Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Night I Almost Killed Someone

Me in my Phoenix uniform

   It’s been a long time since I posted anything to this blog, partly because we’ve been preoccupied with looking for a place to live but mostly I just didn’t feel like it. What’s been going on in the US this past year is, to say the least, depressing and these days any thoughts or arguments you might want to share end up just preaching to the choir. But this latest school shooting in Florida has made me consider that my experiences could have some value and that by sharing at least one story, people might understand my attitudes about guns in general and why I’m glad to be living someplace now where this is not an issue.
            I wrote this essay over ten years ago and it was published in the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. I think I titled this “The Night I Almost Killed Someone” but the paper ran it under the headline of “Seconds of hesitation, a lifetime of what-ifs” and the continuation page headline of  “Haunting lesson about the terrible power of guns” and I’d agree with that. I tried to find a link for this but it seems to be in the archives now so I took the time to rewrite it, making a couple of corrections.
            This single incident, which lasted probably all of a minute, if that, scared me for years. I’m happy about the way it turned out but at the same time spent the rest of my career hoping I’d never find out whether my next hesitation would kill me. The weapon I carried almost every day of my life for over 25 years was never much of a comfort and more of a curse. The awesome responsibility that goes with the carrying of a firearm is something I never minimized. This thing ruled my life for almost 30 years and one of the happiest days of my life was the day I turned it in. Ever since I’ve considered the extreme gun culture of the United States to be so much hot air and mostly macho bullshit. Unfortunately, the consequences of this is the world's largest gun death count. 
            I’m glad I never had to make the decision again. Read this and ask yourself if this is something anyone should have to go through because, if the NRA and Republicans have their way, a school teacher will have this to consider. And is this the life you want for your kids?

"When people find out I was once a policeman, most seem to think it was cool to carry a gun and want to know if I ever shot anyone. If I ever did think guns were cool, that changed on a hot summer night in Phoenix more than 25 (now 38) years ago.
I was a 27-year-old patrolman, working afternoon shifts in a very poor, very busy neighborhood. My regular partner had taken the day off and I was partnered with Mark, an officer I didn’t know well. It was dark and nearing the end of the shift as we sat in the well-lit lot of a closed gas station while I finished writing a report. As always, we were only vaguely aware of the police radio which, because of the incessant noise, was turned down low. I had already learned how to tune out this petty annoyance unless it mentioned our call signs, an officer in trouble or the “hot” tone.
The hot tone was a loud, high-pitched electronic shriek that was sent out over all frequencies to alert everyone to an emergency broadcast. It always got your complete attention. This night we were half asleep, hungry and eager to go home when the hot tone slapped us awake.
The call was for a “violent family fight with one subject armed with a knife” at an address we could almost see from where we sat. I looked up the dimly lit street for any sign of what we were getting into. Maybe whoever called the police just threw in the knife part to make us step on it. 
Mark had a lead foot so there was no telling how fast we were going as we raced down a street lined with small, nondescript wood-frame houses. I couldn’t say what Mark had in mind but instead of stopping on the street, as I expected, we rolled up into the dark, dusty yard.
The sweeping headlights illuminated a man and woman who were standing about 5 feet away from each other, arguing wildly. Huddled nearby were several crying children, along with about half the neighborhood. How we kept from hitting anyone is a miracle since the front half of our car ended up between the fighting adults, with the man on my side. I couldn’t see any signs of weapons in either of his hands but checking the woman, I say the glint of light on metal in her right hand - dangerously close to Mark as we both got out.
A tall, skinny kid of no more than 21 (kid, hell, I wasn’t much older) ran up to me. One sleeve of his white T-shirt was soaked red and he yelled in my ear something about his bitch being crazy.
In that instant, my revolver appeared in my hand, pointed across the hood at a hysterical woman who was even younger than her mate. Her face was streaked with dirty tears as she screamed in Spanish and wave a huge knife inches from my partner’s chest. Mark struggled and danced around with a revolver that wouldn’t come out its holster and didn’t seem to be aware that a short lunge from this woman would put a blade into him. I begged her to drop the knife and tried to push away her bloodied partner, who continued yelling in my ear while trying to put himself behind me - all over the sound of wailing children and neighbors shouting in a mixture of Spanish and English.
I can’t really remember consciously thing anything specific until the instant I realized I was pulling the trigger. The slowly moving hammer stopped halfway back and a voice that sounded just like mine whispered, “Jesus Christ.” 
The bleeding kid must have seen what was about to happen because he stopped trying to hide behind me and began to run. The hysterical girl threw the knife to the ground to chase him. My finger relaxed as the unfired revolver went back into its holster. Mark stopped dancing and and we chased the girl down. After we handcuffed her, I walked over and picked up what she had dropped: a cheap little steak knife that an instant before I would have sworn was a bowie knife.
Backup units were now pulling up so we hustled the girl into the closest one. All I wanted to do was sort out this mess and go home. Three sobbing children, the oldest about 5, pressed their faces against the window of the police car, asking what I was going to do with their mother. I can’t remember what I told them as I took my first good look at this young woman. She was about 5 feet tall, weighed no more than 100 pounds and now looked frail and pathetic. No match for any of us.
As things slowed down, what had nearly happened now started to sink in and I had time to get scared. I hadn’t smoked since college but started asking for a cigarette because I couldn’t ask for a drink. When I got one, my hands shook so much that someone had to light it for me.

What we did with the girl and the reasons for their fight have long since faded away. I know that I almost killed her because she could have killed my partner but I don’t remember consciously thinking that. My clearest memory is of the movement of my revolver’s hammer and how it suddenly stopped. That young mother was alive because I hesitated. And that worried me for the rest of my careeer."


  1. Thank you Bruce. I have such fond memories of you in the San Diego Division.

    1. Thank you, Julie. My time in San Diego was some of the best of my life.

  2. Bruce, it's good to see a new blog. I remember when you read this piece at PINAWOR, and I was deeply impressed then. This is a message we need to hear now in America. Unfortunately, the ones who need it most wouldn't listen any more than they listened to the heartbroken survivors from Parkland. Some of them think the answer to school shooters is arming teachers. As a former teacher, I know how bad that idea is. But the Parkland kids have the right idea. Vote them out. Many of them either are 18 now or will be before the midterm elections. And they are fired up and determined to vote. It's a ray of hope in a dark time.

    1. Elenora, thanks for reading. I think you're right. These days we're just preaching to the choir but these kids have the right idea. Nothing will change until we vote them out.

  3. Thank you for your honesty and for the stress which you endured to keep everyone safe. Santiago