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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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