Today’s blog post is dedicated to a survivor, Richard Nelson of the Las Vegas, Nevada, Metropolitan Police Force. Mr. Nelson’s incident, captured on a body camera, illustrates why people who criticize officers for shooting too quickly fail to recognize the inherent dangers of policing. It is a cautionary tale that says “judge not!”
Before we roll the video, let’s set the stage. The police have been alerted to a thief who has a stolen cell phone. The owner, using GPS, has tracked it to a truck parked in front of a convenience store. In the video he is the person the cops are telling to “get back” because he is either being a lookie-loo or because, like all people who know nothing about police work, is offering “helpful suggestions.” Nota Bene: if you do not do police work, do not offer “helpful advice” to police officers. It just annoys them.
Apparently the suspect is sleeping, and the cops wake him up and ask him to step out of the truck. The truck is stolen. They don’t know that. As you watch this video, watch what happens, and watch the second officer’s reactions on his body cam. Also pay attention to the lead officer, Nelson, and his coughing after the incident.
In an instant the encounter went from whiny-but-cooperative to full on Call of Duty.
So, here is the really interesting part of this. First, Nelson survived. He was wounded, but he lived. Moreover, he was shot in the chest, and survived. He survived because he got prompt medical attention after he secured backup and after he had rendered the bad guy combat ineffective.
His partner took a round in his gun belt. I am sure it hurt like the dickens, but he was not wounded in terms of a bullet entry into flesh.
But look at what Nelson did in this encounter. He drew and fired his service weapon with incredible rapidity and was combat effective with at least one of his shots. In addition, even though he had been shot, he did not err and wind up shooting his partner who was also downrange. He drew and came to a two-handed grip and delivered aimed fire all within one second of the encounter going sideways.
Keep in mind, they were investigating a theft. There was no information on their radio about the fact the truck was stolen, or had stolen plates. There was no information about the suspect because he had refused to identify himself. The suspect had a record for assault and theft, and thus was a prohibited possessor of firearms. No firearms were visible in the vehicle so as to give the officers a clue as to what was coming.
Now, we could debate tactics. The police chief said they should have gotten him out of the vehicle sooner. That is Monday Morning Quarterbacking at its finest. Likewise, we could take pokes at both officers being on the same side of the truck instead of one on the passenger side, but it was a valid judgment call to assume that both officers would be needed to physically remove the rather large suspect from the truck. So, in my view, if the officers did anything wrong – and that is a very big IF – then at the very least Nelson’s swift reaction and effective fire covering both his retreat and the retreat of his brother officer, ought to wipe away any of that.
Now keep in mind after the first shots are fired (and they were fired by the suspect, not the cops) Nelson is hit. He was shot under his vest in the armpit area, and he has a chest wound that is producing the cough and shortness of breath. But incredibly the officer is combat effective for another 40 seconds at least, before being rescued by a sergeant who forgets to unlock his door.
There is justifiable criticism of the shootings of Philando Castile and Daniel Shaver. I believe those boil down to poor training and an overabundance of testosterone. Stupid people did stupid things and two lives were lost. And again, in Monday Morning Quarterbacking, we can say that neither of these men posed a threat to the police. But, the cops at the time did not know that. And it is precisely episodes like this one that make officers’ reactions to suspects understandable. In a situation like this, you don’t get a do over. You either shoot and live, or fail to shoot and die.
This is one reason why I believe citizens need to acquaint themselves with the risks that officers run every day, and stand up for their police. Because when violence is knocking at your door, especially if you are unarmed, that’s who is coming to help.