By Brian McKenna
Having immigrated to America and opened a jewelry store in an affluent part of town, Joseph and Maria Khoury were living the American dream. The young couple worked hard to establish the business, turning it into a source of pride—one that provided a good income and a comfortable home. Life was good for them and their four year-old daughter, Marisa. Unfortunately, the people who walked through the front door were determined to forcibly rob them of a portion of all they had worked so hard to earn. The first of the three was 27 year-old Eduardo Garcia. Well groomed and neatly dressed in casual clothing, Garcia didn’t look like an escaped con who had been serving time on a robbery conviction. He was a career criminal with nothing to lose. He had a gun in one pocket, a spare magazine in another and flex cuffs slipped under the belt of his neat gray pants. Accompanying Garcia was his half-sister, Carlotta Ramos, and a former cell mate and fellow career criminal named Carlos Hernandez. Garcia had joined the other two after his escape from prison, and the three of them had been making ends meet by holding up local retail stores, including one in which they had wounded a store clerk.
Although the Khourys were unaware of Garcia’s background, they sensed something was wrong almost as soon as the trio walked through the door. It wasn’t that they had done anything obvious to raise suspicions, but Maria and Joseph just didn’t like what they saw. Even after Hernandez and Ramos walked out and left Garcia alone inside the store, the feeling continued. Unlike most of their patrons, Garcia wandered around and asked a few questions about various unrelated items of jewelry, which just didn’t seem right. But what bothered the Khourys the most was the fact that their daughter Marisa, who had come to work with them today, had somehow wandered into the customer service area with Garcia. Maria knew it was time to call the police. As quickly as she could, without alerting Garcia, she tripped the alarm and waited.
The phone rang a few seconds later, and Maria answered. It was the police dispatcher asking why the silent alarm had been activated. Maria replied in a whisper that there was no holdup in progress, just a man inside the store who was making her extremely nervous. The dispatcher explained that the police would be arriving soon to check things out and asked her to meet them outside. Maria was very uncomfortable about the situation. How could she leave her daughter behind while she went outside to meet the officers? Yet, there was no way she could take Marisa with her without making the man suspicious. She realized the only way to get help without making things worse was to follow the dispatcher’s directions. Reluctantly, she left Marisa behind, and with what she hoped was a nonchalant air, slipped through the front door.
Maria’s concerns were soon diminished by the sight of two officers (one plainclothes and the other uniformed), pulling up nearby, followed very shortly by a second uniformed officer. The plainclothes officer was Kevin Bertalotto, a 41 year old Robbery/Homicide detective who had been with the department for about 14 years and in police work since he was 19. He had been on his way to lunch, not more than a half mile from the jewelry store, when he overheard the alarm call and subsequent cancellation which advised that the call was being reclassified to a suspicious person. He’d decided lunch could wait and that he’d help with this call.
The first patrol officer was Eric Yates, a 26 year old, two-year veteran of the department, and the second was Sean Evans, age 32. Evans had been with the department for about six years and was currently assigned as a school resource officer for a local high school. Like Bertalotto, Yates and Evans hadn’t been given the call. They had decided to respond because they were near the jewelry store. None of the officers were particularly concerned as they met Mrs. Khoury. The alarm had been canceled, and it didn’t look like anything serious was happening. Still, they had to be sure.
“Is everything okay in there, ma’am?,” Bertalotto asked.
The woman seemed a bit tense as she answered,“I don’t know. There’s a man in there who’s making me nervous.”
Bertalotto pressed for more information,“What’s he doing? Does he have any weapons?”
“No, no,” Mrs. Khoury replied,“He just doesn’t seem to belong here. He’s been standing around asking questions, and I don’t like it.”
“Has he made any demands or threats of any kind?” Bertalotto asked.
“No, but he makes me nervous,”she answered,“and my little girl is in there with him.”
That complicates things, Bertalotto thought. “Where is she?” he asked.
“In the customer area with that man.”
“Is anyone else with him?”
“No. Two other people came in with him, but they left. Now it’s just my daughter and my husband, Joseph. My daughter is out front and Joseph is on the phone in the back.”
Not overly concerned but wanting to play it safe just in case, the officers quickly came up with a plan.
“I’ll go in first,” Bertalotto said,“why don’t you two stay outside, count to five and follow me in?”
Evans and Yates gave their approval and, after telling Maria to stay outside, the three officers headed for the jewelry store. Since windows spanned the front of the store, they stopped just outside the store next door. Evans and Yates stayed there, and tried to watch the jewelry store without giving themselves away while Bertalotto walked up to the front door. Garcia was visible through the windows and it didn’t look like he was holding a gun or causing any trouble. Bertalotto could also see Joseph and Marisa. Joseph was still on the phone behind the counter and Marisa was still inside the customer area. The little girl was standing near the back of the room while Garcia stood closer to the front, not far from the door. Still feeling no particular concern, Bertalotto opened the door and stepped over the threshold…
It was as though he had stepped into another world. His feeling of calm was immediately replaced with a deep sense of pending trouble. Something just didn’t seem right, but he was already inside the store and past the point of no return. He moved toward Marisa as Garcia turned to look at him. Giving the man a friendly nod, and receiving one in return, he kept moving. Joseph, still on the phone, glanced over at him and said, “Be with you in a minute.”
Bertalotto was now standing between Garcia and Marisa, a step closer to his objective. As he casually turned to get another look at the man, he saw something he didn’t like at all. Garcia was coming toward him with his hands shoved inside his pants pockets. There was no overt display of aggression but Garcia was getting too close. Raising his hands into an instinctive combat position, Bertalotto sharply snapped, “I’m with the police department.”
Garcia’s eyes widened in alarm and he took a step backward, hands still shoved into his pockets. Years of training and street experience took over. Without conscious thought, Bertalotto went on the offensive. Knowing that most people are right handed, he grabbed Garcia’s right wrist. He had barely gotten hold of it when a sudden movement from Garcia’s left hand told him he had made the wrong choice! The hand flashed into view, and clamped inside it was a Glock 17. Bertalotto reacted instantly. He let go of Garcia’s right hand and grabbed his left, making the switch quickly enough to push the gun’s muzzle off course before Garcia could take a shot. It was a move that probably saved Bertalotto’s life, but he was still in danger. He held on tightly to Garcia’s lower left wrist as the ex-con twisted to his left and pulled the gun back in an effort to break it free for a clear shot.
Bertalotto held on. He reached out to grab Garcia’s gun hand–too late; the gun went off! Two shots in rapid succession slammed into the inside of his right forearm, shattering the ulna and pushing shards of bone out the other side as they tore through. The damaged arm fell away, but Bertalotto held on with his left and tried to push the gun down. The 9mm discharged again, this time striking Bertalotto in the stomach just left of his navel, and exiting his left buttock. He still held on and pushed hard on the gun, forcing it downward. Again, the Glock boomed. Now bent over at the waist from the bullet to his stomach, Bertalotto felt the muzzle blast slap him hard in the face as his legs collapsed under him and he fell uncontrollably to the floor. He had taken a round in his lower left leg. The bullet crashed into the front of his shin at a downward angle, snapping the bone in half and exiting the back of the calf. He was going down hard but held on, unknowingly dragging his assailant down with him. Suddenly, his whole body ached from head to foot and for the first time, he fully realized he’d been hit, although he had no idea where or how many times.
Before Bertalotto was aware that he had pulled Garcia down with him, the man was back on his feet and standing over him. Twice more the Glock roared, this time from above and behind, sending rounds down into the prone detective’s back! Thankfully, officer Evans came through the door, distracting Garcia and causing his bullets to go wide, missing vital organs. Still, the next round hit with devastating force just under Bertalotto’s right shoulder blade, exiting at the arm pit. Another round was further off mark but didn’t miss its target entirely. After entering Bertalotto’s right arm near the shoulder, it traveled down the length of the arm and exited near the elbow.
Garcia now had other things to worry about. Evans had entered the room and was moving toward the cover of a display case to his right, firing as he went. Right behind him was Yates, also blazing away with his department-issue Sig 228. Garcia turned on Evans first and, with an unfortunate turn of bad luck, managed to hit the moving officer with a round that put him down immediately. The bullet passed just below the side panel of Evans’ vest, slicing through his intestines and lacerating his femoral artery before crashing into his pelvis. With his hip broken and nerve damage to one leg, Evans crashed to the floor. But he wasn’t out of the fight! He rolled under the display case, where he continued to fire. Then his gun jammed. He cleared it, raised it again and kept shooting in a determined effort to stop the gunman.
Meanwhile, Garcia turned on Yates. Under heavy fire, Yates backed up toward the doorway, firing his 9mm as he moved and hitting his target with at least six rounds. Garcia kept shooting as he took hits in his right wrist, an ankle, a thigh, his buttocks and his side. Although no vital organs were hit, Yates’ gunfire soon put a stop to the fight, at least for the moment. Yates had just reached the front door when he saw Garcia stop shooting and drop to the floor. This pause gave Yates time to take cover behind the door frame and reload. Then came more shots! Without hesitation Yates headed back inside, but no further help was needed. Things had changed while he was reloading. Garcia had started to move again, prompting Evans to shout a warning to Bertalotto. Bertalotto, his Sig now in his left hand although he didn’t remember drawing it, looked over to see Garcia lifting the Glock into firing position again. With the sharpest clarity of thought and focus on the need to stop the threat, he did exactly what he had been trained to do. As soon as his front sight was centered on Garcia’s head, he fired three quick shots. Two of the three found their mark, one striking the gunman just above an eyebrow and the other hitting him just below an eye. Garcia was a threat no more!
Somehow, Joseph Khoury managed to pull his frightened daughter out of the battle zone during a brief pause in the action. She was unscathed, and safely in her father’s arms. Although the bullet to Bertalotto’s stomach tore through a small portion of his intestines and caused a minor fracture to his pelvis, the wound was much less serious than it could have been and he suffered no serious long-term effects from it. Unfortunately, his other wounds ended his police career. Although not severely disabling, they caused some permanent physical limitations that forced him to leave the department. He now serves as an investigator in his county prosecutor’s office. Officer Evans also survived his wounds but, like Bertalotto, had to leave the department because of career-ending physical limitations. He now works as a private investigator. Officer Yates remained with the department and has since been promoted to sergeant.
Subsequent investigation revealed that Hernandez and Ramos, who had apparently gotten cold feet while still inside the jewelry store, were waiting outside in the parking lot during the shooting. Preferring not to risk a shootout with the officers, they declined to get involved and left the area instead. They were apprehended a short time later, and subsequently tried and convicted for several of the other robberies.
As is almost always the case with lethal confrontations, subtle danger signs were present in this case. The unusual part of this incident is that the danger signs were a lot more subtle than most. Maria Khoury picked up on nuisances in Garcia’s behavior that worried her enough to trip the alarm. She didn’t like the way Garcia kept asking about various kinds of jewelry, but she could never explain why it bothered her. Detective Bertalotto’s readings of the danger signs were similar. Although he distinctly remembers feeling a strong sense of concern as soon as he walked through the door, he is still unable to say why. It was only after he turned and saw Garcia coming toward him that he perceived any outward sign of possible trouble, and even that was subtle. Although it isn’t normal for someone to move close behind someone he doesn’t know, it is hardly an overt threat. It wasn’t until Bertalotto announced that he was a police officer and Garcia’s facial expression changed that he had a solid reason to be concerned about his safety. Even then, he still hadn’t seen a weapon or any other direct threat.
Fortunately, Bertalotto used his initial sense of concern to prepare himself for danger and reacted quickly when it appeared. Without hesitation, he took the offensive and went for Garcia’s hands. Although he failed to fully control these hands with his initial move, Bertalotto’s aggression disrupted Garcia’s attack and enabled him to fight back. As mentioned earlier, danger signs are often subtle and unseen at the conscious level. However, the subconscious mind perceives and processes information much faster and sends us warnings in the form of fear or alarm. If we trust our instincts, we are able to react much quicker to danger. That’s exactly what Detective Bertalotto did. And, it probably saved his life, and in all likelihood, the lives of Joseph and Marisa as well. By disrupting Garcia’s plan of attack, he prolonged the initial fight long enough to give officers Evans and Yates time to intervene and help take Garcia out of the fight. Trust your instincts!
Suspicious Persons Calls
The officers in this case were responding to what they believed to be a suspicious person call rather than a robbery-in-progress. This is important because, although many officers and departments downplay the seriousness of suspicious person calls, they are dangerous. In fact, in the most recent period in which statistics are available (1995-2004) suspicious person calls resulted in the felonious deaths of more police officers (13.3%) than any other category except ambushes.1 This percentage is significantly higher than domestic disputes (10.4%), unknown-risk traffic stops (9.8%), high-risk traffic stops (7.0%), or even robbery arrests (9.1%). When officers are working alone, the percentage is even higher (18.9%),2 which is again second only to ambushes.3
One of the reasons suspicious person calls are so dangerous is because there normally isn’t much information and the danger signs are usually quite vague. While there may be enough information to cause concern, there is seldom enough to be sure about the risks, leaving us ambiguous about how to approach the situation and leading to decisions which may put us at greater risk than originally anticipated. In this case, the officers understandably choose to approach Garcia in a low profile manner. In retrospect, it becomes clear that he should have been taken down at gunpoint.
When assessing the risks of a suspicious person call, remember most people are reluctant to call the police. They don’t want to bother law enforcement if it looks like their fears are unwarranted. Therefore, they often wait until they are reasonably certain that something is wrong before they call. In addition, most citizens are intimately familiar with the businesses, people and circumstances in their neighborhoods, and have a good idea about what is suspicious and what is not. Because of these factors, we should always take suspicious persons calls seriously. The safest approach is to assume there was a good reason for the call and know that we may be walking into a dangerous situation.
Similarly, suspicious persons and circumstances that you observe on your own should be considered potentially dangerous. If they catch your attention, there is probably a good reason for it. Even if you can’t put your finger on what aroused your suspicious, you must assume that your instincts are correct. What we call gut instinct comes from subtle clues perceived only at the subconscious level, and communicated to our conscious mind as a feeling. We may not know why, but we know something is wrong. Rather than ignore the feeling, or try to explain it away, we should use it as a trigger to raise our awareness and prepare us to take action. When responding to a suspicious person call, remember appearances may be deceiving and we may have very little information to go on. We must slow down, assess the situation thoroughly, plan our actions carefully and approach with caution.
Another reason suspicious person calls are difficult to handle is because although the risks are significant, high-risk tactics may not be justified. Unless we detect something that makes it obvious that danger is present, we have to use low-profile tactics. So many variables are involved in these calls, making it difficult to develop universal procedures to apply to every situation. Still, there are basic principles that apply to most, like slowing down, gathering as much intelligence as possible before making contact, keeping your guard up, using backup and when possible, ordering the subject to come to you. Beyond that, we must remain flexible and open minded about our options so we can quickly adapt to the situation. Flexibility is an essential ingredient in safely handling suspicious persons. In many cases, it’s best to simply stay back a short distance and wait to see what happens. If a crime occurs, let it run its course (unless someone is directly threatened) and then make the arrest as the suspect leaves. This is often the safest action for everyone involved, but not always. In this case, there was no clear evidence to determine Garcia’s intentions and there was an urgency because of Marisa’s presence. Under these particular circumstances, the officers’ plan made a lot of sense. The objective was to gather intelligence in a low-profile manner, while inserting Detective Bertalotto into the scene to protect the little girl. There was also a plan to provide backup in a timely fashion. It caught Garcia off guard, drew his attention away from Marisa and Joseph, and gave Bertalotto the chance to counterattack in a relatively effective manner. Ultimately, it probably saved the Khourys from serious violence or death, as evidenced by the spare magazine and flex cuffs Garcia carried.
The luxury of hindsight reveals other options. The goal is to get innocent bystanders out of harm’s way without alerting the subject. We have to consider the extent to which we can involve others who may be able to help. While we shouldn’t put anyone at unnecessary risk, they may be the best resource for drawing bystanders out of the danger zone. For example, Mrs. Khoury may have been able to return to the back of the store and call for her daughter, using the excuse that it was time for lunch or something along those lines. This would have put Mrs. Khoury at some risk, but she was the best person for the job because Marisa was more likely to respond normally to her. We must also consider that such action might have prompted Garcia to act, necessitating immediate reaction from the officers should anything go wrong. Nevertheless, Marisa was in a dangerous position regardless of the officer’s actions. By having her mother call her, the chances of getting her out of the line of fire without alerting Garcia would have been increased. An extra margin of safety could have been gained by having one of the officers go to the back door with Mrs. Khoury and wait just outside the door, where he would have been in a good position to intervene if anything went wrong.
Another option would have been to have either officer Evans or Yates enter the store from the back room, casually walking into the front of the store, with Bertalotto entering via the front door a moment later, followed shortly by the second patrol officer. The sudden appearance of a uniformed police officer from an unexpected location would have caught Garcia off guard, drawing his attention away from Marisa and disrupting his plans. If Garcia had decided to attack at this point, his fire would almost certainly have been directed at the uniformed officer and away from Marisa. In the meantime the officer, having been forewarned of the potential for violence, would have been prepared to return fire with minimal risk to the others. The other two officers would have been in position to provide immediate backup if needed. Considering that this option might have created a crossfire, it would have been important for them to carefully position themselves and coordinate their actions to minimize that risk. This would have required good intelligence about the interior of the store. Mrs. Khoury would have been a good resource for this information, and Bertalotto might also have been able to gather intelligence by casually walking by the store and looking inside. No doubt, this option would have entailed some risk, but it would have enabled the officers to use the element of surprise to their advantage.
A third alternative would have been to send one officer to wait outside the back door while the other two waited out front, preferably from a position that gave them a good view of the interior. While this would have minimized the risk of a gun battle, it would also have left Garcia free to take whatever action he wished before the officers could interfere. None of these options are ideal. All entail risks, but we sometimes have to make tough choices.
Close Range Armed Attacks
Garcia’s initial attack put Detective Bertalotto in a very tough position because Garcia was too close to miss and there wasn’t time to outdraw him. Bertalotto instinctively did the right thing by going for Garcia’s gun, but he wasn’t completely prepared or specifically trained in how to deal with this kind of attack. That, coupled with some bad luck (the fact that the gun was in Garcia’s left hand instead of his right), hampered Bertalotto’s ability to follow up with appropriate countermeasures. One option would have been to use a disarming technique. Disarming techniques are crucial skills that every officer should know, however it is beyond the scope of this analysis to discuss them in detail. Besides, the harsh reality is that many officers have neither the time nor the inclination to develop these techniques to the extent needed for real-life close combat. Something else is needed.
Close combat is fast-moving, brutal, and fraught with unpredictable variables that make it hard to develop specific countermeasures that will work every time. For that reason, we need a flexible plan for dealing with this threat. This plan should be based on four critical principles:
- Attack the Weapon First – If he is already drawing, you won’t be able to outdraw him. Instead, attack his weapon. Block it, grab it, disarm him, trap his arm under your arm or against his body. Do whatever it takes but keep it away from you!
- Move Inside – He will be expecting you to either freeze up or back away defensively, so move into him. This will catch him off guard and disrupt his plan of attack. It also jams him up, making it a lot harder for him to maneuver his weapon into firing position. Moving inside is also likely to knock him off balance, and it quickly gets you in close enough to draw and fire before he can react. Finally, it works even in confined spaces. You don’t need much room; just crash into him and then immediately initiate the next step.
- Counterattack – We all know how to draw our duty guns. Unlike disarming techniques, it isn’t a complex skill reserved for close-range threats, but something we have been doing since our first day at the range. The counterattack puts this skill to use. As you move inside, draw as rapidly as possible, bring your gun up close to his body and keep shooting until he ceases to be a threat.
It should be mentioned, however, that there is a slim chance that the slide will be pushed out of battery if the muzzle is shoved too hard into his body, which temporarily disables the gun. So be ready to eliminate this problem by backing the muzzle away slightly if the gun doesn’t fire. (For more on this, see George T. Williams’ excellent article, “Real World Contact Shots,” in the January/February 2006 issue of The Police Marksmanmagazine).4
Gunfire isn’t the only option for the counterattack. In some cases, a disarming technique may be applicable or even preferable. In others, eye jabs, throat strikes, etc. may disable or stun your attacker to the point that he can be disarmed. Because of the increased range of options provided by these techniques, officers who have made the effort to adequately develop them have a definite advantage in close combat.
- Keep Pressing the Attack – Your assailant will almost certainly back away instinctively as you move in on him, so be ready for it. Keep moving into him, and keep up your counterattack until he is no longer a threat.
These principles are easy to remember and simple to apply, but that doesn’t mean training isn’t necessary. Like any other skill, close combat skills should be practiced on a regular basis, preferably in dynamic one-on-one exercises. One word of caution—this training entails dynamic, rapid movement, making it dangerous with live ammunition. Drills should be done with Simunitions, AirSoft or nonfunctioning training guns. These drills can also be practiced on your own with safe weapons, and/or reinforced through mental imagery.
The draw is especially important here. It must be quick, sure and solid to ensure the quickest possible deployment. Unfortunately, some officers neglect this aspect of firearms training. They don’t practice, or they cheat themselves by leaving their holsters unsnapped during firearms training, which can have devastating results on the street. Practice your draw, and always draw from a fully secured holster during training. Finally, awareness is crucial, because even the best countermeasures lose their effectiveness if we aren’t mentally prepared to use them. Keep in mind that close range attacks can happen any time. Always anticipate this possibility and know how you will respond it if it happens.
Detective Bertalotto’s counterattack wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done. It prevented him from taking multiple hits to center mass and enabled him to drag his assailant to the floor, thereby disrupting the attack until Evans and Yates could come to his aid. The critical point is that he did something. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Even if it isn’t exactly right, it will usually catch your assailant off guard and force him to rethink his game plan. This buys you time and puts him on the defensive, giving you a psychological advantage. Bertalotto didn’t just stand there and take hits. He did something, and in so doing provided us an outstanding example of how to fight back and win, even when the odds are against us.
We should consider the role that Hernandez and Ramos might have played in this incident. They were in a good position to move in behind the officers without being seen and launch an attack from the rear. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, apparently because the pair didn’t have the stomach for a fight, but the officers were vulnerable to an unexpected attack from an unseen threat. This fact highlights the danger posed by backup accomplices on holdup teams. In this case, the officers were told that there was no holdup while still en route to the call, which explains why they weren’t concerned about peripheral threats. Still, considering the fact that suspicious person calls are so dangerous, we can’t discount any risks, including the possibility of peripheral threats. Whether responding to a holdup alarm, a suspicious person call, or any other high-risk call, we must take the time to consider and watch for this potential hazard.
Like most plainclothes officers, Detective Bertalotto rarely wore body armor. Admittedly, it’s not very comfortable, it doesn’t blend in well with civilian attire and many plainclothes officers feel like their job isn’t dangerous enough to justify its use. Unlike uniformed officers, many believe they are unlikely to encounter violence without warning. Instead, they believe the nature of their job allows them to anticipate potentially violent encounters far enough in advance to don their vests prior to the danger. Although this is normally true, violent encounters often occur when least expected regardless of our assignment.
Detective Bertalotto was on his way to lunch with no plans to become involved in any police action at all. However, he ended up going into a high-risk situation without the benefit of a vest. Even though the wound to his stomach wasn’t particularly serious, it easily could have been. If he had been a split second slower in responding to Garcia’s attack, or if the bullet had entered at a slightly different angle, it could have been fatal. Similarly, if it had not been for Evans and Yates’ intervention, there is a good chance that Bertalotto would have been shot several times in the back when Garcia tried to execute him on the floor.
Regrettably, Officer Evans’ body armor didn’t cover the area where he was hit. Unfortunately, it is one of the brutal realities of gunfights that their outcome is sometimes measured in fractions of an inch, but that’s no excuse for not wearing body armor. We owe it to ourselves, our families and our communities to take advantage of all safety equipment available to us, including body armor. Although not a guarantee against lethal gunfire, it has saved the lives of over 3,000 officers, and saved an even larger number from devastating wounds that would have changed their lives forever. And in a great many of these saves the officers were able to fight back and defeat their assailants, thereby fulfilling their crucial role as society’s guardians.
All three officers in this incident displayed qualities of a winner. Despite the fact that he had relaxed to some extent since becoming a detective, Bertalotto was a safety-conscious officer who took his training seriously and made a point of being prepared. For example, unlike some plainclothes officers, he understood that a handgun worn on the hip is much more accessible than one worn in a shoulder or ankle holster. He had been trained from the beginning to draw from the hip, and recognized that it made sense not to change that when he made detective. Similarly, with the help of good firearms instructors who understood the dynamics of performance under stress, he had put forth the effort to develop a solid draw from a snapped holster under a jacket. When the time came to draw under high-stress circumstances, he did so without conscious thought and rapidly acquired his target. Little things like these may seem minor, but they can pay big dividends when the chips are down.
Bertalotto kept fighting, even though suffering from wounds that seriously hampered his mobility. Instead of surrendering to fear or despair, he focused on the task and completed it. Although he realized he had been hit several times, he also knew that he still had use of his gun hand and was in position to use it to finish the job. It is this capacity to focus on our capabilities rather than our vulnerabilities that makes for winners. Since the mind can only focus on one thing at a time, positive thoughts push out negative ones, eliminating disabling fear and panic. Positive thoughts drive us to success.
Officers Evans and Yates courageously went to the aid of Bertalotto and the others, and then fought valiantly to put a stop to Garcia’s aggression. Evans wisely went for cover, but unfortunately took a disabling hit before he could reach it. Even then, he managed to roll to a position that afforded him some cover, return fire, clear a jam and warn Bertalotto of Garcia’s attempt to get back into the fight. In the meantime, Yates chose to immediately return fire while backing away from his opponent. Although it’s generally not a good idea to back directly away from gunfire, in this case Yates only had to back up a short distance to reach cover of the door frame, and he was aggressively returning fire as he did. Through these actions, he was able to down Garcia while drawing fire away from Bertalotto and Evans, which may well have saved their lives. Then, after retreating to cover he quickly reloaded and, with little regard for his own safety, went back into the combat zone to reengage Garcia. All three officers distinguished themselves in the face of grave danger and set an inspiring example.
Garcia obviously intended to tie his victims up with the flex cuffs, hinting darkly at the possibility of greater violence to come, as did the spare magazine in his pocket. Another indication of his cold-blooded willingness to use violence was his armed attack on Bertalotto in spite of the presence of little Marisa. A short time later, he gave further evidence of his brutal capacity for violence when he attempted to execute Bertalotto after the helpless detective was already down. There can be no doubt that he would have continued to shoot Bertalotto if Evans and Yates had not intervened. And there is no telling what he may have done to Joseph and Marisa. This kind of cool, calculating brutality is typical of many violent criminals. Recognition of this should inspire us to thoroughly prepare ourselves—physically, mentally and tactically—to meet this challenge with courage and commitment. We must train hard, work hard, remain vigilant and resolve to win no matter what. Our citizens are counting on us to stand between them and predators, and it is our duty to live up to their expectations. We can do no less!
Detective Bertalotto suffered no significant emotional trauma as a result of the shooting. Because he takes his job seriously, he recognizes that this duty sometimes requires that we meet violence with violence. There are times when circumstances dictate no other reasonable course of action than the immediate, uncompromising use of deadly force, and this was certainly one of them. In fact, it’s very likely that Bertalotto, Evans and Yates’ actions prevented serious, if not deadly, consequences.
Detective Bertalotto also realizes that Garcia was solely responsible for escalating the encounter to its lethal climax. This assessment of the righteousness of his actions is appropriate and healthy. When an officer responds to a deadly threat with lethal force, he could feel remorse, which is normal and understandable. However, just as justified are feelings of pride in having done one’s duty well. If more officers could recognize this, we would have fewer emotional casualties as the result of officer-involved shootings.
1 The percentage of officers killed in ambushes was 17.7%.
2 The percentage of unassisted officers killed in ambushes was 21.5 %.
3 FBI (2004). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2004, US Dept. of Justice Uniform Crime Reports, p.24.
4 Williams, G. “Real World Contact Shots,” The Police Marksman. (January/February 2006) pp. 42-44.
About the Author
Brian McKenna, a 31-year police veteran, is a lieutenant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a shift supervisor, lead firearms instructor and in-service training officer. He holds an MS in management and development of human resources, is a certified police instructor with teaching experience at both the academy and in-service level and is a member of ILEETA.
* The incident recounted here is true, but some of the names of persons and places were changed to insure the privacy of those personally involved. To preserve clarity, some facts may have been altered slightly, but the essential elements of the story remain unchanged.