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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Palm Desert, California 03•30•1996

A quiet shopping trip ended in a furious gun battle when Dep. Jason Hendrix tried to stop an angry man from killing several hostages.

November 19, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

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Playing Dead

Thirty feet away and closing, Ripley continued to fire at Hendrix. The officer could actually see the rounds exiting Ripley's firearm, peppering the asphalt around him. In a bid to protect vital body parts, Hendrix curled up into a fetal position wrapping his arms around his head. Another bullet tore into him, entering his left inner thigh before traversing through his pelvic girdle and out his left hip. Still another round shattered his right cheek.

Suddenly, Ripley was right on top of him. Hendrix began to beg and plead with Ripley to please stop shooting him. He told the man that he could go. There was no filter, no false macho bullshit, just a desperate effort to say and do anything that might mitigate his fate. He started to cry, and told Ripley that he wouldn't tell on him. He told him he had a family. He told him that it hurt-all in a desperate hope that some part of the man's humanity might assert itself.

Ripley wasn't having any of it. When he did stop firing, it was only to walk over and pick up the officer's handgun off the ground. Then he bent over Hendrix with his own firearm and put it to Hendrix's head.

Realizing the cold-blooded bastard was going to execute him, Hendrix raised his arm to cover his face just as Ripley fired. The bullet tore into Hendrix's right elbow and lodged therein.

The pain was beyond excruciating and Hendrix wanted to scream, but he knew that his only chance was to play dead and hope that Ripley decided against an insurance round.

Apparently satisfied that the round had passed through Hendrix's elbow and into his brain, Ripley walked back to his estranged wife and grabbed her, then hobbled toward his car.

That was when an unarmed off-duty highway patrol officer tackled him. A store employee jumped in to assist, and the two men held Ripley for responding officers.

Get Me to the Hospital

"This is not how I'm going out," Hendrix said to himself through teeth clenched in pain.

He lay on the ground, blood pouring from 13 holes in his body. He'd been shot seven times; most had been though-and-through wounds.

He tried to get up, but couldn't. His leg hung off to the side. He began yelling, telling people he was a cop and to get him an ambulance. It appeared as though everybody was in shock, but him.

"I looked up and saw my fiancée in the glass doors looking out at me," Hendrix recalls. "I laid my head back down and couldn't believe that I had just done that to her. I was frustrated and upset with myself."

A woman rushed out of the store for Hendrix. An off-duty trauma nurse from a nearby hospital, she immediately applied tourniquets to the serious injuries to his leg and arm. He was bleeding from his head, and internally, as well.

"An indescribable pain was starting to set in, mostly in the stomach," Hendrix says. "I never felt anything like it. I couldn't move to make it go away, so when the pain hit every 30 seconds, I focused on my breathing. By breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth and trying to keep my heart rate lower when the pain hit, I was able to make it bearable."

The first officer arrived on scene and advised over his radio that he was with an off-duty San Bernardino deputy who had been shot multiple times.

"When I heard that," recalls Hendrix, "it made it all real for me."

"I knew it had happened, but now I'm sitting there listening to one of my brothers putting it out over the air that I was the officer that was down. I knew it was bad at that point. My fiancée had come out and was crying. I knew I was dying, but I didn't want to do it right there in front of her. I hoped they could load me up and get me to the hospital quickly. I was getting really tired, extremely tired, and I just wanted to go to sleep because I had lost so much blood. I started to get angry and I said to myself, 'This is not going to happen here. I'm not going to die here on the asphalt in front of her, in front of everybody. This is not how I'm going out.' I started to make demands, 'Let's hurry up. Let's get me to the hospital.'"

What Hendrix was doing was trying to maintain some sort of control over both the situation and himself. He knew he had to keep himself engaged and aware of what was going on to keep himself from going into shock.

It helped.

"They loaded me up for the 30-minute ride to the hospital-made longer because of the spring break commuters-then moved me straight into surgery. The doctors saved my life."

Ripley ended up surviving, as well, and was sentenced to 32 years, of which he has to serve 28 years.

Teaching Tactics

Today, Hendrix routinely shares his experience that day with academy cadets, as well as his feelings on what things he would have done differently.

"I was carrying a five-shot revolver," Hendrix says. "None of the trainees that I have spoken to will carry one of those as their primary off-duty weapon. Five shots is simply not enough."

Hendrix also explains to new recruits the difference between shooting on a range and shooting to save your own life.

"I'm shooting five shots, and people think that it's easy to place those rounds where you want them. But when you're taking fire-and worse, when your body's taking rounds-you're putting yourself behind the eight ball the moment you engage with a limited number of low velocity rounds and your suspect isn't so hamstrung. You need to carry a larger caliber firearm with greater round capacity.

"I hit the suspect four out of five shots, and I think that's very good after being hit as many times as I was and returning fire while he was shooting at me and from a distance of 31 feet. But a larger caliber gun, with its longer barrel and better sights, also allows for greater accuracy."

Hendrix has only one other regret-not taking advantage of cover sooner.

"I should have been behind that pillar as soon as possible," he says.

Nonetheless, Hendrix's heroic actions brought a lot of positive recognition for law enforcement because of the outcome and the circumstances. He was chosen as Officer of the Year for the entire United States, the Police Hall of Fame. He also received the Frank Bland Medal of Valor, the highest medal of valor that one person can receive from his department. And the Hall of Fame awarded him a silver star and a purple heart.

He also continues to serve the citizens of San Bernardino County.

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Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

skinni99 @ 11/22/2009 3:06 PM

This was a great story. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with and know Cpl. Jason Hendrix. He is the definition of a Hero if you ask me. He did what I hope any law enforcement officer would do if a family member of mine happened to be faced with a maniac like that. I think he brings avery good question to light... how many rounds does your off duty hold?

Officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden Police Department was faced with a similar situation in 2007. If I remember correctly he had an 8 round 1911. We are living in a violent world these days. You should never tell yourself, "it will never happen to me..." instead ask yourself, "will I be ready for war when my time comes?" Because it will!!!

inthe10ring @ 11/23/2009 5:06 PM

Gun fights can/do happen so quickly, and it may not be fair to take a 20/20 stance by an armchair non-participant, but without a doubt Officer Hendrix has my deepest admiration. Firepower is of course important in a fire fight, but shot placement may have been a key factor that was not discussed fully in the article. Law enforcement is typically trained to shoot to "center of mass" (what ever that may be at the time), but in a hostage situation, with a firearm in the felon's hand, shot placement is paramount! Again, I speak as an observer and after the fact, but a head shot by Officer Hendrix may have resulted in an immediate end to Ripleys calous actions. You have to turn of the computer - immedaitely! Going for cover was mentioned, and is wise planning, but training and more training is mandatory becasue on the street you are only 40% as good as your are on the range. Four out of five is "admirable" Officer Hendrix, but were they in vital areas that would bring an immediate ceasation of the hostilities? More traning, and more training . . . it is the only answer. More lead down the pipe is nice, but those rounds have to count - especially with a dedicated (or crased) opponent like Ripley! Thank you Officer Hendrix, for your willingness to put yourself in the line of fire in such a desparate situation. My hat is off to you, and all those like you, who serve our communities in such difficult times.

Namdray @ 11/24/2009 6:40 AM

Great story, but I'm confused. How did Ripley shoot Hendrix with his own gun if Hendrix had already emptied it?

jshendrix56 @ 11/25/2009 4:07 PM

Outstanding article by Dean Scoville. That is a day I will never forget. I certainly appreciate the constructive criticism. I stress all of those points during my officer survival courses. Cover, weapon, round capacity and shot placement are all key factors. A head would have been great...The shootout started from 15 feet and ended at 31 feet. I had extensive training with the weapon I was carrying...yes, was carrying...I no longer carry that weapon as an off-duty for obvious reasons. I tried to reduce the risk of hitting the female hostage, but after taking mulitple rounds, it was all I could do to just point the weapon at him and hit him. I had a whole in the side of my head, I wore glasses at the time and they were mangled from the head shot I took. I had blood in my eyes and it was really a bad day! LOL I can laugh about it now as most cops do..our sick sense of cop humor. Excellent point "inthe10ring". I don't think for a minute that it is armchair's reality and the only way we learn is from incidents like these and training training training!! 3 of my shots were potentially leathal rounds and struck vital organs, but even a properly placed shot in a vital organ does not always incapacitate the suspect...unless we are talking about the spinal column or the motor center..."Computer" as it was described. Dead on points, no punn intended!

I will check back periodically to see if there are other insightful comments like the previous and would be happy to help in anyway I can. gun was empty...he attempted to excecute me with his weapon. Maybe you misread the article. He was using a glock 17. He was attempting to make it to his vehicle where he had a .380, a .45 and an AK47 with 90 rounds loaded into 3 30rd mags. He was there to do some damage!

Thanks again to Dean! Great Job

jshendrix56 @ 11/25/2009 6:56 PM

Sorry about my misspelling in my previous post...I was in a hurry to finish comment before the end of my shift. I meant "Headshot" and it was a "Hole" in my head, not a "Whole"...Maybe it's all the lead poisoning!

One a perfect world, where targets don't shoot back or when they do, they aren't very accurate, it is easy to place shots where we want them. However, as we all know, we live in the real world...suspects do shoot back and they do hit us...certainly makes it more difficult to place accurate, effective shots. I constantly train with speed drills and point shooting. There is really no such thing as front sight when we are that close and taking rounds...which is why point shooting is a very important skill to learn. Please do not think I do not advocate using sights, because they are very important. These are all skills we must master in order to survive in the real world. I was involved in 3 other shootings where 2 of them were point shooting. Each time I went home. I am currently assigned to our Dept.'s Firearms Range as a Firearms Instructor/Defensive Tactics Instructor and I constantly stress the points brought up in the posts as well as my training and experiences. I hope all of this helps. Happy Thanksgiving!

codethirty @ 1/14/2010 10:00 PM

Dep. Hendrix,

I first heard about this harrowing event from a SBCSD deputy during a recent CCW renewal class. Now a civilian, I was once a LEO for a small PD located in LA County. While only portions of this story were shared with the class, I felt compelled to register here to read the complete account. I can tell you that the entire class was completely riveted as the story unfolded and the details emerged. I think each one of us thought about facing such a life-or-death situation and how we would react. I'm glad your extensive injuries haven't kept you from doing what you treasure - being a peace officer and sharing your valuable experience with new deputy sheriff recruits. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to hear your story, for your unselfish actions that day, and the important work you continue to do for the SBCSD.


A Grateful Citizen

Armed Citizen @ 11/28/2011 10:17 PM

Man o man i wish you had a Beretta 84 on you with 14 rounds of Golden Sabres.

Marty Cutshall @ 4/5/2014 1:07 PM

I was an employee there and was the first to attend to Jason after the suspect shot Jason. I followed Jason out when the gunfire erupted. I could not believe the suspect went up to Jason and started firing at point blank range, while Jason lay in the ground, seriously wounded. After the suspect left Jason, I carefully ran out to assist Jason and he told me to tell his fiancee that he was ok. An off duty nurse came behind me to help Jason. I then followed the suspect as other officers and I tackled him and stopped the deranged person. I use to be a police officer in Oregon, and my training kicked in when the incident began. A few years later, Jason came into the store and came to see and thank us for helping him. It was great to see him again. Jason was certainly the hero for the day and I am glad that he is still working as a deputy sheriff. Blessings to you, Jason.

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