Shortly after 10 p.m. last Saturday night (June 14) motorists in rural Turlock, Calif., happened upon a sight too horrible to adequately describe.
There, in the darkened roadway, a man was repeatedly bashing, beating, stomping, punching, kicking, and slamming a baby. Witnesses called 911 and tried to stop the brutal attack, only to be repulsed by the attacker. During the attack, the young man was described as “very calm” and talked about “getting the demons out” of the child, all the while continuing the onslaught.
One witness estimated that this deranged adult delivered in excess of 100 stomps, kicks, and punches in an attack that lasted at least seven minutes.
At the time of the first 911 calls, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter happened to be in the sky above Turlock. This air unit responded within six minutes to the frantic citizen reports, along with ground units. From the air above the scene, the helicopter crew (SCSD pilot and Modesto Police Department observer) witnessed the brutal beating as they lit up the man and the toddler with their spotlight.
The pilot made a skillful, night emergency landing as closely as possible in a field. It was a cow pasture separated from the road by a daunting obstacle electrified, barbed wire fencing.
Immediately upon landing, the Modesto officer sprinted 20 yards to the fence – commanding the suspect to cease his brutal attack against the helpless baby. The suspect’s response was to say “I’m not going to prison.” He raised his middle finger to the officer and continued kicking and stomping the baby.
The officer responded with the only option he had left. From a reported 10-foot distance, he shot the suspect in the forehead. The suspect dropped, dead, ending one of the most brutal and horrific attacks imaginable.
EMTs arrived quickly, but it was too late. The toddler was dead, mangled so badly it will take DNA to confirm his identity. However, the suspect’s identity is known, he’s the 27-year-old father of an infant son. And that infant was undoubtedly the victim of the attack. That this happened the night before Father’s Day is almost too sad to mention.
If you’re anything like me, this incident really got your blood boiling. In previous SWAT columns, we’ve discussed first-responder tactics for active shooters. While this atrocity didn’t involve a gun, it was a murder in progress, one that could only be stopped by physically stopping the threat. Which is precisely what the Modesto officer did, within two minutes of arrival on the scene. The actions of this and the other officers on the scene serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to be ready and willing to respond immediately at all times to protect the innocent. This is far more than our job; it’s our sworn duty.
There isn’t a police officer alive who doesn’t understand the ultimate dual responsibility of our profession. To protect and save innocent lives, and when necessary, take the lives of those who place others in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.
When it comes to the innocent—children especially—I don’t know of a single police officer who wouldn’t go to hell and back to save a life. A not so hidden secret of our profession is that children are the vulnerable spot in our “armor.” Even the toughest, most battle-hardened cop is shaken over tragedies involving innocent children and babies.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” (1910) quote says it far better than I can. Most of you are familiar with parts of this quote. But I’m going to give it to you again in its entirety.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
I wasn’t there, but I can picture the horrific scene on that farm road in Turlock last weekend. And I stand 100 percent behind these officers, whose unhesitating actions put a decisive end to one of the most brutal, horrific crimes imaginable. That their best efforts were not enough was beyond their control.
In my book, these officers are heroes—upholding the highest traditions of our noble profession—duty and honor. Somewhere up in heaven, there’s a little boy waiting to tell these heroes something: “Thank you.”