Officer Down: Lessons Learned from a Hostage Officer Tragedy


As distasteful as it is to second-guess the actions of a fellow officer, especially one whose mistakes have cost him so much, it is even more distasteful to see an officer’s blood shed in vain, to deny others the lessons to be learned from his tragic misfortune. Officer deaths and injuries are rarely unavoidable. Some errors are more obvious than others, but usually something could have been done to prevent the dire outcome. The purpose of this column is not to unnecessarily criticize those who have given so much–we have all made similar, if not worse, mistakes–it is to hopefully prevent similar tragedies in the future. This regular feature will analyze actual incidents in which officers have been killed or wounded, and will focus on what can be learned from them. With this in mind, Officer Down is dedicated to the officers whose blood was shed in the course of the incident it analyzes, and to all our brother officers who have been killed and injured in unselfish service to their communities.

Description of Incident
Charles Wilson and Frank Gray were petty criminals, but nothing in their records foreshadowed the capacity for cruelty they were about to unleash. The seed of their bizarre plan had been planted earlier in the day as they began a road trip from Springdale to Westerville and back. The round trip, which covered a distance of 700 miles, took about 12 hours and gave them plenty of time to talk. Their plans turned into a brutal obsession.

It began when Wilson started complaining about his perceived mistreatment from the Springdale Police Department. He didn’t like the fact that a couple of warrants had been issued against him for drunk and disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. He felt he had been given a bad rap. As that topic was beginning to wane, a marked patrol unit cruised past them.

Wilson glanced over at the powerful cruiser, then turned to Gray, a big, strong 19 year-old behind the wheel of the old Ford two-door. Gray was clearly the bigger of the two. Wilson, also 19, was considerably shorter than Gray with a slight build–but there was no doubt that Wilson ran the show.

“I wonder what it would be like to drive one of those cop cars,” Wilson commented, gesturing toward the patrol car. He took a final swig from the beer he was drinking, and tossed the empty bottle out the window.

“Don’t know,” Gray responded, shrugging.

Wilson grinned, “Come on, man. Gotta be better than runnin’ around in this old clunker of yours.” There was a pause as Wilson pulled out another beer, twisted the cap off the bottle, and took a drink. He glanced over at Gray,

“Hey, Frank, ever wonder what it would be like to blow one of those blue boys away?”

Thus it began. The conversation continued along the same lines all the way to Westerville. They were going there to pick up Wilson’s tax refund check from his sister. It had mistakenly been sent to her house. Since he only recently moved away from Westerville, and was looking for a reason to return for a visit, he’d decided to pick it up. After picking up the tax check and visiting Wilson’s sister, the two teens went to the bank, cashed the check and headed for a liquor store to pick up some more beer.

Their next stop was the home of Wilson’s former foreman and friend, Dan Stevens. Right away, Wilson started fantasizing again about “blowing a blue boy away.”

“Don’t even say that shit. That’s crazy talk,” the older man said.

“Hey, Dan, I’m just wonderin’, that’s all,” Wilson answered.

“That kinda talk’s gonna get you in big trouble,” Stevens said, “get it outa your head.”

“I’m just wondering, just wondering,” Wilson smirked. Up came his right hand, thumb up with the forefinger pointing forward. “Bang!” he said as his thumb dropped.

By the time the two teens left his place, Stevens had given up on the idea of trying to convince them to change the subject. He kept telling himself that it just crazy talk, but he didn’t like the sound of it.

Before returning to Springdale, Wilson and Gray stopped by to see Wilson’s sister again for another drink. It wasn’t long before the same topic came up again. Wilson seemed obsessed with the idea and Gray wasn’t doing anything to discourage him. Wilson’s sister was becoming visibly upset, “Stop it, Charlie” she pleaded, near tears.

“You oughta have your head examined. Don’t even think about stuff like that!”

His sister’s pleading only seemed to encourage Wilson and Gray. They were still talking about it as they left the house and headed toward Springdale on Highway 72. It was at this point that the notion began to take a more ominous turn.

“I wonder if we could pull it off?” Wilson asked. He pondered on the idea for a while, and then turned to Gray, “It won’t be easy, but I bet we can do it!”

“We gotta get one of ‘em to pull us over first,” Gray added.

The plan came together quickly after that, and it was brutal in its simplicity. They decided to take the rear license plate off of Gray’s car as bait. Neither had a weapon, but they figured they could jump and disarm the officer once he stopped them. Beyond that, they would play it by ear.

Gray eased the aging car over to the shoulder and braked to a stop. They both got out, rummaged around in the trunk until they found a screwdriver, and removed the plate from the back bumper. Wilson threw the plate into the trunk and slammed the lid shut. Quickly, they ran back to the car, got in, and pulled back onto the highway. It had been a long day, and night had fallen some time ago. The trap was set–the only thing missing now was the prey.

It wasn’t long before Wilson and Gray got their wish. A marked squad car pulled in behind them. However, they noticed a second form in the passenger seat–two cops might be more than they could handle. Both sat still in their seats, anxiety replacing their former cockiness. Soon, bright flashes from the cruiser’s rotating roof lights filled the inside of their car.

Wilson glanced at Gray, “Let’s wait and see what happens. Just follow my lead.”

There were in fact two officers, both State Troopers. They were both good-sized, young, sharp in demeanor and obviously well-prepared–not at all what the two teens had in mind. Wilson and Gray were polite and cooperative as the two troopers questioned them briefly, searched their car without finding anything (all the beer was gone), issued Gray a couple of tickets for equipment violations and let them go. The possibility that they had been drinking did not come up. Despite the fact that the two boys had been drinking all day, they had obviously done a good job of hiding it. About 90 minutes later, after stopping to switch drivers and pick up some more beer, the pair was getting close to the end of their trip. Then, just as they were about to enter the Springdale city limits, they had another bite.

It was Trooper Ken Barnes, a 43 year-old veteran of the State Highway Police. Barnes was well respected, likable, and friendly in his dealings with the public. Like so many service-oriented officers, he worked hard and handled the public well, but he also tended to be a bit too trusting of others. At 5 feet, 8 inches and 155 pounds, he was hardly a big man, but his slight frame was fit and muscular. Although not an avid physical fitness enthusiast, he took good care of himself.

Until a short while ago, Barnes had been working with a partner, Trooper John Riley. But just before midnight, they had decided to take separate cars in order to expand the coverage of their beat. Not long after splitting up, Barnes overheard Riley calling out on a traffic stop on Highway 72 near the west Springdale city limits. Being close by, Barnes decided to head that way and check up on his partner. On the way, he noticed an older model white Ford ahead of him, traveling eastbound toward the city on 72. As he drew closer, he noticed that the rear license plate was missing. There were two occupants, apparently young white males.

“Two kids in an old clunker with no plates, this late at night,” Barnes thought to himself. He couldn’t help wondering what they might be up to, and the missing license plate gave him a good reason to check them out. He flipped on his roof lights. The small two-door slowed, but kept going. Barnes could see Riley’s unit stopped behind the other violator as he passed Riley’s location. About a half mile up ahead, the Ford started to ease over onto the right shoulder. Something sailed out of the driver’s window, then another out of the passenger side. The objects looked like beer bottles. Several more were tossed out as the car braked to a stop on the shoulder.

Without calling out his stop, Barnes stepped out of his unit and strode up to the rear of the vehicle. Once there, he slowed his pace and moved up to a point just behind the driver’s door. He shined his flashlight through the open window. The beam came to rest on Charles Wilson, who was now driving.

“May I see your license and registration please,” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Wilson replied.

As the young man started to take the license out of his wallet, Barnes asked, “Where’s the booze, boys?”

“What booze, officer?” Wilson responded innocently.

“I saw you throw some beer bottles out of the car. Got any left?”

“Nope, not us,” Wilson insisted, “we didn’t throw nuthin’ out, man.”

“Don’t give me that, son! I know what I saw.”

“What you saw was nuthin’, man. I said we didn’t throw nuthin’ outa the car.”

“Look,” Barnes responded, “I’m not gonna argue with you. Step out of the car!”

Barnes was playing right into their hands. He stepped back from the door, “Come with me! I’ll show you where the bottles are.”

Wilson complied, but refused to soften his denial, “You ain’t gonna find nuthin’,” he said defiantly.

“Just come with me!” Barnes ordered.

Gray stayed in the car as Barnes, whose patience was obviously wearing thin, marched Wilson down into the shallow ditch along the shoulder of the road.

The beam from the unsuspecting officer’s flashlight was playing across the grassy surface of the ditch. At first it found only broken glass, and then came to rest on an empty beer bottle. Barnes could see cool foam settling inside. He turned to Wilson, “Here’s one, right here,” he said. He raised the beam off the bottle and began searching the darkness for more, turning his back on Wilson as he searched.

The time had come! Wilson leapt onto Barnes’ back. At the last instant, Barnes turned back toward his assailant, but he couldn’t stay on his feet. They plunged into the ditch, landing hard. The impact knocked the wind out of Barnes’ lungs.

“Help me, Frank!” Wilson yelled as he grabbed the officer tightly around the torso and tried to pin him to the ground, “Get down here and help!”

Barnes fought hard to dislodge his arms and hands but he couldn’t break free of Wilson’s grasp. Within seconds, Gray was looming over the prone officer. His feet shuffled briefly through the scraggly grass as he jockeyed into position near Barnes’ head. Then, before Barnes could squirm out of the way, the husky teenager drew his foot back and let go with a powerful kick. The fierce blow crashed into the side of Barnes’ face, causing his head to reel in pain and confusion.

Barnes fought back, feebly at first, but recovered quickly. Then, as his strength and composure began to return, it became obvious what had happened. Wilson was scrambling to his feet. In his hand was a familiar weapon–Barnes’ own S&W 4-inch revolver!

“Get up! No sudden moves or I’ll shoot!” Wilson sneered; then, turning to Gray, “We got our blue boy, Frank, we got ‘im!”

Still partially dazed, Barnes rose unsteadily to his feet, his face etched with disbelief and fear, although he made a valiant effort to hide it.

“Take his cuffs, Frank,” Wilson ordered while arrogantly holding the .38 on Barnes. He poked the gun at Barnes for emphasis, “Put your hands behind your back, and don’t move! He’s gonna cuff you. Don’t try to stop ‘im!”
Barnes did as he was told. He winced only slightly as the cool metal cuffs clamped down tightly on his wrists.
“Where’s the keys to those cuffs?” Wilson asked.

“I don’t have any with me,” Barnes replied, “They’re on the key ring in my ignition.”

“Come on then, blue boy; time to go! And hurry up,” Wilson commanded as he stepped around behind Barnes and shoved him toward the Ford. Barnes began walking.

Wilson turned toward Gray and barked, “Run ahead and grab his car keys. We might need ‘em.”

While Gray got the keys out of the cruiser’s ignition, Wilson shoved Barnes back to Gray’s car, shuffled him onto the floor in the back, and slipped behind the wheel. As soon as Gray showed up with the keys, Wilson dropped the transmission into gear, gunned the engine, and steered back onto the highway.

The old Ford had barely disappeared from view when a passing trucker came by and spotted Barnes’ lone cruiser on the shoulder with its roof lights flashing. It didn’t look like anyone was inside. He stopped to investigate, and quickly confirmed that the officer was gone. Remembering having passed Trooper Riley just a few moments earlier, the trucker rushed back to Riley’s location and reported the discovery to him.

Riley didn’t have to hear any more. He released his violator and rushed off to check on Barnes. His findings at the scene did little to alleviate his concern. He found no body, of course, which calmed his most immediate fear. There was no blood or other obvious signs of a struggle, but that didn’t explain what had happened to his partner. And what about that old Ford two-door Barnes had been pulling over when he went by? Riley put out a call for assistance and description of the white Ford with its two teenage occupants.

In the meantime, Gray and Wilson were heading into Springdale. Gray turned to Wilson, “What now? Where d’ya wanna take ‘im?”

“Don’t know. I really ain’t give it much thought. Got any ideas?”

“Yea, I was thinkin’ maybe we could take ‘im by Norton’s place. I bet he’d get a big kick outa this.”
“Good idea!” Wilson replied, “Let’s go.”

Danny Norton was a reputed fence who lived in the city. Despite his extensive arrest record, he was considered by the officers who knew him to be an individual with a strong dislike for violence. It is generally believed that, had he been home, he would have talked Wilson and Gray into letting Barnes go. Unfortunately, he wasn’t home that night.

Beginning to tire of the thrill of their catch, the two kidnappers decided to drive out to the power station on the outskirts of the city. The narrow dirt road leading along the river to the power station was shrouded in darkness and void of traffic. No one came out there at this time of night. As they neared the power station, Wilson began to slow down. A line of trees stood between the roadway and river bank for most of the length of the road, but there was a break in the tree line up ahead. Wilson slowed to a near stop, and cut the wheels into a sharp U-turn. The road wasn’t quite wide enough; as the car entered the last half of the turn it went wide and slipped off the road onto the soft shoulder.

The winter thaw had left the ground saturated and mucky. Wilson had slowed almost to a stop, and didn’t have the velocity to plow his way back up onto the road. The tires slid to a sluggish stop. At first Wilson tried to rock his way out, but quickly gave up on the idea.

He turned to Gray, “You better get out and push. I don’t wanna risk gettin’ stuck any worse.”

“O.K.,” Gray agreed, then paused. He jerked his head back toward the officer huddled on the back floor, “but what about him?”

“Make ‘im help.”

Gray stepped out of the car, and pulled his seat forward. He looked down at Barnes, “You heard ‘im! Get out!”
Barnes stiffly crawled out of the back seat, stretched a bit as he stood up, and walked slowly to the rear of the car. He looked at Gray and said, as he had several times before, “Come on guys, think about what you’re doin’.”

“Don’t worry about it! Just get down and push!”

Barnes turned his back to the car, squatted, grasped the underside of the bumper with his shackled hands, and planted his feet. With his help, and Gray pushing on the other side of the bumper, Wilson was able to ease the little car back onto dryer ground. Once on solid ground, he stopped.

Wilson got out of the car, gun in hand. He pointed the weapon at Barnes, and motioned down the slope toward the river bank. “Let’s go!” he commanded.

Barnes hesitated.

“I said, let’s go,” Wilson yelled.

Barnes complied without comment. Wilson was right behind him. Then, after a moment’s hesitation of his own, Gray followed. When they reached a flat below the road, Wilson turned to Gray. “Take his cuffs off,” he ordered.
Gray paused, took the keys from his pocket, and fumbled around for a while in the dark before locating the cuff key. He stepped up behind the officer and hesitated again before inserting the key. Slowly, clumsily, he turned the key and released the first cuff, then the second.

As the second shackle fell from Barnes wrist, Wilson quickly stepped forward, and raised the gun. Barnes’ pleading eyes met his. Wilson fired! The bullet struck Barnes just above the left eyebrow. His head jerked back violently and he slumped to the ground.

His lust for blood not quite quenched, Wilson bent over the officer’s body, put the muzzle of the gun into Barnes’ ear, and fired again. He stood, tucking the revolver into his waistband, and looked at Gray. With a hint of fear and excitement in his voice, he said, “Come on, man, let’s throw ‘im in the river!”

Gray stood for a moment and stared in bewilderment at the body, the cuffs dangling limply from his right hand. After a long pause, he took a deep breath, stuffed the cuffs in his pocket, and moved toward Barnes. Being the larger of the two, he picked Barnes up by the head and shoulders while Wilson took the dead officer’s feet. Together, they carried Barnes the 100 yards or so to the river, and heaved him in. Although not a big man, Barnes was more than they could handle with ease. His limp body crashed solidly into the water only a short distance from the river’s edge. There they left him, his lifeless face gazing blankly up at the dark sky as the cold water sloshed over him.

The cop-killers ran back to the car, and headed into town. It wasn’t long before they were spotted by two city officers, who apprehended Gray after a brief vehicle and foot pursuit. Wilson managed to elude capture a short time, but was stopped and arrested at a roadblock later that morning as he tried to slip out of town. Having ditched Barnes’ gun earlier, and lacking the stomach for a fair fight, he made no effort to resist.

Wilson and Gray were both tried and convicted of capital murder, and sentenced to life without parole. Gray appealed his conviction on the grounds that he had no control over Wilson’s actions and was unaware of Wilson’s intentions to kill Barnes. The court didn’t buy his excuse. After determining that Gray had ample opportunity to intervene before Wilson killed Barnes, it upheld the conviction.

Danger Signs and Attitude

Although Trooper Barnes’ death makes it impossible to know for sure, there are several things about his attitude that can be reasonably inferred from his actions. He appeared to have missed the significance of the fact that Wilson drove well past Riley’s unit before pulling to the curb. You should become suspicious anytime a violator delays pulling over, because this indicates that he may be purposely delaying the stop to buy time, to find a location more advantageous to him or to set you up for an attack. And you should be especially cautious if, as in this case, it looks like he is trying to put distance between you and another officer who could act as your backup. Wilson’s delay in pulling over, coupled with the missing license plate and the teens’ blatant actions in pitching the beer bottles out of the car, should have alerted him to danger.

Although not particularly obvious, these danger signs are the kind of thing an officer cannot afford to ignore. Danger is seldom readily apparent until it’s too late, so we have to look for it. This is not to say that we should act without proper provocation, but we must never let our guard down. Make danger awareness a priority, not an afterthought.
Trooper Barnes also allowed Wilson to manipulate him. By taking Wilson’s hostility as a challenge rather than a danger sign, he relinquished control of the situation to Wilson. Instead of raising his level of awareness accordingly, he reacted to Wilson’s hostility by arguing his point. As a result, he eventually turned his back on him, which opened the door for the tragedy that followed.

Don’t allow anger or other emotions to get in the way of caution. Always be watchful of your suspect’s motives, especially if he appears to be trying to con, challenge or anger you. Keep your emotions in check, and your responses to his behavior under control. Controlling yourself and your emotions is the first step in establishing control of the situation.

Subject Control

It is beyond the scope of this article to address the tactical subject control issues associated with this case in great detail, but two points of concern are well worth discussion here. First, this case demonstrates the importance of positioning relative to your suspect. Trooper Barnes made two fatal mistakes in this regard: he failed to maintain a safe reactionary gap and he turned his back on his assailant. Although it appears that Barnes could have avoided these mistakes in this case, we must also recognize that the nature of police work sometimes makes it impossible to establish and maintain an ideal position relative to those around you. This is avoidable at times, but even then the threat can be significantly reduced through proper situational awareness and threat assessment. If nothing else, we can at least be aware of the fact that our position is not an ideal one and compensate for it by increasing our level of awareness and taking action to improve our position as soon as possible.

This tragedy also points out the dangers associated with being forced to the ground. Being on the ground can severely restrict your ability to maneuver and drastically limit your defensive capabilities unless you have proper training for such. For this reason, it is a good idea to take advantage of any ground fighting training available to you, even to the point of seeking it out on your own if it isn’t available through your department. Also, don’t hesitate to immediately escalate to a higher level of force, especially if you feel that you may be knocked unconscious or if there is any indication that your assailant may try to disarm you. Keep in mind that a second suspect is particularly dangerous in a ground fight. Decisive action is required to prevent him from coming to the first assailant’s aid. In this case, Wilson’s shouted requests for help made this especially obvious. Although some may disagree, I’m of the opinion that this request, when coupled with Wilson’s vicious and clearly unprovoked attack, would have been enough to justify the use of deadly force.

Weapon Retention Concerns

Although Trooper Barnes had recently received weapon retention training, he was easily disarmed nonetheless. Many weapon retention techniques rely heavily on the officer’s ability to remain mobile and on his feet. Moreover, as commonly occurs in disarmings, he had been disoriented and at least partially disabled before the disarming occurred. Under such circumstances, it is vitally important to react decisively and with brutal simplicity and directness. Lock your gun down in your holster with one hand (usually this will be your gun hand), and aggressively attack a vital, exposed part of his anatomy. Normally, his eyes are your best target. Grab a pen out of your pocket and drive it into his eyes, or use your fingers if necessary. This will almost certainly cause him to release his hold on your gun, because people instinctively reach for their eyes in order to protect them. In addition, this should blind him, at least temporarily, which significantly reduces his ability to successfully attack you.

If you can’t attack his eyes, go for his throat or groin, and keep up the attack until you are free or have rendered him incapable of further aggression. Another option, of course, is to utilize a backup gun or knife, but it must be brought into action quickly, before he has time to counterattack. For that reason, it is essential that a backup weapon be carried in a location where it can be drawn and employed rapidly under high-stress conditions. When a backup weapon isn’t available another option is to use an improvised weapon, like a pen, walkie-talkie, mini-flashlight or even your handcuffs. Regardless of the weapon you choose, move decisively and without hesitation, use maximum force and aim for the most lethal target available.

Even if unsuccessful in retaining his weapon, an officer in Barnes’ position still has the option of fighting back, either immediately or after first feigning submission. A sudden, dynamic attack will often catch your assailant, (who is probably expecting you to submit) off guard. But don’t attack him directly. His weapon is your greatest threat, so attack it first. If you are proficient in disarming tactics, disarm him. If not, or if your initial disarming effort does not appear to be working, knock the gun muzzle out of the way with one hand and hold on if you can. Then go for your backup weapon, or attack his eyes or some other vital exposed area. Again, don’t hesitate, attack aggressively and keep attacking until you have disarmed or incapacitated him.

Officer as a Kidnapping Victim

As unpleasant as it may be to consider the possibility of being kidnapped, this case graphically illustrates the need to do so. The first step in dealing with this threat is preplanning. It is very difficult to think clearly and rationally under extreme stress, to adapt to changing circumstance or to come up with workable options. The time to think about how to respond to this kind of crisis is before it happens, so you will know what to do if and when it does.
Clearly, it is best to avoid being handcuffed. One option is to submit to cuffing until right after the first cuff is applied. Then, turn suddenly on your captor(s) with the loose cuff as a weapon. Another alternative is to try to convince your captor to cuff you in front, which gives you much greater freedom of movement for a subsequent counterattack or escape. This may be as easy as holding your hands out in front of your body, or you might be able to feign an injury which prevents you from putting your hands behind your back. One advantage of this option is that you can still attack with one cuff if he doesn’t buy it and tries to cuff you in back instead.

In some cases the suspect may order you to cuff yourself, or you could offer to do so. If so, put the first ratchet on loosely, and then slip the other ratchet blade off to one side of the receiver instead of putting it inside. Squeeze the second cuff “closed” with one hand, while simultaneously tightening the first one with the other hand to create the sound of the ratchet closing. With a little practice, this ploy can be performed very convincingly, and it will leave the second wrist free for quick release.

Another option is to feign a heart attack, intense nausea or some other illness. Similarly, consider refusing to cooperate, especially if you are in a heavily populated area or, as in this case, your assailant knows that help is close by. Point out that someone will hear the gunshot if he shoots you and he will be caught before he can get away. This could make him pause to reconsider his options. Any of these unexpected responses could confuse and disrupt your captor’s plans for a moment, and may give you the chance to implement a sudden attack or escape maneuver.

Even when handcuffed, you can greatly increase your chances of freeing yourself if you have a hideaway key. Hideaway keys should be carried in a well-concealed, easily-accessible location. Make sure you can reach the key when cuffed behind, and consider hiding another one where you can reach it from the front. Preferably, the key should not be kept on your gun belt or keepers, because your captor may tell you to drop your entire gun belt. Also, it is a good idea to attach a lightweight string or thread to the key for connecting it to your clothing, so it will not be lost if you drop it while fumbling to unlock your cuffs. Also, keep in mind that larger cuff keys are somewhat harder to conceal, but much easier to handle. Ideally, you should practice using the concealed key to release your handcuffs from in front and behind your back.

When prompt action at the scene is not practical or possible, the situation is still winnable. Meekly submit to his demands for the time being. This will convince him that he has control of the situation; that his plan is working and that you don’t intend to resist. As time goes on, he will probably start to let his guard down, and may even take a liking to you and/or begin to sympathize with your situation. At the same time, you may be able to use dialogue to size him up, determine his destination, or gather other useful information.

In the meantime, use the time available to calm down, assess the situation and plan your next move. Then, at a time of your choosing, when conditions are right and he least expects it, make your move. Attack him with a backup or improvised weapon, disarm him, implement an escape plan–do something! The specific actions will depend upon the circumstances, but whatever you do, do it suddenly, decisively, and with all the explosive power you can muster. By catching him off guard, your sudden actions will actually give you a tactical and psychological edge that can be turned against him to enable you to win what might otherwise be a hopeless situation.

Unfortunately, Trooper Barnes appeared to have resigned himself to his fate, or at least to the fragile hope that his captors would release him. This isn’t unusual. Often, victims in apparently hopeless violent situations like kidnappings and hostage-takings rapidly go through five emotional stages similar to those experienced by terminally ill patients: denial, questioning, (why me?) anger, bargaining (hoping for a miracle) and acceptance of the inevitable. The key to winning here is to refuse to move past the anger stage. Instead of slipping into the bargaining or acceptance stage, feed off of the anger and use it to motivate you to fight back or escape.1

It is equally important to refuse to allow yourself to be lulled into the hope that your captor will show you mercy. This kind of thinking is actually another form of surrender, because it puts your fate in his hands, not yours. Assume that he intends to kill you, because he probably does, and make up your mind that you won’t let that happen, that you will come out on top. Whatever you do, focus on your capabilities, not your vulnerabilities. Remember, you can turn the tables on him as long as you stay focused. Persist in weighing your options, make a plan and focus on winning no matter what!


• Continually scan for danger signs and heed them when they appear.

• Don’t let anger or other emotions get in the way of caution.

• Always be aware of your position relative to your suspect(s) and be ready to improve it if necessary.

• An effective countermeasure against disarmings is to lock your gun in place and attack your assailant’s eyes, or use a backup or improvised weapon to attack his most readily available vital target.

• If kidnapped, avoid being handcuffed if possible. A hideaway cuff key is also valuable in case you are handcuffed.

• If you can’t fight back or escape immediately in a kidnapping, submit initially and then make a plan while feigning cooperation.

• If kidnapped, focus on your capabilities, not your vulnerabilities and stay focused on winning no matter what.

• 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.

Note: As a service to its readers, The Police Marksman includes Officer Down as a regular feature in each issue. In order to present cases that demonstrate clear and relevant case studies, we would like to draw from our largest available resources–our readers. If you have, or can obtain, factual information on actual incidents that you think we can use, please write to:Brian McKenna
7412 Lynn Grove Ct.
Hazelwood, MO 63042
call collect at (314) 921-6977

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 and The Police Marksman National Advisory Board.

1 Welsh, R. F., Comments during Reactive Fire Combat Shooting Instructor Training Course lecture at Greater St. Louis Police Academy. Feb. 4, 1987.

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