When Officer Keavy Kennedy heard a fellow officer's request for backup on a traffic stop, she started rolling. The 34-year-old had long ago grown accustomed to responding to such requests, having spent six years as an officer in Cincinnati before that city's frigid winds finally propelled her to the warmer climes of Arizona. She'd spent the last six years as an officer with the Mesa Police Department.
Along the way, Kennedy proved herself to be a conscientious officer and developed good officer safety practices. That was one of the reasons she dimmed her headlights as she pulled into the gas station at the intersection of Sossaman and Southern: She didn't want to backlight Scott Molander, the officer who had requested backup after making a traffic stop on a blue 2007 Pontiac Vibe.
Kennedy parked and exited her patrol car, the ambient lighting of the gas station more than compensating for the near midnight darkness. She eyed the Pontiac, idly wondering if it was the broken license plate light that gave Molander probable cause to stop the car in the first place.
Molander was himself at the Pontiac's front passenger door, conversing with the front seat passenger through a three-inch opening in its window. Nothing about the remaining three occupants seemed particularly unusual to Kennedy. One in the back seat appeared to be too involved in scratching off a lottery ticket to be concerned with the conversation taking place in front of him.
Truth or Consequences
Not that the conversation was going anywhere. Kennedy heard Molander make a comment to the effect of, "OK, what's your date of birth again?" before he scribbled something on a piece of paper in response to the man's reply.
"OK," said a skeptical Molander, backing away from the car. "I'll try it again with that information."
Already, Kennedy could see something was wrong. Molander gave her a "we've got a liar" smirk, and she knew that anytime a passenger started playing a felon's game of Truth or Consequences, there's usually a reason.
None of the vehicle's occupants appeared to take note of Kennedy's arrival at the location. Once given the upper hand, she was accustomed to trying to keep it, and as Molander made his way back to his patrol car, Kennedy took precautions not to alert them to her presence as she stepped away from the car to a vantage point just out of the occupants' view.
As Molander resumed running the subject's information over NCIC, Kennedy maintained a vigil on the Pontiac's occupants. She watched as an animated conversation evolved between the subject and the driver. The passenger's hands began gesticulating, getting wilder with each passing second. Kennedy couldn't tell if he was frustrated and angry or simply engaged in a lively debate with the driver.
She stared at the passenger window, trying to hear any bits of conversation that might escape through the three-inch aperture. No luck.
For Molander's part, his curiosity about the subject's identity appeared to have been appeased. As he re-approached the car, he shot a glance at Kennedy.
"Just so you know," he advised her. "We have a Ten-38F."
The significance of the code wasn't lost on Kennedy: A wanted felon with violent tendencies.
"OK," she replied.
Molander walked back to the front passenger door while Kennedy took a position of advantage behind a pillar to the right rear of the Pontiac. As Molander contacted the passenger, she heard him ask, "What's your middle name again?"
The man's reply was indiscernible, but Molander's response to it wasn't.
"Dale, I need you to step out of the car."
Then all hell broke loose.
Silhouette of a Gun
The front seat passenger leaned forward as though to grasp the door handle, then Kennedy saw his upper torso suddenly torque unnaturally toward Officer Molander. Simultaneously, the man's hand came up and Kennedy saw it held the silhouette of a gun.
The gunshot that followed was deafening. Molander flew backward, out of Kennedy's vision, which was itself constricting by the millisecond.
Concurrent thoughts competed for dominance in Kennedy's mind as she stepped back and drew her sidearm. She was sure that Molander had been shot and was in need of medical assistance. She also knew that the subject responsible for that assault was still very much a threat, to both Molander and herself.
As though to prove the point, the front seat passenger, Dale Nelson Crismon, jumped from the car, gun still in hand.
Despite the extra girth around his mid-section, the balding man proved surprisingly agile in jumping from the car. Kennedy saw that his gun hand was fully extended, the weapon's barrel pointing in Molander's last seen direction.
Crismon was determined to get a bead on Molander.
Kennedy was equally determined to get one on Crismon. She aimed her 9mm Glock model 19 at the man. In a split second her field of vision went black except for the man, that singular threat that she knew she must defeat, right then and there.
Kennedy crouched in a two-handed Weaver stance and fired. She immediately knew that her first round was off-target as soon as she let it fly: Her pull on the trigger was more of a jerk than a squeeze and her poor grip on the Glock caused her wrists to break upward with the shot. At best, she undermined Crismon's aim at Molander. At worst, she merely alerted him to her presence.
Calm down, she told herself. Breathe. Look at your sights. Get a smooth trigger press.
Crismon stared back at her, his stupefied expression not unlike a deer in the headlights. Kennedy realized that Crismon's concern turned to a new target: her. The man ran east through the gas station parking lot, sidestepping and firing at her.
Kennedy's trigger pull became smooth and deliberate and her aim stayed true. The next four rounds she shot were fired in cadence-like succession: One... two... three... four... more rhythmic and smoother than any she'd ever fired in her life. Their echoing reports were the last things Crismon heard in his.
Crismon's body crashed to the pavement, his gun skidding across the asphalt. His body convulsed, then lay motionless.
Kennedy stared at Crismon's body as her tunnel vision subsided.
Remembering that others remained in the Pontiac, Kennedy took cover behind Molander's patrol car, yelling commands to the Pontiac's occupants to put their hands where she could see them and not to move.
Having seen what happened to Crismon, they quickly complied.
Dead at the Scene
Kennedy was quickly relieved to find that Molander was unharmed, having successfully ducked Crismon's shot before taking cover behind a Valley Metro van that happened to be parked in the lot.
Walking to the driver's side of Molander's car, she opened the door for cover and attempted to advise dispatch of the shooting over her handheld. But the proximity to the car radio caused her handheld radio's transmission to be blocked by frequency feedback. Molander relayed the information to their fellow units.
Rescue rolled to the scene, but it was a mere formality. One bullet penetrated Crismon's left ear and exited same; another sliced between his seventh and eighth ribs, causing additional trauma to his internal organs. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
While Crismon's family made a few obligatory protests against the Mesa officers' version of events, including claiming that the man was actually trying to surrender his firearm to officers (which somehow then put a hole in Officer Molander's pants leg), their complaints never gathered any momentum.
Indeed, it was part of Crismon's ongoing attempt to avoid law enforcement detection that factored into the shooting. As Mesa's finest had been repeatedly visiting his known hang-outs, Crismon had been driven to the location in an effort to see his daughter, who was inside the gas station market at the time of the shooting. Effectively cornered in the gas station lot, the number two man on Mesa PD's Most Wanted list then made a last ditch effort to evade arrest through the attempted murder of the two officers.
And while Kennedy had no particular wish to take another's life-indeed, was more accustomed to saving them, as she had when she'd pulled a suicidal woman out of a car-she's had no difficulties dealing with the Crismon incident, either. She knows full well that it could have been her or Officer Molander's body in the coroner's office the following morning. She is most thankful for the excellent training afforded her by the Mesa Police Department.
"I'd have to say that it really wasn't anything that I hadn't anticipated," Kennedy says. "It was like a training scenario, honestly. I told people that afterwards, too. It was exactly like a training scenario. I was expecting people to come out with video cameras saying, 'OK, scenario's over.'"
She says such scenario training proved invaluable to her, and she appreciates the extent to which the department's range staff continues to train its officers to come out on top in shooting incidents.
"We're fortunate enough to have four shoots a year. One is a mandatory state requirement. The others are decision shoots (shoot or no shoot) and FATS computerized simulator system shoots. On top of the four quarterly shoots, we also do Simunition training.
"Just this year, we did high risk traffic stops (scenario training). Last year, we did school violence. We all went to school and took turns. If we had a shooting, an active shooter in a school, what would we do. That was all Simunition training," Kennedy explains.
Kennedy has her own recommendation for law enforcement personnel.
"Go to the range a lot. Don't only practice scenarios, but get in the habit of thinking and moving. It was a huge factor in my success. Our range instructors would tell us to move right or left as quickly as possible. The conditioning paid off. When it came to my shooting, I didn't even think about it. I just automatically did it."
Kennedy continues to work as a dedicated Mesa police officer, continuing to keep an eye out for trouble-and an ear on the radio.