Stories From The Force: The Dreaded Sound of “Click”

by March 26, 2013 03/26/13

Disclaimer: All names have been changed as to protect the identity of those involved.

Sounds. There are many each of us have come to learn and recognize. The sound of a door opening. The sound of a shotgun racking a round in the chamber. The sounds of commands issued out between members of a firing team. The sound of a Police radio, which we refer to as radio ear.

StoriesFromTheForce

Each bears different weight upon the listener. Yet, one sound can be heard clear, no matter the conditions. The hollow, chill sending, dreaded sound of a “Click.” No sound has the effect on a seasoned Military or Law Enforcement veteran, as the sound of a firing pin falling on an empty chamber.

Patrol

0645 hrs. Normal weekday morning. Fresh cup of coffee sitting in my center console. iPod playing through an AM/FM converter sitting on my patrol bag. I was on patrol in my unit as I was every morning. Uniform still smelled of starch from the night before. I was making my rounds through my assigned area and waiting for 0700 hrs. when the local diner opened for breakfast.

I was busily milling over the day’s task ahead, checking emails and making sure to mark event times in my calendar so the Chief didn’t use the speed dial with my number on it. The radio squawked. “Headquarters to LP7, 10-34 103D.” It was my radio number, but a domestic? This early? Odd. I answered with the standard “LP7, 10-71”, meaning proceed with traffic.

The call came out as a domestic disturbance in a residence involving a husband and wife. The wife had called and stated the husband was drunk and was breaking every object in the residence. She had made several attempts to calm him, yet he refused to calm down. The wife reported she had exited the residence and left the husband alone inside. “Drunk at 0645 hrs. Must be nice,” I thought to myself.

Then it struck me. That was John’s house. I know John. I see John every morning. He works across from my office. This can’t be right. I double checked the numerical and was confirmed. It was John and his wife Sally. At this point I was on the main highway and approaching the street. A local Sheriff’s Office Deputy, Lt. Andrews, was on his way to work and heard the call. We met up at the top of the street and after a brief pre-plan, proceeded to our objective.

A note quick on Lt. Andrews. Lt. Andrews is the Lt. Commander of the patrol division of the Sheriff’s Office. He has more than 20 years as a LEO along with being former K-9, SWAT, etc. Basically, he knows his stuff.

On Station

As we approached the residence, we were met by the wife Sally in the middle of the street waving her arms to stop us. We staged our units and ushered her to cover and preformed a quick interview to establish what was going on. We were told John came home drunk and began trashing the house. TV’s, mirrors, glasses, didn’t matter. If it broke, he broke it.

We left Sally by the units and proceeded towards the house. The entrance was a side door in the car port with an SUV parked inside. Plenty of room to walk. Lt. Andrews and I stacked up as I opened the side door. John was standing in a pile of broken glass, almost like he was expecting me. I asked him to step outside and without any issue, he complied. Once outside I started my normal investigation and found John to be very compliant.

He knew he was drunk and he knew he was pissed. When I asked him why he was so upset, he stopped. I asked him what the argument was about and he stepped back. I proceeded with my questioning. “John. It’s Engel, you know me bro. Just let me know what’s wrong.” Another step back, this time towards the SUV door. “John, relax brother. I just want to figure this out so I can help.” John opens the SUV driver door and dives into the SUV. “JOHN! EXIT THE VEHICLE!” I demanded. The first level of retention on my holster snapping open. He complies, right along with an object in his right hand. I zero in on the object and realized it was just a lighter. I breathe. A shooting was not what I wanted. John raised the lighter up to his head and  CLICK!

“*^%&^%#&& GUN!” I somehow order out. As if by magic, a Glock 19 appeared in my hands, front sight zeroed in. Slack. Sight. Squeeze. “DROP THE WEAPON!” I demand. “DO IT! DO IT NOW!” I could hear Sally screaming behind me and I knew Lt. Andrews was still there. Something just didn’t feel right. John realized his weapon was empty and lowered it to waist level. “John, Drop the weapon!” I demanded again.

Something still felt wrong. I watched as the weapon lowered past his waist. White. Wait. White? Why am I seeing just white? It’s my notepad! Still in my off hand somehow wrapped around my weapon. Good job Engel. I let it fall to the ground. John then does the one thing I was praying he wouldn’t. Up until now I knew the weapon was empty. Then he decided to rack the weapon. I drew my breath in and called out one last order to drop the weapon with my breath finishing on the midpoint. Sight alignment. Sight picture. Slack. Front Sight. Squeeze. John dropped the weapon and kicked it away. The next few seconds would have made a Honey Badger proud. There is a saying with my old patrol buddies. The Gorilla Stomp. That, is exactly what happened. John was hit by 210 lbs. of adrenaline fueled, pissed-off gorilla and stomped. Er, taken into custody and transported. Gently.

Debrief

Regardless of how the suspect was taken in, or how his broken wrist ensued, I’m thankful no one was introduced to St. Peter. Still, the lessons learned will never leave me. After watching the video of my dash camera, the entire suspect contact took place in less than five minutes. From opening the residence door, to suspect in custody. When John grabbed the weapon and attempted to fire it the first time, it took maybe two seconds. In the next second he had racked a round into the chamber. Half a second later I was zeroing in a t-zone shot. Within three to four seconds, a person I knew went from talking to suicide. We had zero reaction time.

Throughout the entire incident, both myself and Lt. Andrews had tactics planned. Our units were staged correctly. Contact and cover was used. The tactical “L” was employed upon suspect contact. Even verbal commands were textbook. Yet I made mistakes, the most obvious being attempting to grip a firearm with a notepad in my offhand. Why? Because I never trained with it. I train with empty hands from the “interview stance.” Meaning my hands are waist level. Never while taking down information. So when I went to present with a notepad; it followed.

Second. I never moved. I called out commands. Presented my weapon; notepad included. Yet I never once stepped out of the line of fire. And I’m a firearms instructor! Why? Again, habit. I have to shoot the qualification course so often; in which there are no steps to the side, only the rear. I preformed exactly as I trained. Yes, I’ve preached and heard this more times than I can count, however, I preformed what I practiced most. Not what I attempted to correct.

Third. I let the incident get to me. I will be man enough to admit it. I had a hard time with this incident afterwards. For one reason and this reason alone, I knew the guy. I saw him every day for the last five years. I still do to be honest. He still lives in my area. It hit me harder than if it were some out of nowhere crackhead. If this guy can pull a gun on me, anyone can, right? Then the paranoia got to me and messed me up pretty good. Thankfully, I have some God sent friends in this line of work that saw the impact and took measures to adjust me. I’m not talking hospitalization or meds. Just a six pack and a deck of cards on a Tuesday night.

Lessons Learned

  1. Training is great, but only if it matches the conditions. Train as if you aren’t expecting to draw your weapon. Not at the ready watching the target.
  2. You WILL react as you train. Not as you correct. Meaning, if you do an action wrong five times and correct it once, guess what. You’re going to do it wrong under stress. Not “I just ran five miles” stress. I mean %$^@&% GUN! Stress. When your brain shuts down, which it will.
  3. No one is bulletproof. Physically or mentally. My wife caught a bit of hell afterwards from this and thank God she’s more stubborn than I am. Your family and friends will notice. After a critical incident, some people just need to talk. Others need help. It’s nice to be the badass, just remember those we leave in our pride’s wake.
  4. And to the person who’s  inevitably  going to ask why I didn’t pull the bang switch? Read On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Ret).  

Editor-in-Chief’s Note:  Please join us in welcoming James Engel as a guest contributor on ITS Tactical. James has been in Law Enforcement for over six years, where he’s obtained his current Firearms Instructor position and the head instructor for his current department. Prior to Law Enforcement, he was enlisted in the U. S. Army Reserve and pulled two years active duty while assigned to the 464th Transportation Detachment out of Fort Story, VA. Besides Law Enforcement, he owns Ares Weapon Training teaching concealed carry weapons courses in south Louisiana.


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Zachary Reed
Zachary Reed

Wait, I don't understand...he brought a lighter up to his head and it went "click"? When did his gun (or weapon) appear? 

Rand Strauss
Rand Strauss

I've said this loudly and often. My job is a bit different that yours. I'm an EMT with a volunteer squad. We also do rescue. We have drills and train as often as we can on cutting cars apart with various pneumatic tools. The instructor explains every little detail and demonstrates as we're working. We put Oscar (as I like to call our training dummy as a hold over from my Coast Guard SAR days) in a car, cut him out and he always emerges without a scratch. It's a "watch this" mentality. We learn, but there's not a lot of doing. Not bad, but not effective.

I'm quite certain that someday, during an incident, someone is going to get a face full of airbag or try to cut through something with the wrong tools and patients will multiply...because the instructor wasn't there to stop them before they made a mistake.

The adage, "Train like you fight, fight like you train" holds true. Taking a junker and having sixty some odd people standing around while two people cut it up supervised by a safety officer at two o'clock on a warm summer day isn't training. Let's flip a car into a ditch at a deserted intersection at 2am while it's raining with Oscar, his wife, their two kids screaming and the family dog trying to bite your face off. Now, that's training.

Thanks for the reality check and thank you more for the honest debrief.

Rand Strauss
Rand Strauss

I've said this loudly and often. My job is a bit different that yours. I'm an EMT with a volunteer squad. We also do rescue. We have drills and train as often as we can on cutting cars apart with various pneumatic tools. The instructor explains every little detail and demonstrates as we're working. We put Oscar (as I like to call our training dummy as a hold over from my Coast Guard SAR days) in a car, cut him out and he always emerges without a scratch. It's a "watch this" mentality. We learn, but there's not a lot of doing. Not bad, but not effective. I'm quite certain that someday, during an incident, someone is going to get a face full of airbag or try to cut through something with the wrong tools and patients will multiply...because the instructor wasn't there to stop them before they made a mistake. The adage, "Train like you fight, fight like you train" holds true. Taking a junker and having sixty some odd people standing around while two people cut it up supervised by a safety officer at two o'clock on a warm summer day isn't training. Let's flip a car into a ditch at a deserted intersection at 2am while it's raining with Oscar, his wife, their two kids screaming and the family dog trying to bite your face off. Now, that's training. Thanks for the reality check and thank you more for the honest debrief.

Riceball
Riceball

Great article, James, I'm glad that all involved made it out safely. This is exactly the kind of scenario that I think about when police are criticized for use of deadly force. Too often LEOs are ripped apart by the mainstream media and an ignorant public whenever there's a use of deadly force incident not realizing that you have a split second to make a decision and react.

Nicholas Ratliff
Nicholas Ratliff

James,

Thank you for sharing your story. With your permission, I would like to print this and use it for a "safety brief" at my department. Also, I am slotted for Firearms Instructor in May and Active Shooter Instructor soon after, and I will most definitely use this story in my teaching. This is something all of us sheepdogs need to keep in mind. Have a good one.

Thanks and Stay Safe,

Nick

Nicholas Ratliff
Nicholas Ratliff

James, Thank you for sharing your story. With your permission, I would like to print this and use it for a "safety brief" at my department. Also, I am slotted for Firearms Instructor in May and Active Shooter Instructor soon after, and I will most definitely use this story in my teaching. This is something all of us sheepdogs need to keep in mind. Have a good one. Thanks and Stay Safe, Nick

James Engel
James Engel

Thank you for the kind words from everyone and the advice. This is what I intended the article for. Let other people learn from a situation and mistakes as well as to get a group throwing ideas out on their personal simular experiances. Everyday is a chance to learn and improve.

(please excuse spelling in this comment. I'm typing with one hand in my unit.)

Stay safe!

James Engel
James Engel

Thank you for the kind words from everyone and the advice. This is what I intended the article for. Let other people learn from a situation and mistakes as well as to get a group throwing ideas out on their personal simular experiances. Everyday is a chance to learn and improve. (please excuse spelling in this comment. I'm typing with one hand in my unit.) Stay safe!

Ken
Ken

I'm glad everything came out already for everyone.

I recently had my own eye opener on muscle memory. Who carries a Taser? You spark test during every briefing? The one second spark test in your strong hand is a bad idea. Quite a few of us have developed muscle memory from spark testing to turn off the Taser during a 5 second ride, i.e. turning it into a 1 second ride. 1 second is not effective and prongs get pulled, then the fight it on. I've started spark testing with my support hand and using my thumb to pull the trigger (as I sometimes have to use the Taser offhand.) Once a week I let the 5 seconds time out with strong hand like an actual deployment and not turn it off until I make the conscious decision to do so.

You hit it right on the head with the training issue.

Ken
Ken

I'm glad everything came out already for everyone. I recently had my own eye opener on muscle memory. Who carries a Taser? You spark test during every briefing? The one second spark test in your strong hand is a bad idea. Quite a few of us have developed muscle memory from spark testing to turn off the Taser during a 5 second ride, i.e. turning it into a 1 second ride. 1 second is not effective and prongs get pulled, then the fight it on. I've started spark testing with my support hand and using my thumb to pull the trigger (as I sometimes have to use the Taser offhand.) Once a week I let the 5 seconds time out with strong hand like an actual deployment and not turn it off until I make the conscious decision to do so. You hit it right on the head with the training issue.

Frank Scharnell
Frank Scharnell

This is a really powerful story, I felt engaged in it the whole time. I really appreciate you sharing with everyone and it's just more proof that no matter how much training you have things still go wrong.

Marc
Marc

Two loudest sounds in the world...

Gun that goes bang when it was supposed to go "click"...

and

Gun that goes "click" when it's supposed to go bang....

Stay safe brother.

Marc
Marc

Two loudest sounds in the world... Gun that goes bang when it was supposed to go "click"... and Gun that goes "click" when it's supposed to go bang.... Stay safe brother.

JoshM
JoshM

I think I will have a steno in my left hand and a pen in my right next time I qualify. Might have created a new market for "Blue" steno training pads. Haha

RC
RC

Thanks for sharing this James. The lessons learned are applicable across the board.

Mike
Mike

Thanks for posting this. Very raw and true. I'm glad all three of you made it out the other side.

BMF1234
BMF1234

James, excellent post! Very raw and honest. No false bravado. I'm happy you accomplished the most important task at the end of your watch, going home.

I've had 'passionate' discussions with our range staff about more dynamic training, and I'm usually met with the same old tired answers about training to the lowest common denominator. The best advice for most, if you're serious about your career in LE, seek training from reputable vendors outside your department. Gravitate towards co-workers who share the same desires, and 'pay it forward'.

Audentes Fortuna Juvat

BMF1234
BMF1234

James, excellent post! Very raw and honest. No false bravado. I'm happy you accomplished the most important task at the end of your watch, going home. I've had 'passionate' discussions with our range staff about more dynamic training, and I'm usually met with the same old tired answers about training to the lowest common denominator. The best advice for most, if you're serious about your career in LE, seek training from reputable vendors outside your department. Gravitate towards co-workers who share the same desires, and 'pay it forward'. Audentes Fortuna Juvat

James
James

Sorry, I'm still missing something... how did a lighter magically turn into a weapon? What am I missing. I read this article like 5 times trying to figure it out. How did you know it was a lighter when he exited the vehicle and let him "pull the trigger."

james b
james b

Glad you all made it though brother

David
David

I'm not a LEO so forgive my question but wouldn't it have been better to have left the guy alone? After all he was alone and not harming anyone in his own residence. This show of force seemed to push him to suicide or worse, homicide by LE. The guy was drunk after all. Expecting him to react normally isn't reasonable to me

Brad
Brad

Welcome James. Excellent post. It reminds us in law enforcement, just how "real" things can get in the blink of an eye. I am also a firearms instructor for my dept. I wish out training budget would allow for us to buy more ammo so that we could train on more realistic senarios, instead of the required yearly qualification. Stay safe out there!

Steve
Steve

This is a great post. I like to push the point of realistic combat training. It is unfortunate that incidents like this one are necessary in order to provide an example of what "realistic" is and possible/probable choke points.

Eric S.
Eric S.

Great to see this posted brother!

James Engel
James Engel

The firearm was a micro .25. Whole thing fit in my palm. From when he pulled it out, placed it to his head, and squeezed was maybe two seconds. He had also palmed the gun instead of the correct grip we see normally. (video review showed the events) Did my brain fill in a gap and see a zippo instead of a weapon? Most likely. Was this myself not focusing properly? Training issue? Mindset? Regardless, I now keep those pocket guns availible for training just to teach this exact situation. Hope this clears the confusion..

James Engel
James Engel

David, In this situation we couldn't. He was posing a threat to not only himself, but to his wife as well. You have to remember, dispatch info is extremely short and sweet. Very basic info. We find out most of our situation upon arrival.

Our first priorty here (outside of officer safety), was the safety of the wife. Once we knew she was safe, we attempted contact with him. He was compliant right up until he decided to attempt suicide.

However there are situations where we will allow a person to safely, just wind out. Old saying, "Go to the same call 1000 times, get 1000 different endings." Meaning every situation is different and handled accordingly. Hope this answers your question.

James Engel
James Engel

David, In this situation we couldn't. He was posing a threat to not only himself, but to his wife as well. You have to remember, dispatch info is extremely short and sweet. Very basic info. We find out most of our situation upon arrival. Our first priorty here (outside of officer safety), was the safety of the wife. Once we knew she was safe, we attempted contact with him. He was compliant right up until he decided to attempt suicide. However there are situations where we will allow a person to safely, just wind out. Old saying, "Go to the same call 1000 times, get 1000 different endings." Meaning every situation is different and handled accordingly. Hope this answers your question.

Kurt
Kurt

Brad, Airsoft is a Godsend to a pennyless Dept.

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