My Background Saved My Life
This story is for the small town law enforcement officers, but it involves some important lessons that everyone can learn from. I’d like to share with you a story on how a stupid mistake nearly turned disastrous for me. Although stupid, it brings several different things to the table that I’d like to discuss.
Several communities in northeast Iowa and places alike don’t have the luxury of having 24-hours coverage from their police force. I am obviously from one of them. Therefore, officers are forced to be on-call from their homes at times. This can range from being on call for a few hours a day/night, to even having to be on call for the entire day. This also can cause a problem when officers are sick or need to take vacation. It puts a strain on the other officers.
It was Christmas Eve a few years back and I was working patrol alone. Not uncommon for us. It was one of the coldest nights of the year. …One of those nights that you pray nothing happened, so you wouldn’t have to get out of the car for fear of being frost bit. I started my shift at 17:00 hours and was due to end it at 03:00 hours. At around 23:00 hours, I became extremely ill. I was constantly and consistently running to the bathroom to vomit out of both ends. I don’t want to get too graphic, but I’m talking about projectile vomiting, again, out of both ends. (Smile away) I had contacted my supervisor and asked permission to take calls from my residence, which was granted thankfully. I got home, took my uniform off and curled up on the couch, trying not to move too much for fear of another attack. I was weak due to dehydration at this time and couldn’t keep any liquids down. Sure enough, my cell phone rang and it was a wrecker service. They advised me that a vehicle had struck a stop sign on one of the city side streets, that the stop sign was not down, there were no injuries, and requested that I meet them there. I knew the caller pretty well as they are our main tow service and we work with them frequently. To be honest, at that point I couldn’t have cared less why they hit the stop sign, so long as everyone was okay. I asked him if he’d be able to get it out by himself safely and he stated that he though so. (Very light traffic at this intersection) I was not going to go, but I hung up the phone feeling a bit guilty, I must admit. The wrecker service arrived on scene and he called me again. He said that he thought the driver was very drunk (as I had kind of suspected) and said it was my call if I wanted to investigate it further. I got up, threw on a pair of jeans, a department issued polo and a light jacket. I just thought I’d get there, process him and get home as fast as possible. The only other thing I grabbed was my Kel Tec .380 and threw it in my front right pocket, just in case. Honestly, I almost didn’t grab that.
I arrived on scene and there was absolutely no way I could conjure up a way that this guy wasn’t going to jail, although he was very cooperative. He was just hammered. I called to see if a deputy could assist me, but they were all busy. I patted him down, threw him in my car and transported him to the police department for further testing. I called my Sergeant and Chief to see if they would be able to come relieve me, or at least transport him the 20 mile trek to the jail once he was processed. No answer. About half way through running him through sobriety tests, the radio chirped. Dispatch indicated that a very intoxicated man was trying to leave a residence with some children. They continued by stated that a large fight ensued and there may be baseball bats involved. (Not uncommon for this town at the time) At about that time, my tired Sgt. called my cell phone and asked me what I needed. I explained that I had an arrest and of the other call. I placed the prisoner in a secure area and advised my Sgt. that I was going to the other call. He stated that he would come to the PD and stay with the arrestee. I don’t care what anyone says or will say about this, from the information I had and the tone the dispatcher had used, I thought for sure people would die, possibly children, if I didn’t get there and intervene.
I arrived at the location with my lights on in my marked squad car. A very large man was standing between what appeared to be a problem person and the house. They were yelling in Spanish and pushing each other violently. I observed several people peering out the well lit picture window of the house. All of them looked frightened. Once the large man noticed I was there, he backed up and put his hands in the air and pointed to the other man. I walked up to what I believed to be the problem subject from the initial call, announced to him that I was a police officer and asked him if I could speak with him by my vehicle. I said this in English and Spanish. He did not acknowledge I was there. I then repeated myself and began to lightly grab his jacket, trying to persuade him to come with me. He turned around, looked at my briefly and swung with his fist. He thankfully missed. I leg swept him to the ground and as I was ordering him to stay on the ground, he popped back up and began closing the distance I had created. He swung again and at this point, I took him down with a double leg take down and tried to maintain control. I was asking the larger man to help me and he said, “That’s what we called you for.” Although it made me mad at the time, I couldn’t disagree with him, and really can’t to this day. The man I was fighting with outweighed me by approximately 30 pounds and was very solid. I had been involved in wrestling all my life and was training in mixed martial arts at the time. My instincts kicked in and for the most part, I was in control initially. He was constantly yelling that he was going to kill me as he struggled with me. However, I found myself far weaker than what I thought I was due to being sick and he threw me off him. I created distance once again and I went back to my squad to radio for more assistance. I hurt my wrist during the altercation and couldn’t pick the radio up with my right hand. While in the car, I observed the man open the back door of a vehicle that was parked in the driveway. He was digging around frantically as he continued to yell. I thought to myself, “This is it.” I thought for sure he was going for a gun. I backed up into the normally busy highway with my squad car. He exited the vehicle with nothing in his hands. I pulled back into the driveway and began exiting my car. I had dropped my flashlight during the struggle. I think we both saw it at the same time as it lit the snow. He grabbed it and threw it as hard as he could at me, again stating that he was going to kill me. He certainly wasn’t a pitcher though.
At that point, he started going back to the vehicle he had just been looking in. I couldn’t get in a gun battle at this point. I tried to get my gun out of my front pocket. Between the now hard pockets from the snow and the gloves I had on, I couldn’t get it out. As I rapidly approached him, I held my hands up as if I had it. He called my bluff and we met again. He swung and hit me in the shoulder. I again took him down and eventually got behind him. I put my legs in as I’ve done for many years in wrestling and flattened him out. However, he did not stop. He gained some momentum and I lost my position. I gave him several knee strikes to the ribs before regaining his back position. He still did not stop and after strikes to both sides of his face, I couldn’t hold him any longer. I was absolutely exhausted. I could hear sirens coming from the east, which was no doubt one of my good friends from one of the neighboring towns. The suspect then started running to the side of the house, where there was another entrance. I followed him as fast as I could, but noticed myself merely walking briskly. He was screaming and trying to break down the door when I got there. I looked in to the house through the door window and saw a woman carrying a baby, hysterically crying. Several others were in the house and looked as if they were in sheer terror. I had no idea what had went on in there before, but I did not want him back in there. I bear hugged him from the back, picked him up and dumped him on his side as I followed him down. Don’t ask me where I got the strength. I’d imagine it was comparable to my 4 year old trying to lift a heavy bag and bring it to me. We both went down. He got up as I was still clinging on. (For you wrestlers, it was identical to the up and dump drill) I got him back down in the same manner I took him down a few seconds ago. We struggled some more. He attempted to elbow me several times as he was facing the ground and I started applying a choke. My buddy arrived at about that time. We were struggling to gain control and he went limp for a second from the choke. We managed to place him in handcuffs. He was only out for a short amount of time and was just as lively as he had been before, only now with handcuffs on. A short time later other officers arrived to assist and we eventually got him into a vehicle. For the sake of humor and against my better judgment, I’ll add that the liquids did not stop. Immediately after I relaxed and he was in custody, it hit me… or rather me and my underwear.
Anyway, after further investigation, the suspects had assaulted at least one person in the residence and tried to drive his very young nephews away while drunk and irrational.
I’ll never go out by myself without my duty belt or at least a full size weapon while on a call. (Don’t tell me other officers don’t do it, because I’ve seen it several times since then) Whether it is laziness or taking a situation for granted, it happens. I try to have at least two pair of handcuffs on me at a time when being called out. (1st set was on my other OWI suspect) It wouldn’t have made a difference in this case, as I couldn’t gain enough control to cuff him. But, it would have been nice to have an option if an opportunity arose. I will never ever take for granted what I’ve learned in wrestling and mixed martial arts. It is so important. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that had another officer with only the little experience our academies give us in fighting had responded, it would have been a much more horrible conclusion. I’m almost glad it happened to me.
This brings me to another important point that I try to make every chance I get. If you’re in a position to instruct “Police Combat” (I refuse to call it Defensive Tactics), make sure you’ve put yourself in a situation where you’ve been in an intense physical altercation. I’m not saying a bare knuckle all out brawl, but don’t set your officers up for failure by patty-caking around with them. If you’ve never been in one, get another officer and go to the wrestling room. Hell, go to one of your basements. Do it as safely as you can, but put yourself in horrible situations, so you know your limitations. If we don’t expose ourselves to grueling situations during training, we will fail miserably. Be as realistic as possible. If you’re not an instructor, find one that’s willing to put you through something intense. It’s up to you to better yourself. For you administrators: I don’t care if you don’t want anyone to get hurt in training. As instructors, obviously we don’t want them to be hurt seriously either. I shouldn’t have to say that. (Have some faith in your employees) But in order to come as close as possible to reality, we might get a bloody lip or twisted ankle every once in awhile. It’s certainly better than going to an officer’s funeral. Or, have your officer shoot someone, because they’re not confident in their abilities. You can’t blame them, because they don’t know what they could or couldn’t handle. You’ve failed to give them the opportunity to see what they’re capable of doing by not allowing realistic straining sessions. I might sound very redundant at times, but it’s only because the points I’m trying to make are important to me. I also want everyone to know that as hard as I seem to be on administrators in reference to training, our department has administrators that allow us to train. They know how important it is. However, it is very rare in this line of work. I’m talking to them.
Although I’m glad I had my background in wrestling and mixed martial arts. I certainly would have been much better off having access to the tools on my gun belt. Please don’t this statement out of context. Your tool belt’s not always going to save you. Please better yourself by familiarizing yourself with some sort of hand to hand combat.
Written and Submitted by Mitchell G. Seitz
Mitchell is a state certified firearms and defensive tactics instructor. Trained and competed in mixed martial arts venues. Member of a multi-jurisdictional Emergency Response Team along with being a patrol officer.