Editor Note: This article is graphic and may be disturbing to some readers. It’s as lengthy as it is powerful. We hope you’ll take the time to hear the story of how this officer had to fight for his life and lived to tell his story to his kids. About three quarters of the way through the article, you’ll read about how he did just that.
I want to introduce you to someone I know.
First, let me offer a little background: John Chandler was born and raised in Midland, Texas. He graduated from Midland High School.
In July of 1998, he left for boot camp with the US Navy. He spent four years on the USS Constellation.
Upon leaving the Navy in July 2002, he returned to Midland. While enrolled in Midland College to get the necessary number of required hours of college credit, he joined the Midland Police Department in January 2003 as a cadet. He then went to the police academy in February of 2004.
He graduated in June of the same year. He then spent 90 days as a probationary police officer (PPO). He finished that program in September of 2004 and began patrolling the streets of Midland.
Fast-forward two years to September 21, 2006, just one week before his 28th birthday.
Officer Chandler was on patrol on the west side of town. At 1:17 am, he pulled up to a stop sign at the intersection of Illinois and Thomason.
Looking to his west, he observed a white Ford Mustang traveling east on Thomason. Realizing that the vehicle appeared to be traveling faster than the posted limit, Chandler hit the Mustang with his radar. He was doing 45-mph in a 35-mph zone.
Chandler turned east onto Thomason to initiate a traffic stop. The Mustang began to accelerate.
After pursuing the Mustang for five blocks, the Mustang turned onto a side street and pulled over. Pulling in behind him, the officer radioed dispatch with location and read the plate for a check. He exited his patrol car and began to move towards the stopped vehicle.
As he was reaching the rear bumper, the Mustang sped away into the residential neighborhood. Returning to his cruiser, Chandler called dispatch with a 10-80 (vehicle pursuit) code. He followed the fleeing suspect, seeing him turn south at the next intersection. Upon arriving at that turn, Chandler had lost sight of the vehicle. All he saw was dust in the beams of his headlights.
Continuing through the intersection in hopes of finding the Mustang, Chandler came to the t-intersection of Graceland and Meadow. Looking across the intersection, he observed the Mustang, still running with lights on and the door open, but resting against the side of a garage wall.
It appears that the driver was traveling too quickly to navigate the turn, locked his brakes and slid into the yard, striking the house. Chandler observed the driver exit the vehicle and run between the houses. He relayed the location of the wrecked vehicle, announced that he was now in a foot pursuit and requested backup.
In 2006, the MPD had dash mounted cameras, but body cams were not in use at that point. Chandler exited his vehicle in pursuit of the driver. His only form of communication was the portable radio on his belt and the mic and earpiece that went with it.
Losing sight of the suspect between the houses, Chandler approached the corner of the home to find a RV parked beside it. Drawing his weapon and using the RV for cover, he peered around the corner of the RV and activated his weapon illuminator.
At this point, he saw the suspect, who was approximately 5’ 4” in height, with his back to the officer, trying to scale a 5’ wooden picket fence. There was about 15 yards separating the two.
Closing the distance between them, Chandler identified himself as Midland Police. He issued two verbal commands. The first was “show me your hands”. The second was “get on the ground”. The suspect complied with neither.
Turning to face Chandler, who was now 25 to 30 feet away, the suspect paused for just a second, then began sprinting towards the officer. Realizing that the suspect was unarmed and knowing that it was going to become a physical situation, Chandler attempted to holster his weapon to prepare for what he hoped would be a quick fist-fight.
Just before he got his pistol back in the holster, the suspect hit him and took him to the ground. Chandler did not remember the hit or going to the ground. He just recalls being on his back and the suspect on top of him, full-mount.
The suspect weighed approximately 250 lbs. Chandler, with all his gear weighed around 160. Chandler still had his gun in his right hand, positioned on the ground above his head.
Looking to his right, he saw the suspect with both hands around the barrel of the weapon, trying to wrestle free from Chandler’s grip. Falling back on his training, he new that he needed to get his left hand on the assailant’s hands, just in case he lost control of his sidearm. He was able to do so.
As the struggle continued, Chandler realized that this was now a deadly force situation. He knew he was going to have to kill the suspect, because it was certainly his intent to disarm and kill Officer Chandler.
The first thought that went through his mind was to try to throw the weapon far enough away that the suspect couldn’t get to it. He quickly realized that was not a viable option, considering the size advantage and leverage that his attacker had on him.
Chandler, still holding the pistol in his hand noticed that the trigger was all the way back. He recognized that his gun was malfunctioning, though he could not identify the source of the problem. The slide may have gone back during the struggle, causing it to double feed a round.
With the suspect still wrapping his hand around the barrel of the pistol, the officer let go with his left hand and racked his pistol two or three times. He knew he had cleared the malfunction when he felt the trigger ride forward and tension take the place of no movement.
Trying to position the gun so it was pointed at his attacker, Chandler pulled the trigger. The round hit the top of the fence behind them.
In recounting this story, the officer stated that firing the first shot did not phase the suspect. Chandler was able to maneuver his weapon closer to the individual straddling him. Once he felt the barrel touch the suspect’s body, he pulled the trigger again.
This time, the round struck the assailant in the face. He collapsed on top of Chandler, who was able to roll the 20-year old off him and onto his stomach, where he was able to get cuffs on him.
Due to the struggle, Chandler’s gear was all over the place. He began searching for his radio. Searching in the 3 foot tall weeds, he was able to find his radio. Getting his earpiece back in, he radioed dispatch saying, “Shots Fired. One down. One shot to the head.”
From the relay of ’10-80’ to the report of ‘shots fired’, the elapsed time was 1 minute, 40 seconds. (Side note: to the people who believe that officers have the ability to sit and meditate on how to resolve a situation, they don’t. Often, they must make split-second decisions.)
Officers responding to the calls for backup were beginning to arrive on scene. Officer Sanders, the first to arrive, began calling for Chandler, as they could not immediately locate them between the houses, in those bushes.
Not wanting to leave the immediate scene, Chandler used his flashlight to signal the other officers. Sanders grabbed Chandler and asked if he was ok. Indicating that he was Sanders, assisted Chandler back out to the street while another officer performed CPR on the suspect.
Moments later, an EMT crew arrived and continued to provide medical assistance to the suspect, who would later be pronounced dead.
A few facts that came out in the moments and days after the shooting and the deceased was identified: he was a convicted felon, had multiple felony warrants out for his arrest, and his autopsy revealed that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system.
As is the norm in situations like this, Chandler was place on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. He was reassigned to work at the firing range at the police academy. The Midland Police Department and the Texas Rangers conducted independent investigations. Both determined that the shooting was justifiable. The case went to the grand jury where it was no-billed. Chandler returned to patrol on November 1, 2006.
John Chandler retired from the Midland Police Department on September 28, 2018, on his 40thbirthday. In the 12 years following the events of September 21, 2006, Chandler joined the SWAT team, became a field training officer, transitioned to a detective role with the Financial Crimes Unit, and sat for his SGT’s exam. Upon his promotion, he went back on patrol as a shift supervisor.
After 18 months he went back to the Financial Crimes Unit as a supervisor. He ended his career in that capacity while continuing to serve as a member of the MPD SWAT team. He served the City of Midland with distinction. The events as previously detailed about Officer Chandler are a matter of public record.
John’s story is not.
We spent several hours talking in preparation for this article. Some of the story I had heard before. Some of the things he shared were only previously know to a handful of people. John shared not only the story of that horrific night with his wife Kristy, but also all the highs and lows of his professional life and the difficulties that night had on him personally.
I asked him what he felt that morning and over the next few days. John’s twin brother (who is also a member of the MPD) came over to stay with him the first day. Over the next few days, other members of his department family would come and sit with him during the day. He avoided watching the news or reading the newspaper. He went back to work at the police academy firing range while the investigation was conducted.
With John’s name and picture being all over the news, they wondered how to discuss the situation with their six-year-old daughter. John told me that his daughter, and now his twin sons know about the circumstances around that night, but they do not know all the details. He has never volunteered all the facts, and they have never asked.
John stated that the MPD made a counselor available to him to speak to at his discretion. He opted to never do so. His department family supported him every day. He knew that they truly were family.
So how did he react going back to work? How was his first night out on patrol? After they finished their shift brief, they hit the street. John made his first traffic stop about 30 minutes out. He made contact with the driver and the passengers of the car. He got their IDs and went back to his car to run them. The driver came back with an outstanding warrant.
Dispatch asked if he wanted backup on scene. John said he sat in his patrol car for a good minute pondering that question.
“Nothing wrong with having backup. But I won’t always have the option of having someone else assist. Am I setting a precedent if I do request backup? What do I do?”
As he sat contemplating, he told himself:
“You can give into the fear, or you can suck it up and go do your job.” This was a phrase he would remind himself of numerous times over the following twelve years.
John reflected on that memory.
“Fear is a poison,” John told me. “And Satan will use to tear you down and leave you scared for the rest of your life.”
There were plenty of times throughout his career were fear reared its ugly head. John just swallowed hard and kept walking forward. He attributes that to his faith and his family.
“The night of the shooting, as I was wrestling with the suspect, all I could think of was leaving Kristy and the kids.” Those four people were his motivating factor every day.
As a believer, John said he is not afraid to die, but he is afraid of leaving his wife and children. He used that love of his family to motivate him, both in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and every day since.
So, what about all the other days? Does it get easier as time goes by?
“No. I still think about it. I still see it very clearly,” John said of the shooting.
For a long time after that night, John dealt with nightmares. These dreams were not of the shooting itself but involved John and they were always graphically violent.
“I never died in the dreams. I always won the fight. But I was convinced that the dreams meant I was going to go out in a violent manner,“ he told me. There were many nights he would wake up from a nightmare, drenched in sweat.
PTSD is a very real thing for members of our law enforcement community. John knows that he has all the signs of PTSD, but it has never been clinically diagnosed. While the topic is common-place with our military and veteran communities, it is often lost in the discussion for emergency response community. He said, “I hate that the D stands for disease or disorder. It isn’t a disease. You can’t just treat it with medicine and hope it goes away. It is real, it is a struggle. It is not a disease.”
I have had the privilege of going on several ride-alongs with John over the years. Most nights were uneventful, others were hair-raising.
I remember one call we went on at 0330 one morning. Before he got out of the car, John told me how to gain access to his SWAT rifle. “If it hits the fan, I need you to have my back,” he told me before exiting the car. Part of me hoped he was kidding, but most of me knew he meant what he just said.
I would have had his back had he needed it. Why? One of the things I failed to mention in the background of this piece: John is my little brother. If he needed me, I would not have hesitated.
Two things I noticed about how John conducted his police business were these:
- He was always a professional.
- He was very specific about each action he took. He was deliberate in everything he did, calculated even. I remember thinking about the angle of approach that he took to the driver’s window in a traffic stop. I asked him if that was something that he started after the events of that September night.
“Nope. They trained us that way at the academy”. Did he have a heightened sense of awareness after that night? “Definitely!”
The negative situations that came from the circumstances surrounding that shooting are relatively evident. So, I had to ask, were there any positives?
“What happened that night made me aware of a few things. I weighed 145 lbs. I was in no way equipped to fight someone that out-weighed me by 100 lbs. I knew at that point that if I was going to continue to come home to Kristy and the kids, I needed to get better. I started doing cross fit. I started training hard to get onto the SWAT team.”
He went to classes that would help educate him and make him better at his job. He volunteered for the tasks no one else wanted to do. He worked hard to be disciplined physically, mentally and spiritually.
The last question I had for John was one about regrets. Did he regret what happened that night?
“I am not happy that someone lost their life. I do not regret the decision that I made to pull the trigger. It was a life or death moment. He was intent on killing me. I am glad I that I knew that I could do what it takes to do my job, even to the extent that I had to take a life.”
Over the next twelve years, John found himself on multiple calls where he would have to draw his weapon. He is grateful that he never had to pull the trigger again.
John made it abundantly clear that he made it through that event because of his faith, his family, both by blood and by badge, and most importantly the love, encouragement and support of his wife, Kristy.
To all the current and former officers like him, who struggle with fear, who wonder how to come back from a horrific circumstance such as this, I hope John’s story is an encouragement. Lean on your faith, your family, and those of us that love and support our LEO community. Do not let Satan attack you and poison you with fear, doubt or regret.
To John, I say thank you.
Thank you for serving and protecting the citizens of Midland, Texas.
Thank you for continuing to get in that car and continue to drive the streets fulfilling your passion and calling to be a cop.
Thank you for finding the strength to come back from a situation that would emotionally cripple some.
Thank you for sharing your story with me.
I am proud of you and blessed to call you my brother.