Nightclubs and malls in the Jacksonville area routinely hire off-duty officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for security details. As both officer and agency receive payment, it's a win-win for both in these economically constrained times.
So it came to be that Det. Jared Reston and his partner, Chris Brown, were working security on the evening of Jan. 26, 2008.
The two were sitting in a mall security office when loss prevention officers inside the mall contacted their home base via radio. The loss prevention officers advised that they were about to detain two shoplifting suspects they'd been surveilling just outside the south doors of the mall.
A security supervisor activated a camera monitoring the site of the detention, and Reston and Brown observed the action taking place on the security screen. They watched as a white male and a black male exited the store and were contacted by the loss prevention officers. As soon as loss prevention personnel laid their hands on the white male, a fight broke out.
Darting out of the office, Reston and Brown ran to the location of the fight. The loss prevention personnel had succeeded in getting the white male into custody and were escorting him back inside the mall when they arrived. Indicating the black male, now 50 yards away, the loss prevention crew said that they believed he had stolen something, as well, and asked the officers to detain him.
At the sight of the loss prevention officers pointing toward him, the black male, Joel Abner, 18, ran. Reston and Brown pursued.
Abner dashed across a six-lane expressway of Arlington. Playing dodge car with Saturday evening commuter traffic wasn't the officers' idea of fun, but it was what it was and as Abner continued to another shopping center parking lot, the officers angled through the parking lot to cut him off.
Brown put out their direction of travel over a portable radio. Abner veered right and sprinted along the sidewalk on Atlantic Boulevard. To blend in with the pedestrian crowd, he slowed to a walk.
But Reston wasn't fooled and closed the gap. As Abner's black hooded sweatshirt rounded a corner, Reston drew his TASER and pulled up short of the corner. Slicing the pie, he spotted Abner just as the suspect turned and saw him.
Reston identified himself as a police officer and suggested that it might be in Abner's best interests to stop running.
Abner turned to face Reston and, in an act of seeming compliance, raised his hands in the air. However, Abner continued to walk backward and once he'd succeeded in putting some more distance between himself and Reston, suddenly turned and started to run again.
Reston resumed his pursuit, TASER still in hand. By the time they were in the 9400 block of Atlantic Boulevard, Reston had not only put some distance between his partner and himself but closed the gap with Abner. He yelled a warning of his intent to deploy the TASER, but according to Reston he found the weapon inoperable and reholstered it.
By now officer and suspect were at the top embankment of a four-foot-deep dry retention pond. Knowing that he was going to have to go hands on with the suspect, Reston grabbed Abner's hoodie from behind and yanked him toward the ground.
But at 5 feet 10 inches, 210 pounds, Abner had a lower center of gravity than the 6-foot-3-inch Reston and spun around, breaking the detective's grip and punching Reston.
Reston clinched the young man, pulling the suspect's head close to his body and delivering several hard knee strikes to Abner's thigh.
But just as he prepared to take the suspect to the ground, Reston felt something that he'd never felt before.
Knocked for a Loop
For a split second, Reston's field of vision filled with exploding stars. The officer had been in his fair share of fights before, but never had he been knocked for such a disorienting loop as this. As he fell and rolled down the embankment, he knew that something had gone terribly wrong: His jaw collapsed upon itself and he realized that his teeth had canted 45 degrees and were lying sideways in his mouth.
Coming to rest at the foot of the embankment, a stunned Reston looked up to find Abner standing over him and shooting at him with a Glock. As he realized that he'd been shot, the gravity of Reston's situation kicked in-and with it, his will to survive.
Abner started to walk away, turning to fire more rounds at Reston as he did.
But as Reston sat up to retrieve his own Glock 22, Abner realized that the officer was still in the fight. In a poor substitute for tactics but an aggressive concession to distance, Abner stalked back toward Reston, his finger still squeezing the trigger.
Pain seared Reston's left leg and right buttock as he tried to stand. His dazed head and compromised equilibrium made target acquisition difficult, but each time the front sight of his pistol picked up the suspect's torso, the detective squeezed off another shot.
With but a few feet separating them, the two men continued a rapid fire exchange of rounds, the suspect standing atop the embankment and Reston struggling to move uphill toward him.
Just as Reston got some traction on the embankment, Abner staggered. Seizing the man, Reston pulled him down next to him.
Pointing his Glock at the man's head, Reston fired-three point blank shots in rapid succession. One Ranger SXT 180-grain bullet tore into the back of the suspect's head; another bore into his cheek; a third entered Abner's mouth.
Abner went limp.
Pushing the man's body into a culvert with his feet to put some distance between himself and Abner, Reston covered the suspect with his Glock until Brown arrived.