James Lee entered the Discovery Channel's sprawling headquarters not far from D.C. shortly after 1 p.m. on Sept. 1. Almost immediately, he fired five rounds in the lobby, and took three hostages—two employees and a security guard.
With these fateful decisions, Lee began a tense, nearly four-hour hostage drama that would end with gunfire and his death.
Because Silver Spring is located in unincorporated territory, the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department responded to the incident. They learned this would be no ordinary hostage situation. The suspect was armed with two handguns and wearing a vest containing four improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Later, police would also discover another four IEDs in the suspect's rented room.
Per protocol, MCPD's patrol officers requested SWAT and negotiators, who responded quickly to take over the situation. The clock is always ticking when explosives are in the hands of unstable suspects.
For the next three hours, negotiators tried in vain to negotiate with the agitated suspect. SWAT officers, who had moved into the building, were able to view the suspect's movements via the building's cameras.
At 4:48 p.m., SWAT saw the suspect point a gun at a hostage, and simultaneously heard a "pop." Fearing the suspect was about to shoot a hostage, SWAT made its move. Several officers shot and killed the suspect, rescued the three hostages, and ended a potentially combustible situation.
This was a gutsy decision by the Incident Commander and SWAT—one that required mutual confidence between the I.C. and SWAT. Confidence gained from knowing and trusting SWAT's ability to pull off the mission. Confidence that has the full backing all the way up the chain of command. Confidence that can only come from well-trained, equipped and experienced SWAT teams. Confidence that saved the lives of three innocent hostages, as well as the lives of the SWAT officers involved in this daring rescue.
Predictably, numerous news sources have reported on the Discovery Channel hostage drama and its aftermath. One of the most insightful articles is "Hostages' sudden movements sparked police action," which appeared Sept. 4 at Gazette.Net.
Particularly noteworthy is the articulate post-incident interview with Capt. Darryl McSwain, director of the MCPD's Special Operations Division that includes SWAT. He outlines the hostage incident in relevant detail, explaining the important decision-making factors that culminated in the daring hostage rescue.
Here are excerpts from the article:
- After hearing the shot, [SWAT] officers moved in very quickly to prevent Lee from harming hostages.
- Multiple officers opened fire. Lee was struck multiple times by .223-caliber rounds fired from more than one M4. The officers have been placed on routine administrative leave.
- He was a very angry individual, irrational, with little regard for life [his own or hostages], and that was very apparent from the very first conversation we had with him, and throughout the ordeal.
- The canisters strapped to his body and the packages placed on the scene were major factors in the tactical team's ongoing evaluation of the hostage taker's threat level.
- The explosive device and its ability to be detonated was a major concern of ours, and was a factor in when we would utilize deadly force, if necessary.
- He made a direct effort to harm, in our opinion, one of the hostages, which left us with no other choice.
- McSwain praised the poise of the SWAT team, despite the danger. It's a testament to their courage and skill level; they understood they were in harm's way.
- The hardest part was the uncertainty. The longer the situation went on, the more uncertainty there was. Intensity was at the top of the charts. It was certainly a 10, without question anytime you have explosives, you're in an urban [area], you have hostages—it doesn't get any more tense than that.
- Referencing the MCPD Use of [Deadly] Force Policy: "Officers may use deadly force to defend themselves or another person from what they have reasonable cause to perceive as an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury."
Kudos to Capt. McSwain for explaining, and so effectively justifying, MCPD SWAT's courageous actions with such clarity. And here's to the entire MCPD, the patrol responders, negotiators and especially SWAT for a job very well done, under the most dire, dangerous of circumstances.
To SWAT teams everywhere, the MCPD SWAT team stands as a beacon of light showing the professional way for other SWAT teams to follow. And to those detractors who question the need for SWAT, the Discovery hostage situation is one huge reason why SWAT exists—to protect and save the lives of the innocent.