By Anna Knight, Club Administrator, and Ron McBride, Chief of Police (Retired) and Law Enforcement Consultant
he IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club® pays tribute to those deserving officers who have avoided serious or potentially fatal injuries through the use of any kind of body armor. This column is dedicated to sharing their experiences, in hopes of persuading others to wear their armor. If body armor has helped you or a member of your department survive such an accident or assault, please contact Anna Knight, Club Administrator, IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club®, 5401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Richmond, VA 23234; 804-383-3853; 800-441-2746; fax: 804-383-2477; e-mail: Anna.G.Knight-1@USA.dupont.com.
The Survivors’ Club application is also available on the IACP’s Web site, www.theiacp.org, under Awards/Survivors’ Club.
Armor Protection Allows Officer to Direct Bystanders to Safety
Sergeant William H. Coultry of the Bradley County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office was working as patrol supervisor when he pulled into the parking lot of a market. Getting out of the patrol car, he noted that a red truck pulled in behind him, stopping near the opposite end of the building from where he had parked. The driver of the red truck exited his vehicle and began walking toward Coultry. The driver of the truck had his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. Sergeant Coultry did not know the man.
Suddenly, Coultry heard a gunshot and looked down to see that he had been shot in the left arm. As he looked for cover, the unknown driver-turned-shooter continued to fire at him with the weapon concealed in his coat pocket. A second bullet, fired from an estimated distance of 11 to 21 feet, hit Coultry in the right front part of his lower torso. The impact of the bullet pushed Coultry to the ground. The shooter fired a total of five bullets from a .357 revolver using hollow-point rounds. When the shooter expended all his bullets, he placed his gun on the ground and began to walk toward Coultry, who returned fire. The shooter retreated and fled on foot. He was located by a sheriff’s unit that was responding to assist Coultry.
The shooter was charged with attempted second-degree murder. The trial resulted in acquittal with charges dismissed, as the shooter was determined to be mentally ill and was committed to a mental institution.
Sergeant Coultry maintained his composure throughout the incident. After being shot, he observed a father and son pulling into the store parking lot. He informed them of the problem and directed them to move away from the store to safety. After the shooting, fire rescue personnel tended to Coultry, who was airlifted to a trauma center. Attending physicians found that the gunshot wound to the left arm caused substantial and permanent damage. The gunshot to Coultry’s lower right torso area was stopped by his body armor. The bullet hit very close to the edge of the front protective panel, nearly penetrating his body. The reported backface signature injuries to Coultry were a severe laceration and a laceration to his liver as well. Sergeant Coultry continues his rehabilitation.
Trooper in Single-Vehicle Collision Protected by Armor
Trooper Jeffrey R. Wren of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol was working traffic enforcement on North Carolina Route 207 in Union County when he observed a speeder and obtained a radar lock. Trooper Wren turned around, activated his emergency lights and siren, and moved to overtake the violator. The suspect fled the traffic stop.
As Trooper Wren continued pursuit, the vehicles of both the fleeing suspect and the trooper went off the right side of the roadway. Wren’s patrol vehicle overturned and hit a tree with its roof. The impact collapsed the roof of the police vehicle about one foot behind Wren’s head. Wren was extricated from the patrol car and transported by helicopter to a regional hospital. The attending physician determined that he suffered cracked and compressed vertebrae and a closed skull injury. Trooper Wren was hospitalized for one week for treatment of injuries. His torso was protected by body armor.
The 18-year-old male suspect had no prior criminal history. He was charged with failure to stop for blue lights and siren as well as drug possession. Trooper Wren continues his rehabilitation.
Armor Helps Trooper Survive Collision with Tractor-Trailer
Trooper Timothy A. McCormick of the Indiana State Police was called to duty on a regular day off to assist with snarled traffic due to a snowfall that created extremely slippery conditions. McCormick was assigned to handle a car that had gone off the roadway on Interstate 90 five miles east of the city of La Porte.
Trooper McCormick was seated in his patrol car, which was parked on the left shoulder of the roadway, awaiting the arrival of a wrecker to pull the stranded vehicle from the median, as a westbound tractor-trailer combination approached the scene. The driver of the rig lost control and jackknifed the rig. The tractor crashed into the rear of McCormick’s parked patrol unit. In turn, the patrol car was shoved into the stranded vehicle.
The force of the crash caused the inside of the patrol car to be filled with flying debris. The ceiling-mounted shotgun rack and the shotgun struck Trooper McCormick in the head and neck. He floated in and out of consciousness as he was extricated from the wreckage and was transported to an area hospital. He was admitted for three days for treatment of a concussion.
Trooper McCormick reported that he was wearing body armor and a seat/lap belt at the time of the crash. He credits this with protecting him from more serious injuries or death. McCormick reported that he experienced pain on the right side of his chest but suffered no wounds due to the protection afforded by his body armor.
The driver of the tractor-trailer rig was cited for speed too fast for conditions. Trooper McCormick was able to return to duty.
Shots to Officer’s Back Stopped by Body Armor
Officers Trevor L. Shipman and Daniel Messick of the Fresno, California, Police Department were dispatched to a check-the-welfare call. On arrival, they were ambushed by the reporting party, who was firing a .45-caliber handgun from his apartment balcony. Officer Shipman was struck in the back by multiple .45-caliber bullets. The bullets were stopped by Shipman’s protective body armor. Officer Messick suffered a gunshot wound to his leg.
The officers were transported to a hospital. Officer Messick was treated and released. Officer Shipman was hospitalized for several days for treatment of a backface signature contusion to his spine. The officers returned to duty after nearly two months of rehabilitation.
The suspect, unknown to the responding officers, had a prior criminal conviction. It was determined that he was under the influence of alcohol. The shooter committed suicide while holed up in his apartment.
Ballistic Shield Protects Officers Ending Standoff
Officer Steve M. Klemas of the Mason City, Iowa, Police Department was deployed as a member of the North Central Iowa Drug Task Force Special Operations Group (SOG) when the team was sent to assist the Wright County Sheriff’s Office, which encountered an armed, barricaded subject that refused to submit to a mental health committal order. Mason City Police negotiators were on the scene, and Wright County deputies had established a secure perimeter.
After being briefed, the team moved to relieve the Wright County deputies holding the inner perimeter. The team settled into place as negotiators continued efforts to find a peaceful solution to the standoff. The barricaded subject was noncommunicative.
After five hours of failed attempts at communication, the decision was made to escalate. The SOG used an armored vehicle to conduct reconnaissance. Permission was granted to the SOG to breach windows to facilitate deployment of tear gas (CS) and oleo capsicum (OC) agents. After accomplishing this task, the SOG held while unsuccessful attempts were made to communicate with the barricaded individual.
Finally, Wright County Sheriff Paul Schultz gave permission to insert CS and OC to force the suspect out of the house. After the gas was deployed, negotiators called to the subject, asking him to exit the house. He again failed to comply.
About 45 minutes later, the SOG was directed to enter and take the subject into custody. Investigator Todd A. Smith of the Charles City Police Department was on the point, equipped with a ballistic shield. Officer Klemas was number two, with the responsibility of covering the shield officer. The team entered, and the subject opened fire. Three .32-caliber bullets struck and were stopped by the ballistic shield, two in the viewing port and one lower on the panel.
Smith continued to advance, with Officer Klemas following and returning fire with a 12-gauge shotgun. One round fired by Klemas found the mark, striking the subject in the hip. The subject retreated and then reengaged. Klemas fired again, hitting the subject in the arm and forcing him to withdraw. The SOG located the subject seated in a chair with gun in hand. He made attempts to raise the gun, but his wounds made it impossible for him to do so. The SOG took the subject into custody and transported him for medical and psychiatric care.
No officers were injured. In the words of Investigator Smith, “I believe the ballistic shield saved Officer Klemas and me from serious injury or death.” The Wright County Attorney ruled that the use of force was necessary and reasonable. ■
NIJ Awards Grant to Fund Body Armor Study
In the years 1997 to 2006, 101 officers were feloniously killed when they were shot in areas of the torso. Of those deaths, 78 percent occurred as a result of shots to areas not covered by body armor. This trend cannot continue.
Last fall the National Institute of Justice awarded funding to investigate the effects of increased coverage area for soft body armor. The first part of this two-year effort, a collaboration between Lawrence Technological University and Mississippi State University, will determine the types of injuries sustained by officers while wearing body armor compared to the types of injuries sustained by those either not wearing armor or in areas where there was no armor coverage, which will provide unique insight to the research community as well as those forming policies related to soft body armor design, evaluation, and use.
Dr. Marianne Wilhelm requests help in gathering information on officer injuries related to vest coverage area. The focus is to extract information related to the area of gunshot injury, the severity of injury, and the caliber of weapons used in order to develop a risk assessment specific to areas of the body where armor coverage should be increased. The study is not limited with respect to age, gender, or time of service. The study will include all types of body armor but will be limited to gunshots only.
For more information or to enroll in the study, readers can contact Dr. Wilhelm at 480-338-7693 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.