This is a true story of disillusioned dreams; a tale that has been lived by many police officers, but this is my painful journey.
After high school graduation, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a military police officer. I served five years, got out, and went to a tech college where I earned a degree in police science.
Dream Comes True
In 2001 I was hired by the Janesville Police Department. My dream had come true. I was following in my father’s footsteps.
My dad was an MP in Vietnam. After his military service, he became a police officer in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Sadly, he passed away 28 days after I got out of the Army.
Responding to Crime
I was working third shift in the summer of 2004. I had been dispatched to take care of a wounded raccoon in the roadway. As I was dealing with the coon I saw one of my coworkers running hot past me.
I missed the radio call and was not sure where he was going. Due to the fact that he was running in my area of responsibility I got in the squad car and notified dispatch I was clear. They told me a neighbor in a subdivision was watching someone break into a truck parked in the driveway of the house next door.
Two additional officers and I arrived on scene. We were walking toward the address when we encountered an individual sleeping in a parked car. One of my partners stayed with the sleeping individual as we suspected he was the lookout. The other officer went to the south of the target address as I continued walking toward the caller’s location.
As I was walking through the yards I could see an individual leaning in the driver’s side of a yellow truck parked in the driveway. As I continued forward I needed to walk around a fence. In doing so, I exposed myself in the streetlight. As a result, the guy trying to steal the stereo from the truck saw me.
The suspect took off running west. I gave chase and notified dispatch and the other officers of my direction of travel. However, we were in a dead zone and no one heard my communication.
As I was closing in on the suspect he turned around. I could see his fists clenched and he lowered his center of gravity. He was preparing to fight!
This was early in the morning and there was dew on the grass. I thought, if I try to stop I’ll lose my footing. So I decided to tackle him.
As I initiated the takedown, he lowered his shoulder and I rolled over his back. He was now behind me. … Yeah, I know, bad move!
Fight for My Life
As he was behind me I felt a blow to the back of my head. The traumatic impact created sparkly little stars in my vision.
I had no clue what hit my head, but believed this was far more serious than a fight. I thought he was trying to cause me great bodily harm or death.
As a result, I rolled on my back to get into a guard position. The suspect was now over the top of me and between my legs. He held a Philips head screwdriver in his right hand. My fear was confirmed. I knew he was trying to stab me.
Therefore, I drew my weapon as he was thrusting at me with the screwdriver. I was trying to block his blows while he was trying to parry my weapon. As I put my handgun to his chest, he asked, “Are you going to shoot me?”
“YUP,” I replied.
I Pulled the Trigger
I remember thinking, there is going to be a noise, some blood, maybe a scream, but the attack will stop.
I pulled the trigger … nothing happened! I was in disbelief. The entire time I was an MP as well as time spent as a police officer of the Janesville Police Department, I carried that tool to protect others and myself … and now it wasn’t working.
I withdrew a few inches and squeezed again … nothing.
I slapped my magazine … trigger squeeze … again, nothing.
Next I racked the slide. When I did this it hit my chest and stove piped the round. During the process, the suspect caught my whistle chain and shirt collar and drove it an inch into my neck.
Stabbed Six Times … Was I Paralyzed?
Suddenly, I couldn’t move my head. I thought I was paralyzed. I rolled over to push up at which time he fled. I cleared my malfunction and watched him jump over a fence. He got away but at least the attack was over.
He ended up stabbing me five times in the head and once in the back of my left leg.
The guy who was sleeping in the car was in fact with the suspect. He provided the name of my attacker.
The next day our SWAT team arrested the man at his girlfriend’s house.
“I tripped,” was his response.
Ultimately, he was charged with attempt homicide as well as some other crimes.
During trial, the jury felt he was trying to get away and not kill me since I testified that I had wrapped my legs around his lower body.
Nevertheless, he was found guilty of first-degree reckless injury and sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Smith & Wesson Sigma
In the aftermath, we learned something about the Smith & Wesson Sigma that I carried. Once placed out of battery, it had to be fully cycled in order to fire again. In my opinion this is a flaw.
As you can imagine, I lost confidence in my weapon. We asked the chief for permission to carry a different firearm.
“Nope,” came the reply.
Moreover, we asked the city to install a repeater to correct the radio dead spot.
“Nope,” was their response.
So I became very bitter. We never debriefed the incident. Furthermore, I’m sure most of you are aware of the police mentality. I never sought counseling; I just dealt with it.
However, my way of dealing with it was to drink and screw the bitterness and anger away.
Fast forward to 2006. I disgraced the badge, my coworkers and my family. That is altogether another story. Consequently, I resigned from the police department while I was in rehab for drinking. (After some struggles I have been sober for 12 years.) I knew I could no longer be an officer. I was devastated. All I ever wanted to do was be a cop and I flushed that down the toilet. I felt as though I had lost my identity. I had no clue what I was going to do.
Ray of Hope
Now for the reason I share this painful story … February 3, 2019 I received a phone call from my old deputy chief. He informed me that the daughter of the man who stabbed me wanted to meet.
I was very leery at first but eventually connected on Facebook. She had been looking for me for about 10 years. She sent screen shots of the messages she sent to the police department asking for help in locating me. “Officer Smith no longer works here,” was their usual reply.
She finally reached out to a reporter from the Janseville Gazette. He emailed Chief Moore who in turn contacted my old deputy chief since he knew we were still friends and kept in contact. Her purpose was to tell me that after her father was convicted she knew he could no longer hurt her. She said he was “extremely” abusive to her, her siblings and stepmother.
This may seem minor to some, but after everything I experienced, all the crap I put my family through, all the pain, anger, bitterness, worthless feelings, I became aware of this ray of hope; something positive out of the negative.
I Made a Difference
Moreover, I feel like I made a difference, even if it was just one person. I felt like my life had meaning; even knowing what I know now, I told her I would go through it all over again if it would make someone’s life better.
After talking with her a while, I realized this young lady went through hell growing up. It’s hard for me to put into words what her story means to me.
I decided that I wanted to give her something. The only thing I have from my time as an officer is the whistle chain that was stuck in my neck. I told her I kept it to remind me to live, to fight, to not give up no matter how hard life gets.
To me, she epitomizes this. I look forward to the day we can meet and I can present her with this gift.
I think there are many lessons to be taken from my story—some good, some bad. I know there are officers who have done far greater things than I have. I know there are true heroes out there. I hope that something in my story—and hers too—will strike a chord with someone. My hope is that the meaningfulness she gave to me can be passed on to others.
I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to read this. Take care and be safe.
– Andrew Smith