St. Louis PD Officers Duane Hollinshed (left) and Matthew Simpson received the Medal of Valor for their actions.
As six-year veterans of the St. Louis Police Department, Matthew Simpson and Duane Hollinshed were more than partners, they were friends. Graduating only an academy class behind Simpson, Hollinshed had worked with Simpson on patrol prior to their being selected to an impact team.
The streets had become as familiar to them as one another's work habits, and they were at least comfortable with the latter. Together, they'd formed a formidable team, taking bad guys to jail, having fun, and making a difference in the community.
Shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, 2007, the two officers were cruising on Kings Highway in their unwrapped Chevy Uplander when their attention was drawn to a green Ford Taurus, or rather the manner in which it was parked. It looked as though someone had rammed the vehicle into a lightpost at the curb and abandoned it. The scene was just familiar enough for the two to share the same thought: Abandoned stolen.
That was when they saw two young black males, one following the other as they rounded the Taurus before suddenly darting across Kings Highway. Hollinshed began to pull forward when Simpson said, "Wait a minute. Let's see where they're going."
Wherever the two men were going, it was not together, not if the lead man had anything to say about it.
For as the two ran through an empty parking lot making a beeline toward a side street just west of the officers' location, the second man suddenly pulled a gun out of his waistband and began firing at the first.
The gunfire seemed to give its target a fresh burst of energy and for a second it appeared Usain Bolt's world record in the 100-meter dash would be in jeopardy. But fate conspired against the sprinter, and as he made a quick right around a storage bin his shoes lost traction. He stumbled, planted one hand against the ground, then bounced up before disappearing behind the storage unit.
The man's inspired athleticism did little to impress his pursuer, who continued his pursuit across Kings Highway.
As the men neared them, Hollinshed pulled up to the intersection and Simpson yelled out his passenger window for the shooter to stop.
Kendrick Alexander, a 17-year-old member of the 41 Delmar Mob gang, complied, spinning and opening fire on the two officers with his 9mm pistol.
The Rock and The Hard Place
Officer Simpson aimed his 92F Beretta at Alexander. Unfortunately, rush hour conditions and the risk of striking any pedestrians or motorists occupying one of the busiest intersections in St. Louis precluded his taking a shot.
Doubling back on the same side of the street that he'd started running on, Alexander's stride propelled him onto the sidewalk. Simpson realized that he now had a clear shot at the shooter. Simpson's Beretta tracked the suspect as Alexander profiled himself to the officers' van. Before the suspect could get off another round, Simpson squeezed the trigger.
The first round was perhaps more suppressive than anything else and he missed. Simpson adjusted his sights. Everything else fell into place. He'd practiced enough at the range and had studied enough about the kinesthetics of an officer-involved shooting to anticipate any of the physiological responses attendant to so many of them.
But there was no speeding up or slowing down, only adrenaline-enhanced focus as his front sights picked up Alexander. He squeezed off four more rounds, each coming in quick succession of its predecessor. The young man stumbled, pitched forward, then collapsed.
Just because Simpson was familiar with these streets didn't necessarily make him comfortable with them. If anything, his knowledge of some of their less desirable elements gave him even greater pause than normal to consider turning his back on the gathering throng about him. Still, he looked at the man lying in the street and saw him take his last breath. He checked for a pulse. Nothing. What was he supposed to do? Just let the man die? Not an option.
As Simpson bent over to perform CPR on the man who'd tried to kill them, Hollinshed had his partner's back, telling others to back away, the Beretta at his side leaving no doubt as to the sincerity or legitimacy of his request.
Any possible associates of the suspect had left long before the investigation team arrived, leaving nothing but the law abiding citizens to give their accounts of what happened. The deceased was known as a very violent person. At the time of his death, he had been under investigation for a couple of other murders and other investigations. He was not only disliked, but feared in the neighborhood.
Alexander was transported to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and died in surgery. The man he'd been chasing escaped without injury.
Hollinshed said he knew he was in no position to engage the suspect and the best he could do was to place his partner and himself in an optimal position to afford Simpson both a shot at the suspect and an engine block for protection.
As any officer whose partner has put him in the "kill zone" can attest, the consideration was appreciated.
"Whenever you have a partner, you have to have a rapport and understand what the other person is going to do without having to communicate it all the time," notes Simpson. "It was definitely a huge and important role. I said, 'Oh shit, he's shooting.' I almost kind of chuckled. It surprised us because we thought they were together. Beyond that I don't think we said more than three or four words to one another. We simply functioned independently as a team. Duane (Hollinshed) knew the car could be a weapon or their escape and that my responsibility was to shoot. We didn't have to discuss anything. We knew what each of our respective responsibilities was going to be in this incident.
"When the suspect began shooting at us," Simpson continues, "It was the manner in which Duane drove the car which kept us from getting shot. Luckily I was able to get off five rounds quickly, as the suspect was in full sprint. The way Duane positioned the car made all the difference. As far as I'm concerned, it kept us from getting killed."
For his part, Simpson says he responded as he would have wanted to, and did what he'd been trained to do.
"I had to put one in his direction so he would stop shooting at us," Simpson reflects. "The second round was on the sights, but I knew right when I squeezed the trigger that he had just passed it so I knew I was going to miss him. The next three hit him."
No Tunnel Vision
One thing Simpson had to be very aware of during the gunfight was the positioning of innocent bystanders. He couldn't just obsess on taking down the shooter.
"I always critique myself when I do police work. When I'm chasing a guy with a gun or whatever I might be doing, I always make sure that I stay perfectly calm. It's not to toot our horns, but you always want to try to remain of sound judgment. You pay attention to what's going on.
"I didn't have a single bit of tunnel vision while this was going on. I could still see the people even when I was laying on the sights. I could still see from left to right, the people to the right by the check cashing place, a guy ducking down by a Pontiac Grand Prix that was illegally parked in front of the alley, I saw the cars stopped in front of the intersection on Page, another vehicle that was to our left made a quick left to get away.
"I saw all this while I was shooting. I'm proud of that. I'm proud that I was able to do that. I come from a long line of policemen. I'm sixth generation myself. I had the good fortune of learning from my dad and my grandfather learning how to act."
Beyond familial influences, Simpson went out of his way to become a proficient shot.
"I'm an excellent shooter, particularly fast shooting," he says. "I never shoot slow. I always shoot fast. I train like I'm in a gunfight, if that makes sense. So I'm not really concerned with shooting 300. But I think of myself as a good shooter. I don't care if I can put a quarter in the middle of a circle. I know I can."
Not that everyone is enamored of Simpson's approach to shooting.
"Whenever I go to the range to shoot, the guy always runs up to me and tells me to slow down," he admits. "I'm always the first one to pull out, the first one to shoot, the first one done, but I shoot just as high as everyone else. My rounds don't look as pretty—I don't have this pretty round little circle—but it's all in the five. My personal preference is to always shoot as if I'm in that moment even when I'm in firearms training. I get very serious. When I draw I try to shoot as quickly and accurately as possible."
Still, Simpson is convinced that his shooting philosophy gave him a sense of self-assurance during the incident and therefore the upper hand.
"He ducked that first round when he was crossing the street, but I knew I couldn't shoot back at him at that very moment. I'm confident in my shooting, but he was running and I might miss. The odds are that you might miss at a moving target, especially when he's at a full sprint. I didn't want to take a chance of hitting anybody. So I had to wait a moment to wait for him to get to that curb."
Ironically, the pistol Kendrick Alexander used to fire upon the officers had itself once been owned by a cop. But that officer had passed away years before, and how his firearm found its way into the young man's hands continues to be a subject of speculation, one of the more plausible being that the officer's lack of loved ones had found independent contractors cleaning out his belongings and appropriating the gun unto themselves.
For their heroic actions that October day, Officers Holinshed and Simpson were awarded their city's Medal of Valor. They both continue to work on the police department protecting the citizens of St. Louis.