The Wrong Place
There was an additional complication. Instead of patrol officers being sent to the "Fireside Lounge," the call's location went out as the "Fireside Inn." The call described a man threatening patrons.
It was now past 6 p.m. The registration desk for the inn closed at five and after-hours registration was handled at the liquor store. So it made sense to Dees that the man had actually made his way to the liquor store. This dispatching mix-up would prove significant in the moments that followed.
Knowing of the inner connecting door between the bar and the liquor store, Dees had intended to make his way through the bar to secure the common door so as to isolate the problem presumed to be on the other side.
But what he did not know was that fellow officer Jim Johns had already contacted reserve officer Kathie Bradley inside the liquor store and advised her of the situation. Officer Johns quickly figured out that the suspect was actually inside the bar and advised of such over the radio. This transmission was followed by another officer's advisement that Officer Dees was already inside the bar.
Everybody was on the same page-everyone except for Dees. As he walked into the back of the bar with his gun drawn, he felt a momentary sense of beguiling peace. The ambient mix of jukebox music and overlapping conversations in the smoky low-rent room suggested that everything was as it should be. But Dees was about to find out the suspect's current whereabouts the hard way.
As Dees neared the bartender, the man hocked his thumb in the direction of a man at the opposite end of the bar. Almost as an afterthought, the bartender informed Dees, "That's him. That's the guy with the gun."
Dees and Hastings spotted each other almost simultaneously. Hastings, who had been holding a female patron by the neck, apparently decided he couldn't wait for Agent Spencer and raised the stolen Beretta in Dees' direction.
But as Hastings' arm rose, so did the Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver that Dees had removed from his holster prior to entering the bar. Dees fired a reflexive, one-handed grip shot. The 125-grain round did its job. In a split second, blood splattered the man's face, and he immediately fell out of view.
For a split-second, a thought ran through Dees' mind: I just shot a man! This thought was followed almost as quickly by another: Good shooting-in every sense of the term.
With his mind focused, Dees rounded the bar, his gun covering the man. Hastings was face down on his stomach. Dees looked for the Beretta. Nothing. Officer Kim Gibson approached, rolled Hastings over, then recovered the gun from the ground where it'd landed beneath the man. Dees noted a speckled pattern on Hastings' shirt. At first, he thought it was where the bullet had struck the suspect.
It wasn't until much later that the officer who accompanied Hastings to the hospital told him that Dees' round had caught Hastings' left hand as he'd braced for a two-handed shot at Dees. The round had shattered the man's wrists, sending shards of bone into the man's face and chest.
Later, Dees was interviewed by investigating detectives. They repeatedly asked if he had said anything to the suspect before firing the shot. He was adamant that he had not. He was advised that seven witnesses reported that Dees had yelled at Hastings twice to "Drop it!" before firing a shot.
As for Hastings, the man recovered from his wounds, was sentenced to 10 years, paroled, re-arrested a couple of times, then termed out.
As Dees reflects back on the shooting, two things immediately come to mind. The first was that his visual acuity was dialed in. A sudden adrenaline-pump had dilated his pupils, allowing him to see everything he needed to see in that split-second. The other was that what he would've expected to sound like a cannon sounded like little more than a pop. There was no immediate aftermath of a ringing sensation in his ears.
Dees was thankful for something else. Only a month before, he'd attended a Street Survival seminar. While there, instructors had driven home the point that if an officer anticipates the need of a firearm, he should have it drawn and ready before the need becomes apparent. Dees believes this is what ultimately saved his life.
Editor's Note: Retired Reno PD officer Tim Dees is a frequent contributor to POLICE Magazine.