Overwhelming Physical Force: The Carl Everett/Linda Mason Incident
By Brian McKenna
Description of Incident
Officer Linda Mason, just 19 years old with only three months on the job, was still in field training. Her department, a large suburban agency near a major northern city, did not have a formal FTO program at the time; instead, rookies rode with various veteran officers during field training, and tonight she was riding with Carl Everett. Officer Everett, 32, was a five-year veteran of the department.
Just minutes after leaving roll call, they got their first call, vandalism at a fast food restaurant near the outskirts of town. The dispatcher added that the suspect had thrown a rock through one of the restaurant windows.
The restaurant was already closed for the night, but the evening crew was still cleaning up inside when Everett and Mason arrived. The officers stepped from the cruiser, hunched their shoulders against the bitter night air, and walked up to the front door. Someone inside unlocked the door and let them in.
As the officers stepped into the warm interior, one of the employees pointed to the drive-up window. The glass was shattered, and the metal counter inside was bent. Several of the employees explained that the suspect had walked up to the drive-up window from a nearby motel and asked for something to eat. When he was told that the restaurant was closed, he became irritated and demanded some of the food still in the bins, but the clerk tried to explain that it was stale and could not be sold. The man’s irritation instantly exploded into rage. He walked over to a nearby flower garden, picked up a large rock, and hurled it through the window.
The manager wanted to sign a complaint, so Everett started to take the report. The manager described the suspect as a stocky white male, about 40, with white hair and beard, and wearing a sweat suit. Probably some middle-aged overweight derelict, Everett thought; some goof ball.
Everett asked for a vehicle description, but the witnesses all agreed that the suspect had been on foot. Everett wondered why no one had followed him, and he put the question to the employees. They all shrugged, and then one spoke up. “Are you kidding?” he exclaimed, “a guy that size?”
Everett, hoping to wrap this up quickly, requested another officer to check the motel for the suspect. By the time Everett finished taking the report, the other officer had already returned to service after checking the motel without any luck.
After leaving the restaurant, Everett and Mason checked out a second motel across the street from the first one. Having no luck there, they re-crossed the street and went into the lobby of the first motel, leaving their nightsticks behind in the car (their agency didn’t issue collapsible batons at that time). Why bother? They weren’t expecting any trouble, intending only to identify the suspect so they could apply for a warrant.
The clerk listened to the suspect’s description, paused, and then commented that it sounded like one of the guests at the motel. She pulled the registration card and showed it to them. Though unfamiliar to either officer, the person named on the card, Glenn Roper, was a well-known professional wrestler who was in town with his partner, Choi Kon, after completing a match in another town about 25 miles away. The two wrestlers had just experienced a frustrating change in plans; instead of returning home as expected, they had been told to fly to another city the next day for another match. The disruption in their schedule had left them without a change of clothes or other necessities for the trip, and they weren’t happy. They had also been drinking, which hadn’t done anything to improve their moods.
The clerk mentioned that she thought Roper and a heavy-set Hispanic man (later determined to be Choi, who was actually Asian) were in the bar. Everett and Mason immediately headed into the bar, hoping to locate and identify their suspect quickly so they could get the information they needed and get back on the street. No luck.
As the officers stepped out of the bar, they heard a door close about 100 feet down the hall. They looked toward the sound and saw a very large gray-haired man with a beard, clad in a sweat suit, in the hallway just outside one of the rooms. There was little doubt that this was the man they were looking for. They headed toward him, but he saw them coming. Turning quickly, he unlocked the door to a nearby room, ducked inside, and closed the door behind him.
They quickly reached the spot where the man had been, but there were two doors there, side-by-side. Had he gone into 143 or 145? They couldn’t be sure, so Everett knocked on the door to room 143. There was no response from that room, but the door to 145 came open. Standing just inside the door was a bulky man who appeared to be Hispanic. Though about Everett’s height, he had a massive barrel stomach and looked to be about 250 pounds. He was wearing a green T-shirt and black briefs. Written across the front of the shirt in bold letters were the initials “AWA” and the name of a well-known pro wrestler. Everett recognized the wrestler’s name as well as the initials for the American Wrestling Association, but did not make any immediate connection between them and the man in front of him.
The man’s Hispanic appearance indicated that he was probably the same man who had been with the suspect in the bar earlier. Everett stepped over to the door, which opened inward, and stood along its hinged side. It was only open about six inches, and the man seemed to be trying to block it from being pushed open further.
“I’d like to speak to the man who just went into your room,” Everett requested.
The man shrugged, “No English.”
“The man who just walked into your room,” Everett repeated, speaking more slowly, “I’d like to talk to him.”
“No English. No man, just girlfriend,” the man said in broken English.
Assuming the man to be Hispanic, Everett tried Spanish, “Hablo Espanol?”
“No, I Korean.”
“Identification,” Everett said, “I need to see some identification.”
The man handed him a driver’s license showing the name Choi Kon, another name which neither officer recognized. Recalling only the first name listed on the registration card, Everett asked, “Is Glenn here?”
“No Glenn. Just girlfriend.”
Everett slipped one foot into the door, and repeated the request, again with the same response. Things were getting tense. Everett grabbed his walkie-talkie and called for a supervisor. Determined not to let Choi out of his sight, he kept one foot in the door while continuing to make the same demand, always with the same denial from Choi.
“Look,” Choi finally spat out, “leave me alone!”
He stepped out of the door, placed one large hand on Everett’s chest, and pushed him backward. It wasn’t a particularly aggressive shove, just enough to let Everett know Choi could move him. Choi started back toward the door, but it had closed. He tried it, but it was locked. Now standing out in the open, it suddenly seemed to dawn on him that he was in his underwear in front of a woman—Mason. He looked embarrassed.
The door opened, and Choi quickly stepped back inside before either officer could see who had opened it. Everett put his foot inside the door again. “Look, we’re not gonna leave. We have to talk to Glenn first.”
“Move your foot out of the door,” Choi demanded.
Everett refused. Choi repeated his demand, but made no effort to force Everett to comply. They were getting nowhere. Mason bent toward the door. “We just need to talk to Glenn for a minute,” she said.
“He isn’t here right now,” Choi responded.
“Hold on,” Everett interjected, “You said there was no Glenn here. Now you’re saying he just isn’t here right now. Do you know him or not?”
Choi’s face tightened with anger. He pulled the door open, stepped over the threshold and butted Everett’s chest with his own. “You go away now! I’m a pro wrestler; I head butt you and you never get up!”
This guy’s not kidding, Everett thought. He withdrew his flashlight from its ring and held it down by his leg in his right hand.
The “AWA” emblem on Choi’s shirt, his great bulk, and the cool certainty in his voice left little doubt that Choi was capable of doing a lot of damage. Everett snatched the walkie off his belt, gave his call number and asked for help, “10-78, 10-33!”
The troops would be coming, but Everett didn’t know how long they could hold out. They were at the far northeast edge of town, with the closest assist car at least five minutes away—unless the sergeant was closer by now. An odd thought came to Everett’s mind: What if Choi didn’t resist after all? Wouldn’t that make them look stupid?
He didn’t have to worry about it for long.
The door seemed to explode off its hinges! Glenn Roper, a six-foot-four, 260-pound hulk, shot past Choi, growling something about being harassed. Everett was being grabbed by his coat front and lifted off his feet! Wham! Everything happened so quickly that Everett didn’t have time to grasp it all before the blow landed! Roper’s gigantic fist crashed into the stunned officer’s face with tremendous force, setting off an explosion in his skull! Everett could feel himself hit the floor, face down. “Where the hell did he come from?” Everett thought as he lost consciousness.
Everett came to less than a minute later, dazed and baffled by what had happened. Later, he learned that Roper had straddled him and started to deliver a crushing two-fisted rabbit punch to the back of his neck, but Mason had moved in quickly to stop him. She came up behind Roper, grabbed one of his hands, and whipped it around behind his back before he could react. The young officer’s victory was brief, however. Roper spun around, grabbed her by the coat collar and gun belt, and slammed her head first into the wall. She dropped to the floor. He bent over, picked her up, and began whipping her back and forth, slamming her into the walls on both sides of the hallway. Seemingly tiring of this, he dropped her limp form to the floor.
As the giant wrestler bent over her, Mason, dazed and looking for something with which to pull herself up, grabbed the first thing she saw—Roper’s shirt—and pulled. The shirt ripped and she crashed back down onto the floor. Roper took a half-step back and began kicking her in the stomach, ribs and back.
Then, with Everett still unconscious and unable to help the young officer, Choi joined in the attack. After they had both worked Mason over for a while, Roper backed off and let Choi at her alone. Choi moved up to a spot next to Mason’s head, arched himself upward with one knee raised, and, with all his bulk crashing down behind it, slammed the knee down into the back of the officer’s neck.
The blow knocked Mason unconscious, but they weren’t finished. Roper picked her up and began slamming her into the walls again.
Meanwhile, Everett was drifting back into consciousness. Still stunned and confused, it took him several moments to get his bearings. As the reality of the situation drifted back into his consciousness, he staggered to his feet and squinted down the hall. Through the haze, he could see Roper slamming his partner into the walls like a rag doll.
He started toward her, but Choi was blocking his way, his tremendous mass filling the hallway. Everett snatched the OC spray from his belt, thrust it toward Choi, and, as the wrestler turned to meet him, discharged it into his face. Choi stopped, lowered his head, rubbed his eyes; then looked up and started forward again. Everett hit him with a second blast of OC, this one longer than the first. Choi stopped, rubbed his eyes with more vigor, and then stepped back. Everett dodged around Choi, spraying him again as he passed, and moved up to Roper, who was still slamming Mason into the walls. He raised the canister, and discharged it into the huge man’s face.
Roper dipped his head slightly, but then looked up again. He threw Mason down like a used gym towel, lowered his massive shoulders, and charged directly at Everett. Meanwhile, Choi, now recovering from the OC, threw himself into the officer with equal ferocity. He came in low, trapping Everett’s right heel as he drove his shoulders into the leg above. Fearing that his leg was breaking, Everett tried to relieve the pressure by twisting to the side, but Roper was slamming into him by then, hitting him high and knocking him off balance. As he crashed to the floor, Everett could hear the leg cracking and popping.
A fist slammed into the back of his head, a kick; then everything went numb as he felt the barrage bombarding his back and head. He curled up into a fetal position and tried to cover his head with his arms, letting his body armor absorb some of the impact. Everett could hear the dispatcher calling him, and Sgt. Reed asking what floor he was on. Reed was on the scene, or close, but he might have trouble finding them. Everett had forgotten to give the room number when he called for help, and the motel was a large four-story building.
The beating stopped. Everett managed to pull himself to his feet and look around. There, at the end of the hall, were Reed and a sheriff’s deputy who had followed Reed to the motel after seeing him rushing to the scene. “Down here!” Everett shouted.
He stayed on his feet just long enough to see the other two officers starting his way. Then, without warning, he was knocked off his feet again. He looked up. Choi was leaning over in front of him. The big wrestler reached down, snaked his powerful arms around Everett’s upper chest like a boa constrictor, stood up straight, dragging the battered officer up with him, and began slamming his hips and legs into the walls.
Everett tried a knee to his adversary’s groin, but he couldn’t put enough weight on his injured right leg to get any force behind the blow. Both his flashlight and OC spray were missing. He remembered seeing both of them on the floor earlier, but a vague figure in a suit had picked up the flashlight. Everett would later learn that a passing motel guest had snatched up the heavy light, and then stood close by, ready to use it against the wrestlers if necessary. He had also dragged the unconscious Mason down the hallway to the lobby to protect her from further injury.
Everett was dropped to the floor. He tried to get up, but was hit again, this time by Roper. Then, as he struggled up onto all fours, he suddenly felt a tremendous pull on his holstered sidearm. Roper had grabbed the weapon and was literally dragging him across the floor with it! Then a dispiriting popping sound, as if the retention strap had given way.
“He’s got my gun!” Everett howled as he dove headlong into his assailant’s legs.
Hoping to shield his head, he worked it around and behind Roper’s legs as far as he could. That way Roper might settle for a torso shot, and Everett knew there was a good chance such a shot would strike the back panel of his vest. He braced for the gunshot he was sure would come.
The shot never came. Instead, another devastating blow landed on the back of his head, and he went down. He wondered why Roper hadn’t shot him yet. He reached for his holster, fully expecting it to be empty. Amazingly, the gun was still there! The security holster had been badly damaged—several rivets had popped off and it was sticking out from the belt at an odd angle—but the weapon was still secure.
Everett, unable to see out of his right eye or to stand on his right leg, crawled over to the closest wall and worked his way up into a standing position. He looked up. Roper was still there. The gigantic man turned, fixed his gaze on him, and clenched his fist.
Unwilling—and unable–to take another beating, Everett put his hand on his gun and looked Roper in the eye. “No,” he commanded, “Take one more step and I’ll shoot!”
Roper paused, clenched his fist again, and started to take a step forward. Everett tightened his grip on the gun. Because of the holster’s heavily damaged condition, he wasn’t sure he could draw from it, and, even if he could, he doubted that he would have time get off a shot at this range. Besides, he wondered if bullets could stop a man like the one before him.
It was pure bluff, but Roper stopped. A puzzled look came to his face. “You’d really shoot me?” he asked.
“You can bet on it,” Everett declared, “Don’t move!”
Roper unclenched his fists and lowered his hands to his sides. “Turn around and put your hand on the wall,” Everett ordered.
The fight was over, but Roper still wanted to argue. “Why?” he demanded to know.
Everett, his head spinning and his legs about to buckle under him, couldn’t afford to continue the fight. And he was still alone. Four other officers were now on the scene, but they, along with Reed and the deputy, had their hands full trying to arrest Choi. Everett couldn’t see any reason to argue with Roper. “OK,” he conceded, “just stay where you are while we arrest your buddy!”
Roper continued to argue, but offered no resistance as Everett glanced down the hall just in time to see Reed slam his nightstick into Choi’s knee with a distinct crack. But Choi merely shuffled his foot forward as if to invite another blow, and then charged forward and slammed the sergeant into the wall. He snatched Reed’s stick out of his hand, jammed it into his neck, and delivered a crashing head butt into the side of his head. Reed slumped to the ground, dragging everyone else down with him into a tangled heap.
Eventually, an officer managed to get a cuff on one of Choi’s wrists. Choi yanked the hand away, and cocked it back as if to use the open cuff as a weapon. At this, the deputy stepped back, drew his gun, and pointed it at Choi. “That’s it,” he shouted, “give it up or I’ll shoot!”
As with Roper, Choi finally seemed to understand the seriousness of his actions. He lowered his hands and let the officer handcuff him. It took two pairs linked together to do the job, but the fight was finally over. With Choi now in custody, another officer approached Roper and cuffed him as well. He didn’t resist or argue.
As the suspects were being taken outside, Everett, his head spinning, reached for a wall for support. He missed, and collapsed to the floor. Two officers picked him up and helped him to the lobby, where he found Mason sitting, now semi-conscious, in a chair. She slowly raised her head and focused her gaze on her partner. “Were we in a fight?” she inquired in a weak, near-whisper.
Officer Mason lost four teeth and suffered a fractured skull in the attack. She recovered sufficiently from her physical injuries to return to duty four months later, but was unable to adjust to the emotional trauma of the incident. She left police work on a permanent medical disability, and still suffers from permanent numbness to the left side of her face.
Considering the severity of the beating he received, Officer Everett’s injuries were remarkably light; the most severe being a serious concussion, a lost tooth, and a partial leg fracture requiring corrective surgery about a year later. He, like Mason, returned to full duty four months after the incident. He is still with the same department, and was subsequently assigned to the detective division.
Roper and Choi were charged with battery to a peace officer, obstructing an officer, and criminal damage to property. Convicted on all counts and sentenced to two years each, both were released after serving approximately 18 months.1
Discussion & Analysis
Officers Everett and Mason narrowly escaped death or disabling injury in a sudden unarmed, yet overwhelmingly powerful attack that highlights how easily an unarmed attack can become lethal. This leaves us with the crucial question of when an officer can and should use deadly force to stop an unarmed attack. This is not always an easy question to answer, but it must be answered, especially in today’s current atmosphere of decrying the police at every turn. The following analysis will address this issue, and as well as a number of other crucial lessons from this incident—lessons that can save lives. Before you read the analysis, however, please review the following discussion questions and work through your own answers.
Like many officers in similar circumstances, Officers Everett and Mason missed several important danger signs. What might have accounted for this oversight? What can we do to help avoid this problem?
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At what point, if any, would Officers Everett and Mason have been justified in the use of deadly force? Why? The decision to use deadly force is sometime a very difficult one to make, and the consequences of making the wrong decision can be tragic and far-reaching. What can we do improve our ability to make the right decision in such cases?
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What does this incident say about the importance of becoming highly proficient in control tactics? How much help would ground fighting techniques have been to Officer Everett?
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What does this case indicate about the effectiveness of OC spray? What can be done to improve its effectiveness? How important is it to be ready to shift to another option if it fails?
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Roper attempted to disarm Officer Everett late in the struggle when Everett was no longer physically able or in a proper position to proficiently execute any conventional weapon retention techniques. This is important, because officers are often disarmed under circumstances that are not conducive to such techniques. What other options are there for countering this kind of threat?
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Officer Everett was bluffing when he told Roper he would shoot him if he came any closer. Was that a wise thing to do? Why?
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This case serves as a sobering example of how easily a minor incident can escalate out of control. Because of their apparent low risk level, it is easy to play such incidents cheap, which makes us especially vulnerable to a number of common mental pitfalls when handling them. These pitfalls are often very subtle and shrouded in emotions, making them very hard to detect and control.
In this case, for example, Officers Everett and Mason were drawn into an emotionally charged situation that drew their attention away from proper risk assessment. Choi’s hostility and uncooperative attitude understandably frustrated and angered them, which helped goad them into moving in too close to the man, and distracted them from taking proper notice of several important danger signs.
First, Officer Everett missed the significance of the “AWA” on Choi’s shirt until it was too late to consider it in planning his approach. Not being a wrestling fan, he could not have been expected to recognize Choi as a professional wrestler, but he did recognize the initials as the abbreviation for the American Wrestling Association. Having done so, that knowledge should have alerted him to the distinct possibility that he was dealing with someone interested in professional wrestling. Inasmuch as the vast majority of wrestling fans are blue-collar types, many of whom work in heavy labor occupations, it would have been logical to assume that he might be dealing with someone with substantial physical strength. Moreover, Choi’s bulk was great enough to conceal considerable muscle mass, which is common among people with heavy builds. Under the circumstances, it would have been safer for Everett to assume that Choi was powerfully built in spite of his outward appearance.
Roper’s reported behavior at the restaurant should also have been a warning to the officers. Had they investigated the incident a little more thoroughly, they would have discovered that the rock Roper threw through the window weighed over 30 pounds. That, combined with the way Roper easily handled the heavy rock, his size and his quick temper, indicated that he could well pose a significant physical threat.
Choi’s obvious effort to hide facts from the officers was another significant danger sign. When the subject of a minor investigation is obviously trying to hide something, it is a strong indication that he is attempting to avoid arrest. That in itself can be dangerous, as evidenced by this case. On the other hand, the motive can be even more sinister. He may be trying to hide evidence of a much more serious crime, or attempting to distract you while an accomplice escapes, goes for a weapon, or moves into position from which to attack you. In any event, efforts to hide something should be viewed as a danger sign, even when investigating the most minor violation.
By missing these danger signs, and hampered further by the strong emotions associated with the confrontation, Officer Everett fell into the trap of focusing exclusively on a single threat. As Choi became increasingly hostile, Everett’s attention became riveted on him and he forgot about Roper altogether. The best way to combat this kind of mental tunnel vision is to always stay focused on safety as your first priority. Make a habit of always asking yourself questions like: “What is there about this situation that could be dangerous and what can I do about it?” Besides improving situational awareness and helping you plan ahead, this helps keep your emotions in check so they won’t negatively influence your thoughts and actions. The key is to continually ask these kinds of questions on every call you handle and every street contact you make, no matter how nonthreatening they may appear to be. When done repeatedly, this will eventually become a mental habit that helps keep your mind free of unwanted emotions, open to new information, and adaptable to changing circumstances, all of which are vital to officer safety. Once this “game” has become thoroughly ingrained as a habit, it is still best to continue “playing” it regularly at the conscious level, but it will still be “playing” at the subconscious level even when you don’t. This in turn provides a vital safety cushion for those times when you are not mentally at your best.
Return to Question 1
Would Officers Everett and Mason have been justified in using deadly force against their assailants? As in any other use-of-force incident, the answer to this question lies in whether their actions were objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. It would certainly have been reasonable for Everett to use deadly force in order to keep from being disarmed, and it would be very hard to argue that Officer Mason wasn’t in grave danger of losing her life when both assailants ganged up on her. Nor would it be easy to deny that Everett would have been justified in using deadly force to rescue Officer Mason as Roper slammed her into the walls, especially in light of the fact that he was in poor condition to stop him any other way. Later when Roper and Choi ganged up on Everett and brought him to the ground again, now with a badly injured leg, the severely weakened officer was in no shape to effectively defend himself from a vicious assault with no end in sight. All things considered, there didn’t appear to be any other alternatives except to use deadly force or be beaten into unconsciousness, which for an armed police officer entails the grave risk of being killed with his own gun.
On the other hand, normal human beings are reluctant to kill others, even when justified, and police officers in particular are even more so because of fear of the social and legal repercussions that usually follow, even when their actions are later determined to be justified. This is especially true in this post-Ferguson era, with all the politics, uncertainty and unrest that follows so many police shootings. Add to all this the fact that it is much harder to justify deadly force when the suspect is unarmed, or armed with anything other than a firearm, and the decision to use deadly force becomes considerably more difficult to make. In addition, most police training emphasizes the fearful consequences of making the wrong decision, which only adds to the confusion, stress and reluctance to apply deadly force even when clearly justified.
This is not meant to imply in any way that officers should not be very careful before resorting to deadly force. To the contrary, with the legal right to use deadly force comes the awesome responsibility to use it only when necessary and within the law. To do any less violates our solemn duty to those we are sworn to protect, and brings with it serious legal consequences. However, we also have a duty to ourselves, our families, our fellow officers, and even our citizens to use the level of force necessary to protect ourselves and others from criminal violence. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to balance the two. Often the decision is about when and how much force to use is clear-cut, as when threatened with a gun, but not always. In fact, sometimes it is enormously difficult, and the consequences of making the wrong decision can be tragic and far-reaching.
So, what can be done about this problem? The harsh reality is that there are no perfect answers. Considering the speed at which most deadly encounters occur, and the confusion, fear and stress they generate, we fallible human beings sometimes make the wrong decision. Unfortunately, in the real world, things sometimes go tragically wrong, but we have to do our best to keep those times to a minimum and proper training holds the best hope for doing so.
However, the kind of training needed goes well beyond what is currently available from most police departments and academies. It must start with the establishment of a solid foundation of knowledge regarding department policy, statutory law, and case law related to police use of force. Well thought-out classroom lectures that encourage questions and discussion can be used to build this foundation, but this is just the beginning. The goal is to develop an understanding of use-of-force law that is sufficiently in-depth to enable officers to respond appropriately to a wide range of tough real-world situations, and this cannot be achieved with classroom lectures alone. Much more is needed. Case studies about actual incidents involving questionable use of force, followed by in-depth classroom discussions about why the officer’s actions were justified or unjustified, are one very effective way to do this. Another is to thoroughly study and discuss key court decisions regarding use-of-force, starting with the two landmark US Supreme Court decisions, Tennessee v Garner and Graham v Connor. This encourages deep thought and helps officers gain a better understanding of the way the courts view and analyze use of force by police.
Finally, this knowledge should be honed to a fine edge through the use of scenario-based training that requires officers to make tough use-of-force decisions. Scenarios that challenge observation skills (e.g., distinguishing between a cell phone and a handgun) aren’t good enough. Trainees should also be put into tough situations in which they must make increasingly more challenging shoot/don’t shoot decisions under stress. They will no doubt make some mistakes, but the time to learn from such mistakes is during training, not on the street when lives are at stake. (See the “Reluctance to Shoot” section of the analysis in “Officer Down: Slowly Developing Threats” in our May/June 2014 issue for a more detailed discussion of this training.)
Return to Question 3
When confronting assailants as large and powerful as Choi and Roper, even well-trained officers would be at a distinct physical disadvantage, and this problem was aggravated for Everett and Mason by the fact that—under the dangerous assumption that they wouldn’t need one—neither one took their baton along when looking for Roper. Though it is difficult to know for sure how much help batons would have been, it is important to remember that this oversight seriously limited the officers’ force options. With Everett’s flashlight lost and Mason not carrying one, both were left without impact weapons and the department didn’t issue ECDs at that time. That limited them to just OC spray and their personal weapons, and the OC had virtually no effect on either assailant. Barely out of the academy and with only her personal weapons with which to fight, Mason made a commendable effort to help her partner, but her efforts were fruitless, leaving the badly hurt and dazed Everett to fend for himself. The aggressive application of Pressure Point Control Tactics (PPCT) strikes (see below) might well have helped, but a baton is needed to maximize the effectiveness of these measures. For those officers equipped with non-collapsible batons, it is important to make a habit of remembering to take it with you anytime you leave your car, even when the circumstances don’t appear to require one.
Baton or no baton, Everett and Mason would have had a much better chance of controlling their assailants if they had been proficient in the application of PPCT techniques. When Roper first knocked Everett down and straddled him, Mason’s efforts to cuff him were ineffective. If she had delivered hammer fist or knife hand strikes to Roper’s Suprascapular Nerve motor point (i.e., the junction of the Trapezius Muscle with the side of the neck) instead, she could have disabled his arms for immediate cuffing. Likewise, a Brachial Stun would also have been a very effective technique to employ here. Even with Roper under control, Mason and Everett would still have had Choi to deal with, but PPCT techniques could have been used against him as well. A Brachial Stun or strikes to the Common Peroneal or Radial Nerve motor points would probably have been the most effective techniques to employ here.
Of course, PPCT is only one of many options for dealing with unarmed attacks. There are many others, but none are very effective if poorly executed. Proper training is the key here. Always take control tactics training seriously, practice often to maintain your proficiency, and be ready to execute every technique decisively and with full force. Remember, any unarmed attack can quickly escalate into a disarming or other lethal threat. Therefore, it is important to end the fight as quickly as possible, before it gets much worse.
The use of appropriate ground defense techniques would also have been beneficial in this case, to Everett at least. Because of his vulnerable position on the floor, Everett was saved from much more serious injury—if not death—only by the timely arrival of the sergeant and deputy. When on the ground and under attack by an upright assailant, you are at an overwhelming disadvantage. It is very difficult to get up or take other aggressive action without exposing vital areas of your body to extremely damaging attack, and your opponent has a distinct advantage over you in power and mobility. If you remain so dangerously exposed for long, it is very likely that you will be rendered unconscious or disabled, which in turn leaves you vulnerable to a lethal beating or disarming. Consequently, it is imperative to become proficient at ground fighting techniques. In the absence of proper training in these techniques, it can be helpful to remember the following:
Don’t try to get up right away; instead, stay on the ground and initiate your counterattack from there.
Use your feet to counterattack. Quickly maneuver away from your opponent so your feet are facing him. If on your back, support yourself on your forearms and buttocks, bring your knee to your chest, and drive the kick into your opponent’s lower legs. If on your side, raise up on one elbow, draw the knee of your top leg up, and kick with the side of your foot.
Aim all your kicks at or below his knees. High kicks make it easier for your opponent to grab your leg, leave your genitals exposed, and inhibit the accuracy, speed and power of your kicks. In addition, kicks to the lower legs and especially the knees are very effective at disabling an opponent.
Your goal should be to get back on your feet as soon as you can safely do so, because ground fighting burns energy very rapidly and will quickly exhaust you. Get up as soon as your opponent/s back off, go down, or are otherwise no longer an immediate threat. Then disengage, shift to another force option, or take whatever other action you deem appropriate.
If ground fighting techniques don’t work or are not practical, the situation may soon become life-threatening, in which case you will probably have to use deadly force. If so, your position will make it hard to draw your duty gun quickly and smoothly, while also increasing the risk of having it knocked or snatched out of your hand. A backup gun can be invaluable at such times, because it will probably be much easier to reach than your primary weapon, as long as it is carried in the right location. Since you will probably have to draw while lying on your back or side, often while kicking to fend off your attacker, the best carry location is on your concealed body armor (sew VelcroTM patches inside of the button flaps of all your shirts and then leave the zippers down to facilitate quick access to the gun), or, if wearing external armor, under the vest or in a low-profile holster attached to it. (Ankle holsters are not recommended, because they are highly vulnerable to disarmings and hard for you to reach while lying on the ground and kicking your assailant.) After you draw, keep the gun tucked in close to your torso while you choose your target; then bring it into position and fire as quickly as possible so your assailant(s) won’t have time to grab it.
If you don’t have a backup gun, you will have to use your duty weapon. Try to roll or otherwise maneuver your gun side away from your adversary before drawing; then pick your target and try to draw without being seen, perhaps using movement of your feet or non-gun hand to screen your actions. As soon as you complete your draw, get on target and fire as quickly as possible.
Return to Question 4
This case clearly demonstrates that OC is not infallible. This is not to say that it should be abandoned. To the contrary, a recent study concluded that it has a success rate of just under 75 percent,3 which compares favorably to other force options, and in many cases it can be a viable tool for quickly bringing resistive offenders under control. Still, it can be dangerous to expect 100 percent reliability from OC spray, or from any other weapon for that matter. Instead, view it more as a distraction device to buy you time to increase your reactionary gap, move to a more advantageous position, shift to a higher force level, or, if necessary, make a tactical withdrawal. Also, since OC is generally more likely to be effective when employed unexpectedly, avoid displaying it, issuing a verbal warning or otherwise telegraphing its use before employing it whenever possible. Most importantly, keep in mind that, like any other control option, its effectiveness is likely to be significantly reduced when dealing with highly aggressive, adrenalin-pumped individuals like Roper and Choi. It is a valuable tool when used properly, but always be ready to shift to another force option if it fails.
Return to Question 5
Roper’s failed attempt to disarm Officer Everett highlights the importance of a properly designed, well-constructed security holster. Although it is important to keep in mind that no holster can replace mental awareness and proficiency in weapon retention techniques, a sturdy security holster can be a life saver when, like Everett, you are unable to defend your weapon against a disarming attempt.
It is also important to note that this disarming attempt took place late in the struggle when Everett was no longer physically able to proficiently execute any conventional weapon retention techniques. Unfortunately, disarmings seldom begin with a direct attack on the weapon, but later after the officer has become distracted, disoriented, or injured. For this reason, an officer’s weapon retention inventory should include options for a last-ditch effort to retain control of his weapon, and those options should be simple to learn, easy to retain, and easy to execute.
The simplest, most effective option is to hold tightly onto your gun—whether in your hand or still holstered—and then counterattack. Attack key targets that will cause your opponent to instinctively react to protect them, such as the eyes, throat or groin, and then follow up with another and another until you regain control of your weapon. An eye is often the best target to attack first, because it is fragile, usually easy to reach, and an organ that we instinctively defend without conscious thought. Don’t just poke him in the eye. Smash the tip of your thumb into it, and dig in as hard as you can in order to get him to instinctively defend it so you can follow through by attacking another key target.
There is a lot more to be said about this topic, but since Officer Everett was saved by his holster from having to execute any countermeasures to defeat Roper’s efforts to disarm him, the place to discuss this topic in depth is not here. However, due to its importance to officer safety, it is addressed in detail in a separate article in this issue of The Police Marksman. Click here to read the article.
Return to Question 6
Issuing a False Warning
Officer Everett threatened to shoot Roper even though he wasn’t sure if he would be able to follow through with the threat if the man called his bluff, or if he should even try. Was this a wise decision? All things considered, it most likely was. His holster was badly damaged, leading him to reasonably believe that he might not be able to draw from it. Even from a fully functional holster, there was a good chance that he would not have had time to draw and fire before Roper reached him. Had he only had time to draw but no time to fire, or had he failed to incapacitate Roper with his first shot or two (not an unlikely possibility considering Roper’s size, strength and determination), he would have found himself holding an unholstered firearm within easy reach of an aggressive, physically superior foe, unquestionably making the situation many times worse than it already was.
Moreover, there were also bystanders to be considered. Besides the six officers in the hallway, there were probably guests in the nearby rooms as well. Gunfire would have created a distinct threat to these bystanders, a threat far exceeding the benefits to be gained, especially in light of the other risks that drawing his weapon would have entailed. Under the circumstances, this was one of those very rare instances when it was a good idea to issue a verbal warning with no intention of carrying it out if pressed to do so. When coupled with a highly convincing acting job, it was bluff well worth trying, and it worked.
Return to Question 7
This incident illustrates the effectiveness of body armor against threats other than bullets and edged weapons. Everett’s vest was credited with saving him from several fractured ribs, and possibly severe internal injuries as well. The wisdom of using body armor cannot be overemphasized.
It is also interesting—and significant—to note that Everett made good use of his body armor in an unconventional, yet innovative way when it appeared to him that he had been disarmed. Instead of just giving up and waiting to be shot, he worked his head in behind Roper’s legs, thereby maximizing the chances that the man would shoot into an area protected by the vest instead of his head. Likewise, if similarly threatened from the front, your best option may be to redirect your adversary’s weapon into your chest or midsection and hold it there. If all else fails, this action, though far from ideal, may be your only option. By limiting your assailant’s ability to target your head and neck, it can buy you time to draw your backup gun or initiate other countermeasures.
When drawn into an emotionally charged situation, it is easy to become so focused on the emotions that we shift our attention away from proper risk assessment. The best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to develop the habit of always focusing on safety as our top priority.
Always take control tactics training seriously, practice often to maintain your proficiency, and be ready to execute every technique decisively and with full force.
OC spray cannot be relied upon to be 100 percent effective. Instead, view it more as a distraction device, and always be ready to shift to another force option if it fails.
In an attempted disarming that does not allow for the proper application of conventional weapon retention techniques, lock your gun into an iron grip with your gun hand, whether in the hand or still in the holster, and counterattack. Attack key targets that will cause your opponent to instinctively react to protect them, such as the eyes, throat, or groin, and then follow up with another and yet another until he is no longer a threat.4
The incident recounted here is true, but the names of persons and places were changed to ensure the privacy of those personally involved. Likewise, in order to preserve confidentiality and clarity, some facts may have been altered slightly, but the essential elements of the story remain unchanged.
This principle applies to other essential safety equipment as well. For example, though rather rare, some officers have been known to carry their backup gun in their briefcase or somewhere else inside their cruiser, which not only risks not having it when needed but also leaves the weapon vulnerable to theft. However, a far more common example is the failure to carry a tourniquet and other Self Aid/Buddy Aid supplies on the officer’s person. Obviously, we can’t take a full trauma kit with us every time we leave our car, but tourniquets and other trauma supplies (compress, chest seals, etc.) can easily be carried on body armor, or elsewhere on our persons. There are even ankle holsters specifically designed for this purpose that are now available from various suppliers.
Remsberg, C. (May 5, 2015). TASER vs. OC: And the winner is…. Force Science News. p. 1.
This article originally appeared the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of The Police Marksman. The analysis has been extensively revised and updated with new information for the new Police Marksman.
About the Author
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 as a police trainer 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, a certified force science analyst and holds a Master’s Degree in human resource development. Brian is a member of ILEETA, writes extensively on officer safety topics, and trains police officers nationwide in winning mindset and other topics related to officer safety. His book, Officer Down: Lessons from the Streets, is based upon this column and is only available for purchase on his website. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his Web site at www.we-training.com