct.
Hazelwood, MO 63042
Phone: 314/921-6977 (call collect)
Mental Preparation for Secondary Employment
Unlike many if not most officers, Cpl. Smith took his second job seriously. When working secondary security it is very easy to be lulled into complacency by the boredom and mundane nature of the work, but police officers are often wounded and killed while handling mundane duties. In fact, many of the most dangerous activities for police officers are “routine” tasks like traffic stops for simple traffic violations. We should never assume that anything in police work is low risk.
Keep in mind that that business owners are willing to spend the money to hire police officers for security details because they believe there is a significant enough risk to make it worthwhile. Usually, the idea is to discourage crime, but some criminals are not intimidated by the police, and others may not be aware of the officer’s presence, especially when the officer is in plain clothes. Also, there is always the possibility that something may occur that requires police intervention but has nothing to do with the reason why the officer was hired, such as a serious crime occurring nearby. In such cases the officer is often legally, or at least morally, obliged to take action that may entail risks to his safety.
It is also important to consider that officers are often at a great tactical disadvantage when off duty. Unlike on-duty officers, they are already on the scene when trouble starts, which precludes a low profile approach with backup and time to plan their actions. They also don’t have the advantage of being able to obtain information from the dispatcher before arrival, often do not have a radio, and may not even have the opportunity to advise the dispatcher of their presence on the scene. This is especially important if they happen to be out of uniform, because responding officers may not recognize them as police officers, which can put them at risk from friendly fire incidents. When coupled with the fact that many officers carry only minimal equipment and do not wear body armor or carry backup guns when working secondary jobs, they are often at greater risk when taking action than they would be if on duty in a similar situation.
However, Cpl. Smith was better prepared than most officers who work off-duty security details. He understood the tactical disadvantages that off-duty officers face, and had prepared himself mentally for the possibility of an armed robbery or other violent crime at the store. He credits his past police experience with this high level of preparedness. He is one of those officers who always seems to be at the center of the action when trouble starts and had experienced more than his share of close calls, which obviously influenced his mindset, but there were other important factors involved as well. He is also an intelligent, dedicated officer with good street senses and the ability to focus on safety as his top priority. Although aggressive about fighting crime and willing to take necessary risks, he puts safety in the forefront of his mind and plans ahead to deal with various threats that may occur. The fact that he insisted on a carefully place surveillance system in the store before taking the job, and then made sure the cameras were properly set and fully functional at the start of every shift serves as a good example of this fact. So was the fact that he monitored the surveillance system closely from the back room, especially when the bell on the front door sounded, rather than allow himself to be distracted by other activities. Such acceptance of the risks and willingness to prepare for them are not paranoia, but a display of pragmatism and good common sense.
Putting safety first can become a habit with practice. Like any other habit, it is developed over time. Start by focusing on safety as a top priority on all calls, even the most mundane ones. Learn to watch for anything that may increase your vulnerability, and then plan how to compensate for any potential threats you see. In some cases, this will require a shift to high-profile tactics, but not usually. Unless the threat appears to be serious enough to take more drastic action, it often requires nothing more than raising your level of awareness and planning what to do if the threat materializes, and possibly a minor change in your position or approach. With time, this mental process becomes a habit that will carry over to everything you do.
Equipment for Secondary Employment
Unlike some officers who work secondary employment, Cpl. Smith carried a portable radio in addition to all his other duty equipment when working at the store. But he committed one oversight that could have put him in grave danger if the situation had grown worse. As is often the case when officers moonlight, he had gone straight to his second job after working his regular shift. In the process he had forgotten to put a fresh battery in his radio before leaving the station. Consequently, the battery failed when he attempted to notify communications of the shooting. Under the circumstances, this did not have any adverse effect on the outcome, but it could have prevented him from obtaining help if he had been incapacitated, pinned down somewhere, become engaged in a prolonged gunfight, or otherwise in serious trouble with no phone available. As Cpl. Smith points out, it is important to be just as well equipped when working secondary employment as when working your regular shift, and to also make sure that your equipment is properly maintained.
Uniform v. Plain Clothes
Cpl. Smith’s department required officers to wear a uniform when working most secondary jobs, but many officers have the option of not wearing one. Plain clothes may give you the advantage of remaining anonymous while assessing potentially threats, but many criminals can spot an officer in a crowd with ease. Furthermore, the sense of anonymity created by soft clothes can lead to inattention and complacency, and it can also be harder to gain the attention and respect of people when out of uniform. In addition, plain clothes are not well suited to the wearing of body armor, and the lack of a duty belt makes it very difficult to carry the same equipment you carried when on duty. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as mentioned earlier in this analysis, failing to wear a uniform puts you at much greater risk of becoming a casualty of a friendly fire. While there may be exceptions to the rule, in most cases it is safer to work secondary employment in full uniform.
Close-Quarters Use of the Handgun
Few situations are more dangerous than the one faced by Cpl. Smith when Bonner got the drop on him at close range. At first it may appear that your only choice is to comply and hope that the suspect is compassionate enough not to pull the trigger, but Smith knew better. He refused to put himself at the mercy of an armed predator, and he knew what to do. Unlike many officers, he worked for a department that trained and drilled its officers in a pragmatic and highly effective technique for responding to close-range armed attacks.
Since close-range armed attacks are fast moving, brutal, and fraught with unpredictable variables, the technique for countering to them must immediate, fierce, and flexible. To accomplish this it should be based on four critical principles:
These four principles work together to shift the advantage to the officer, but training is needed to ensure that the technique can be employed quickly and effectively when needed. Like any other skill, it should be practiced regularly,and preferably in dynamic one-on-one exercises with AirSoft or nonfunctioning training guns.
Interestingly, in this case Smith had had the foresight to draw his gun before Bonner pointed his gun at him, which gave him an advantage not available to officers who must draw while initiating the counterattack. But this does not mean the technique is any less effective when the officer’s gun is holstered. With just a little practice any officer can learn to draw and fire very quickly while charging forward. Furthermore, the basic principal behind the success of this technique is to get out of the line of fire first, and then immediately move inside to prevent your assailant from reacting to your counterattack. By doing so, you buy more time to draw if needed. In fact, in Cpl. Smith’s case, he was able to execute the technique with lethal effectiveness despite the fact that he had to attack from a seated position after Childers had fallen on him, and with Bonner’s gun pointed at his face. These were far from ideal circumstances for the application of the technique, yet it worked very well when executed without hesitation by an officer with the confidence to use it.
Finally, it is important to mention that threat awareness is crucial to the quick application of this technique, because even the best countermeasures can lose their effectiveness if we are caught off guard. Keep in mind that you are vulnerable to a close-range attack any time you are in close proximity to anyone on the street, and be prepared to respond accordingly.
Cpl. Smith still questions the wisdom of chasing the suspects from the store. He did it because he feared they might be a threat to other officers, and thus to innocent citizens as well, if allowed to escape. Although his motives were admirable and his actions valiant, from a tactical perspective it would have been preferable for him to stay in the store to cover Bonner until backup arrived. It is dangerous to leave a downed suspect behind, and, although Smith kicked Bonner’s gun away and the man appeared to be dead, he had not had time to confirm it. Inasmuch as he had fulfilled his primary responsibility by stopping Bonner and forcing the other two suspects to flee, it was no longer necessary to put himself at risk by pursuing them outside.
However, it is hard to avoid getting wrapped up in the high-stress emotions of a gunfight, and strong emotions can hinder decision making. Therefore, it is best to eliminate the need to make such decisions under stress by deciding beforehand how to deal with a downed adversary. Make a commitment to stay behind and cover the suspect now, before it happens on the street, and then reinforce this decision by including it in some of your mental imagery scenarios. Trainers should also reinforce good post-shooting tactics by including them in interactive firearms exercises and computer simulations.
Cpl. Smith’s failure to spot the getaway car in the street does not indicate any lack of awareness on his part; instead, it provides a sobering example of the dangerous effects of one of the most common and powerful perceptual distortions that can occur in combat—tunnel vision. Tunnel vision occurs naturally when we are focused intently on a particular object or activity; thus, it is not something we can stop just by deciding we won’t let it happen.
However, this doesn’t mean that we cannot reduce its effects. It isn’t easy and it’s doubtful that tunnel vision can ever be eliminated altogether, but we can train ourselves to significantly reduce it. Like the body, the mind can be trained to perform various tasks with greater speed and proficiency through guided practice and repetition. In the case of tunnel vision, the best place to start is to make extensive use of interactive firearms exercises and computer simulation scenarios that require officers to respond to peripheral threats that appear while they are approaching the scene, engaged in a gunfight, or dealing with something else that demands their attention. It is also important for officers to repeat any exercises they fail, because it is crucial for them to experience success when training. Failure can be a positive, confidence-building experience if the trainee is allowed to correct it and ultimately succeed, but failure left uncorrected can lead to a defeatist attitude that destroys self confidence. This is essential, because confidence reduces stress, which in turn reduces the likelihood of tunnel vision and other perceptual distortions.
Tunnel vision can also be combated by always scanning for peripheral threats on all calls until it becomes a habit. Like the habit of putting safety first, this habit should be developed by consciously practicing it during all low-stress calls, no matter how “routine” they may appear to be. Over time, it will become ingrained into the subconscious to the point that it is done even when focused on other essential tasks, thereby reducing the chances that tunnel vision will occur.
Finally, for officers who are willing to invest the time required, exercises have been developed to expand our ability to see and process more of our surroundings, even when we are engaged in highly focused activities. The eyes actually see everything within their field of view, just as a camera records everything that appears in its viewfinder. However, the mind can only process so much input at a time; therefore, it misses much of what the eyes see, especially when focused on something that it perceives as very important or dangerous. This is why tunnel vision occurs during high-stress situations.
Fortunately, since the mind can be trained in much the same way as the body, it can be trained to broaden its ability to process more of what the eyes see, which in turn reduces tunnel vision. Originally developed for the military, these exercises were adopted for use by police snipers by Snipercraft Inc., a private training firm that primarily trains tactical officers. After seeing a significant increase in the ability of snipers to perceive and process visual input, thereby reducing tunnel vision and improving threat identification, Snipercraft made the training available to other police officers as well. The exercises they teach achieve noticeable short-term results very quickly, but unfortunately, significant long-term improvement requires a commitment to practice the exercises frequently (at least 15 minutes twice a day) for several months, and then continued refresher exercises to maintain maximum proficiency. Still, the benefits can be very impressive, and officers who are committed to keeping themselves and others safe will do well to take the training and follow through with the required practice. The effort is well worth it when we consider the fact that it’s impossible to deal with a threat we cannot see.
Kneeling When Returning Fire and Cover Awareness
Even though a light pole and tree were just a few yards away when he came under fire from the getaway car, Cpl. Smith dropped to one knee to return fire instead of seeking cover. Like many officers, he knelt in order to make himself a smaller target, but, while it is true that kneeling makes you a slightly smaller target, it also has its disadvantages. First, it fixes you in a stationary position, which leaves you highly vulnerable unless you are behind cover. Second, unless you squat down low, it puts your head just about where your chest used to be, thereby subjecting your head instead of your vest-covered torso to incoming rounds at center mass level. In addition, since many shooters tend to shoot low under stress and when in low-light situations, making yourself shorter may in fact make you more, not less vulnerable to an assailant’s gunfire.
Cpl. Smith knelt not only to make himself a smaller target, but because, like many officers, he had grown comfortable with it after years of practicing it at the range. While it is important to learn to shoot from various shooting positions, it is best to practice them only when barricade shooting, because that is generally the only time they should be used. Unless you are behind cover when the shooting starts, it’s usually safer to avoid using a fixed position, and head for cover or exit the hot zone instead. For this reason, officers should be thoroughly trained to move to cover before returning fire, and to shoot while moving when cover isn’t available.
Officers should also be encouraged to practice cover awareness. Like the habit of focusing on safety first and scanning for peripheral threats, cover awareness can become a habit through repetition. As when developing these other safety habits, make a point of always scanning for cover on all calls, no matter how mundane or benign they may appear, and then imagine how you would reach and use it if needed.
Winning Mindset/Warrior Spirit
Like other officers who handle themselves well in lethal encounters, Cpl. Smith was well prepared, kept his cool, never stopped thinking on his feet, and stayed focused on winning. Even before the incident began, he demonstrated a winning attitude by realistically assessing the risks associated with his security job, and by preparing for any foreseeable problems by using the surveillance cameras to monitor the activities inside the store. Later, when Bonner threatened Childers, Smith accepted the fact that he would have to deploy deadly force, and prepared to do so by drawing his gun, staying out of sight for as long as he could, and calmly waiting for the chance to make his move. Even when Childers unexpectedly crashed into him, he stayed calm and in control to the point that he immediately seized upon the situation as an opportunity to get Childers out of the way so he could deal with Bonner.
Then when he turned to see Bonner’s gun shoved into his face, he calmly accepted the severity of the threat, and confidently did what he had to do to win. Rather than give in to fear or the temptation to put himself at the mercy of his assailant, he focused on what he could do to win and acted decisively to end the threat. This kind of warrior’s optimism is very typical of winners, and is what often drives them on to victory, even when the odds are stacked against them.
Much of Cpl. Smith’s ability to win against the odds was based upon a lifetime of achieving goals and striving for excellence. He had been raised by strict but loving parents with Christian values, and his step father had taught him, by example as well as word, to always be the best at everything he did. In striving to follow his step father’s example, he had learned to set high goals for himself, and then stay focused on them until they were reached. Interestingly, officers who are able to persevere in lethal force incident often possess this same trait. By learning through experience to set goals and then persevere through struggles to reach them, they acquire an attribute that translates into tough mindedness and perseverance when fighting for their lives. The lesson here is clear: Make a point of setting goals in life, and then working hard to achieve them no matter what. It may save your life some day.
Lastly, the thing that makes Cpl. Smith stand out the most as a true warrior were the thoughts that compelled him to pursue his attackers outside and his feelings after they escaped. Although his decision to chase the suspects may not have been the best choice from a tactical perspective, it was motivated by an overriding desire to apprehend them before they could harm others. Even more telling, however, was Cpl. Smith’s attitude about the suspects’ escape. Despite the fact that he had incapacitated an armed assailant who had gotten the drop on him, driven two others from the store under fire, and stood his ground under a hail of gunfire as they escaped, he felt like he hadn’t done enough. It is this kind of focus on the duty to protect others even in the face of grave danger that distinguishes warriors from those they serve.
 Williams, G. “Real World Contact Shots,” The Police Marksman . (January/February 2006) pp. 42-44.
 For more information on the training discussed here, contact Snipercraft Inc. at:
6232 Apple Road
Sebring, FL 33875