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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Great Bend, Kansas 01-01-2007

Investigating a hit-and-run, Officer Rod Weber faced a shotgun at point blank range.

January 12, 2009  |  by - Also by this author


It was a typical December 31st for Great Bend, Kan., police officers, with the usual rollouts to domestic calls and bar checks. And as New Year's Eve segued into New Year's morn, the party complaints began to come in. They continued through the early morning hours, culminating with a
4:15 a.m. call of a pedestrian hit-and-run.

Upon their arrival, Great Bend's finest were greeted by the sight of shattered trees and dented cars, as well as that of a man writhing in pain in the street. It didn't take long for the officers to figure out that no mere hit-and-run accident accounted for the impromptu landscaping and the man with the broken leg. The outstanding motorist, one James Robert Johnson, had intentionally run over his best friend in a fit of jealous rage.

A former gang member-cum-drug abuser, Johnson was no stranger to the Great Bend Police Department, and it didn't take long for a probable address on the man known to locals as "Jim Bob" to be broadcast over the police frequency.

 

Alley Sweep

Officer Rod Weber, who'd been monitoring the call while writing some of his own New Year's generated paperwork, decided to roll to the address.

Once in the area, Weber was directed to approach the house through an alley to the rear of Morton Street. Using his alley sweeps, the 10-year veteran officer found what he was looking for just three houses from the street.

The Johnson house and its offset garage sat away from the alley bordered by a six-foot-tall fence. Access to the property from the alley was provided by a wooden gate large enough to accommodate the red Ford pickup truck Weber spotted in the yard. The fresh tire impressions in the alley's compacted snow suggested that the truck had recently been driven, and the tree bark embedded in its fender hinted strongly of its involvement in the vehicular assault.

Weber radioed Officer Emil Halfhill, who was familiar with the suspect, and asked him to swing through the alley to confirm that this vehicle was the same one that had been involved in the hit-and-run. Weber then continued through the alley and circled around the block.

Upon returning to the alley, he found Halfhill's unit parked with its alley lights and spotlight already trained on the pickup. Halfhill identified the truck as Johnson's, then told Weber that he spotted the back door of the house open and close, but he didn't see anyone emerge.

As the two officers approached the rear of the house, Weber heard yelling and screaming from inside. He started toward a window near the back door to more clearly discern what the commotion was about. As he drew near the house, the doorknob of the back door suddenly began to turn.

 

Shotgun at Low Ready

The door popped open, followed by the screen door. Weber reflexively drew his sidearm. He saw a man in the doorway holding a shotgun at the low ready.

Backlighting from the porch area gave Weber a clear view of the young man with the meth-head build, obviating the need for a flashlight. Instead, the officer trained his sidearm, a .40 caliber Glock 22, on the man's chest.

"Drop the gun!" Weber yelled. "Drop the gun!"

The officer's commands fell upon James Johnson's numbed ears. Instead, the slender man stood atop the porch wielding his pistol-gripped shotgun. A mere six feet separated the officer and suspect. Again, Weber ordered Johnson to drop the weapon.

But Johnson wasn't about to drop the Maverick Model 88. He screamed at Weber and Halfhill, addressing them in epithets and telling them to drop their guns and get off his property.

Weber fixated on the short barrel of Johnson's shotgun, mentally committing himself to fire his Glock if Johnson elevated the weapon to a certain level. Johnson's shotgun started to rise.

Weber yelled once more for the man to drop it.

The shotgun's barrel continued upward.

Weber fired.

And in that split second, Johnson fired back.

 

Officer Down!

Johnson's shotgun blast caught Weber just as he was in the middle of his double tap. Weber's first round nailed Johnson in the chest as high brass #4 shotgun pellets peppered the left side of his own abdomen. Reflexively, he fired his second round, which struck Johnson's right arm.

Johnson rolled off the porch.

For Weber, the pain was intense, though not debilitating. Still on his feet, and therefore still in the fight, he knew his number one priority was to find cover. He backpedaled for Johnson's pickup, but the snow compromised his traction and he found himself going ass over teakettle onto the ground. Pushing himself upright, he scrambled for the pickup, covering down its passenger side for the man he feared might pop up in the darkness.

From the cover of a nearby camper, Halfhill screamed into the radio, "Shots fired! Officer down!"

Off in the distance, every siren in the county seemed to activate, growing stronger with each passing second.

 

A Distinctive Sound

Crouching near the engine block of the pickup, Weber cradled his Glock between his legs, anchoring it against his knee to steady his aim as he covered down the passenger side of the pickup making sure that Johnson didn't round the back of the pickup on him.

From the relative safety of the pickup, Weber lay on the ground and inventoried himself. He knew he'd been hit, but didn't know how badly. He grabbed his stomach, feeling for any blood that might be seeping through his shredded uniform shirt. All he could detect was steam rising from the ballistic vest beneath.

He realized that his vest had done its job and done it well.

I'm good, he thought.

But looking beneath the pickup, he saw Johnson doing the same thing, grasping at his own chest in a bid to determine the extent of his injuries. Seeing Johnson down, but hardly out, Weber realized he was still in danger.

The officer got back to his feet, adopted a wide stance away from the pickup, and began slicing the pie around it, once again closing the distance between himself and Johnson. Sure that Johnson had rolled over to a recessed corner of the house near the back door, Weber moved to the end of the pickup bed to get a bearing on Johnson's whereabouts.

Just then, Weber heard a distinctive sound in terrifyingly close proximity, just beyond and below the visual plane of the pickup's tailgate. It was the sound of a shotgun being racked.

Crap, I'm vulnerable, he thought. I've screwed myself.

Seeking more effective cover behind the engine block of the pickup, Weber heard a second shotgun blast ring out. Looking beyond the pickup, he saw the shotgun resting atop the porch. Johnson's body lay in the snow below. Weber began a cautious approach.

"Where are your hands?" Weber demanded, "Show me your hands!"

But Johnson didn't move. Weber edged closer. Then he saw something that silenced him.

From Johnson's nose to his hairline, a portion of the man's head was gone: The man had shot himself.

Sirens in the distance reminded Weber of the officers trying to reach him on weather-slicked roads. Unable to get his own radio to work, he keyed Halfhill's telemic and advised responding units that the suspect was down and the situation had stabilized.

 

Blunt Trauma

A confluence of individuals descended upon the backyard, and Weber's primary concern became one of crime scene containment. He'd successfully fended off entries by Johnson's distraught babysitter and a couple of reserve deputies when two of Weber's peers, Officer John Reynolds and Dep. Kyle Reed, arrived on scene.

"Are you hit?" they asked.

"Yeah, I'm hit, but I'm fine."

Reynolds asked, "Did it go through?"

It never occurred to Weber that the shotgun pellets might have penetrated his vest. He knew his stomach hurt, but still had no clue how badly he'd been injured.

Reynolds and Reed started tearing Weber's uniform off, yanking away at buttons and belt keepers. Weber tried to calm the men down, but was stopped by Reynolds as he started to pull his vest up.

"No," Reynolds said, pulling the vest back down. "You're OK."

Belying his confident tone, Reynolds instantly got on the radio: "Get an ambulance here now. We've got an officer hit."

Weber was incredulous at Reynolds' request—he was sure that he hadn't been seriously injured. Then, pulling his vest up, he saw a spot about the size of a softball that appeared to be blood and tissue.

Reynolds and Johnson hurriedly walked Weber out of the backyard and toward his unit. He told them to stop, threw his gloves back in the car, then grabbed his can of chew and took a drink of water.

Weber gave the on-scene supervisor Sgt. Jason Settle an overview of the shooting, then allowed himself to be placed into an ambulance where they stripped off his vest. Spent shotgun pellets cascaded to the floor. Only then did Weber see that what looked like raw hamburger on his abdomen had been caused by the combing effect of the vest. Realizing things weren't as bad as they initially looked, Weber started to calm down.

But with the growing calm came a dissipation of adrenaline, and with a mouthful of chew, nausea swept over him.

Equipment and Training

Treatment of Weber's injuries was largely a matter of convincing the emergency room physician to quit poking at his pulped stomach and let the bruise heal with time.

As for Johnson, his misspent life ended as it'd been lived—badly.

Ironically, Johnson had resisted celebrating the New Year in the first place. "Whenever we go out to drink, bad stuff happens," he'd warned his wife, Dana. It proved no exception when she stoked the fires of his jealousy at the Digger's bar, one of the bars that Weber had checked out in the hours preceding Johnson's attempt to run over his best friend. Though mortally wounded by Weber's 165-grain Golden Sabre round, the man expedited his death with the shotgun.

As for the vest that saved Weber's life, Great Bend Police Chief Dean Akings had recently obtained a grant to purchase Protective Products Level III vests for his officers. Weber is appreciative as he believes that the previous generation of vest would have blocked only half of the pellets fired at him. Weber had further hedged his bet by making sure that the vest was tailored to be extra long with wrap-around protection, as well.

Thinking back on the incident, Weber says that he's sure his training helped save his life, both in helping him physically adapt to the situation and mentally adjust to it.

"I had just gone through Ron Kelly's Officer Survival training. I knew much more going into the shooting than I would have otherwise—things that helped keep me calm, such as knowing that only 10 percent of gunshots are fatal. The controlled breathing techniques helped, too. I slowed down my respiration, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, and got myself slowed down really fast."

Weber's sole concern in the shooting's aftermath was that his wife might succeed where Johnson had failed.

"I was sure that my wife was going to kill me. I'd promised her that I'd never get shot, and then I did!"

Thankfully, Weber's wife spared him, and he and Emil Halfhill were awarded his department's Medal of Valor.

Tags: Shots Fired


Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

dawes717 @ 3/10/2009 10:51 AM

This a very inspiring story even for a 25 yr. vet. Thanks for sharing it.

cmorgan @ 3/27/2009 1:47 AM

i just would like everyone to know that what james johnson did i am not condoning but the one thing i would like for you too know that he was a great dad to his twins and a good husband to his wife. i was friends with his wife before i ever knew him, and i had a short opportunity to see the love he had for his kids. its too bad that this one night makes the opinion that people have for him. People that read this article or ones that happened to be involved in this night have not a clue on who he was, there is no perfect person. we all have our habits,flaws,sins, addictions...and so on... Hey we even have cops getting busted for things in their personal life and work area....i just wish you had the chance to see the side of him thats not mentioned in this story....perhaps the cop should of viewed the situation better and saw what mantality level he was dealing with at he time and perhaps went about it a different way...maybe he would be alive too...i think he thought he might of killed his best friend and didn't want to go to prison. i mean the police force is smart right so why didnt they use a little negotiating, like over the phone or through his family...not just showing up on somebodys back door of a man that just ran over their best friend...yes i know he took his own life and there is now two little kids left without their dad a widow that has lost her best friend...i guess we cant turn back time only deal with the current and learn from the past....GOD BLESS.......

detmeyer @ 4/14/2009 6:44 PM

cmorgan,

When a suspect's vehicle has just been spotted after a reported hit-and-run, it is imperative for police to immediately approach the area to preserve evidence, and unrealistic to try to contact the suspect via phone or through family. If they hadn't responded to preserve the evidence and arrest a dangerous man (he just hit someone) secure the truck, they would have been criticized for that.

Second, the responding officer heard screams from the house which demands an immediate response, just like you would want police to respond to your screams.

Third, having heard screams and seeing a man with a shotgun, the officer attempted to negociate when he told the suspect to drop the gun, but the suspect chose to raise it instead causing himself to get shot. The cop "viewed the situation" perfectly.

How perfect Johnson or individual police are is not relevant here. If you begin point a firearm at a cop, expect him to shoot you, not wait until it's point blank.

skinni99 @ 6/1/2009 2:49 PM

I don't know your experience level or what type of detail you work cmorgan and I don't mean to belittle you, but I don't know what much of your comment has to do with the story at hand. The fact that Johnson was a loving husband and good dad has nothing whatsoever to do with his actions the night he decided to point a shotgun at Officer Weber. "Perhaps the cop should of viewed the situation better and saw what mantality level he was dealing with at he time and perhaps went about it a different way...maybe he would be alive too." That was your statement? I think that given the story I just read, Officer Webber negotiated no more or little than he should have. If someone is holding a gun I tell them to put the gun down.

If they decide to raise it or point it even remotely in my direction I will shoot them!!! I would hope that you would think about this incident from an objective perspective instead of emotional due to your relationship with Johnson's family. I would never pass judgment on Johnson and say he was a bad person, father, or husband as a whole. I would agree that he made a very bad decision that night and he payed the consequences.

Again I apologize if I sound confrontational, but I have been in situations where lives were taken and someone who wasn't there monday morning quarterbacks it later. If you are the one who pulls that trigger or takes a life it is very rough to deal with. The last thing you need is to hear that your actions should or could have been different to keep the life preserved. We are all trained to go home at the end of the night. I am a good father and husband too. If my actions would have been that of Johnson, I would expect nothing less from a peace officer.

cmorgan @ 10/6/2011 12:09 AM

would like for all to know that Mr. Emil Halfhill has lost his job on the GBPD for his crooked ways.

CandaceHalfhill @ 1/2/2012 10:36 PM

I would like for everyone to know that cmorgan's statement above is false and that my husband did not lose his job on the GBPD for any crooked ways. However he did resign from the GBPD when he was offered a job with another department and is now a SGT. cmorgan needs to check some facts before posting false statements about anybody.

shawna @ 9/8/2013 12:09 AM

I do not know how I'm just now seeing this and after all this time I'm sure that nobody will even read this, but there are some things I feel obligated to share.I have been best friends with johnsons wife for many yrs...and grew up with jimbob. Yes we BOTH came from the wrong side of the tracks but I would very offended to be judged for that, I graduated High School, went to college, am a hard worker spotless record and have always put my child first. I am not here to degrade officer Weber in any way, far as I know he is a decent man who almost lost his life in the line of duty. I do strongly agree with the comments already made about what an outstanding, loving, loyal father, husband, and friend JimBob was and how he had come a very long way from the boy who was "well-known by the police" His love, Dana, and their babies changed him. And nobody can even fathom how this has affected them, because regardless of what anyone says or thinks about her, she is the best friend I could ever ask for and the most devoted mother, and has a heart of gold, and this night has haunted her and always will. "Methhead build" ??? Really? Idk what that means exactly, but I know he was not on meth, neither of them were! He waas always tall and thin. Also the best friend that he "intentionally" ran over held no hard feelings and n fact helped carry his body to his final resting place at the service, kinda hard to do w a broken leg eh? Yes he was injured, but ill never believe it was intentional as much as upset and not thinking clearly. And I agree with the comment above, I know that he thought he killed his best friend, I also know he was crying when the cops showed up, thinking he killed his friend. RIP jimbob u r loved and missed! And to officer Weber I'm sincerely sorry u were injured as well. Thank God u are ok. God Bless

tomie jean @ 3/14/2014 11:35 AM

I am jimbobs oldest daughter and had never read this report before I also had never go answers from anybody about my dad I was only 8 when he died and am 15 years old now I didn't really know my dad that much but from what I did know he was a great guy the drugs did also get to him but everybody has mistakes my dad was very scared and I could only imagine and for officer weber that man is a great guy and is never there to harm he was only doing his job for the ones who only think about dana and the twins I was tramatized myself dana helped cause that situation and now I lost my father.....

tomie @ 4/1/2014 12:48 PM

skinni99 you should probably not be posting on this its very bias and that man was a father to 3 u don't know nothing about him in which don't talk about him when he is not here to defend himself I understand he wasn't thinking that night but I will defend that man to the end of my time he is my father and I will not listen to u dog on him u aint perfect your self in which don't judge others !

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