Parked abreast of one another, Officers Mike Soden and Jefferson Davis were commiserating through their open driver's windows with Davis' radio car partner, Art'z Watkins.
It was well past midnight on Nov. 6, 2006, and things had been agreeably quiet for the trio of Prince George's County, Md., officers with nothing portending otherwise in the cold early morning hours. But then the radio frequency came alive with a call being dispatched: A residential robbery in the 800 block of 48th Avenue in College Park.
The three officers looked at one another, each knowing they were only a minute and a half out.
As the officers' cars rolled away in tandem, dispatch relayed additional information. The informant had been in the house when the suspects entered through a back door. Having somehow succeeded in exiting the house without detection, the informant had dialed 911 on his cellular phone to advise that multiple armed suspects were holding his friends and family hostage inside his home.
Young, energetic, and experienced, Soden, Davis, and Watkins were not only co-workers, but friends, having worked with and around one another long enough to have faith in their collective abilities to handle just about anything tossed their way.
Making a Plan
As they drew nearer their destination, they shut down their sirens well before coming in audio range of their destination. And they made a quick plan of action.
Having worked the area previously, Soden knew the lay of the land as well as the house in question. He directed Davis and Watkins to approach the rear of the location on foot and take up containment positions while he covered the front.
Some 20 feet diagonally from the rear sliding glass door of the house stood a large tree. It was there that Davis and Watkins took cover. The vantage point gave them a clear view of anyone who might exit the rear sliding glass door as well as concealment, courtesy of a hedgerow.
Cries and Threats
Finding nothing amiss to the front of the house – all activity sounded like it was emanating from its rear – Soden opted for a tactical concession: He moved around the side of the dwelling toward the corner of the house nearest Davis and Watkins.
It was not a decision Soden made lightly, for he knew it would be up to arriving officers to resume containment on the front. But he also knew that he and his fellow officers were dealing with multiple suspects (though not how many) whose propensity for violence was becoming readily apparent given the threats and cries coming from within. If things went south, Soden didn't want to be caught in a crossfire with Davis and Watkins. The way he saw it, they'd fare that much better working in concert with one another if things escalated.
Soden's decision was reinforced as he made his way alongside of the house and the voices coming from a basement window grew louder and more distinct.
"Where's the f____g safe?" one demanded. "Where's the drugs?"
So that's what this is: a dope rip-off, Soden thought.
Soden had no sooner advised dispatch of an active crime at the location and requested K-9 and additional backup than the yelling was eclipsed by desperate screams-the sounds of a male inside being pistol whipped.
Whatever patience the suspects might have possessed was long gone and things were getting ratcheted up a notch. But just when Soden thought rounds might start getting capped, an incongruous and eerie silence settled upon the house.
A Mad Dash
The stillness was not unlike that of "animals" discovered in the act of trespass-which pretty much sized up the situation. The only questions were: Had the animals somehow become aware of the officers' presence, and if so, what were they going to do about it.
Assuming the suspects were on to them, Soden handicapped their next likely course of action. Unless it went barricade, they'd probably opt for a dash out of the house. Making a beeline straight out the back seemed unlikely. If the suspects knew anything about the area, they'd know that nothing lay in that direction but hedgerows and US Route 1 beyond.
Despite the absence of anything readily identifiable as a getaway car to the front of the house, Soden was inclined to bet that they'd make an end run around the rear of the house and back toward the front-toward him.
His suspicions proved to be well founded.
Suddenly, a suspect rushed out the rear sliding glass door, his movement activating a motion detector light located directly in front of Davis and Watkins and momentarily blinding the officers.
The man had moved so quickly that neither Davis nor Watkins was able to get a command out before the man had closed the gap between himself and Soden. Neither the officer nor the suspect appeared to have been prepared to find themselves face-to-face.
It was then that Soden's vision kicked back in. And the man's cold eyes told Soden everything he needed to know. There wasn't going to be any discussion.
Officer and suspect raised their guns simultaneously. Later, Soden wouldn't be able to tell who fired first, only that the 9mm rounds he double-tapped from his Beretta 92FS were as much a defense as an attack.
Falling backward and away from the incoming rounds, Soden tripped and fell. His back seared with pain.
As he recovered his balance, there was a blip in Soden's visual cortex. The suspect was gone. Soden's mind seemed to be working in shutter progression, his brain filling in the blanks of what wasn't registering in his visual memory even as it dealt with the pain in his back. Had he been shot?
Jefferson Davis certainly thought so. Seeing Soden fall backward, Davis hesitated to engage Soden's attacker for fear that one of his rounds might possibly strike the fallen Soden. Just then, the suspect retreated back into the rear yard, engaging Davis and Watkins as he ran. Freed from the distraction of possibly hitting their partner, both officers returned fire even as another suspect ran out the back door, firing at them as well.