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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Bozeman, Montana 06/02/2006

Working overtime and with his wife in the passenger seat, Lt. Rich McLane made a routine traffic stop and then it was no longer routine.

July 26, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Like most college towns, Bozeman, Mont., has its fair share of DUIs and all around bad drivers. Responsibility for keeping these vehicular threats in check falls largely on the shoulders of the city police department. To that end, the Bozeman Police Department occasionally hires its own on overtime to do traffic enforcement, and on the night of June 2, 2006, Lt. Rich McLane was working in that capacity.

Normally, McLane wasn't one for ridealongs. He had enough problems watching out for his own welfare without worrying about whoever was occupying the passenger seat. But tonight that passenger seat was occupied by his wife, Rhonda.

McLane felt that she'd earned the right. If Rhonda had figuratively been by his side during his 14 years with the department, she might as well occasionally tag along with him on duty as well.

Truth be told, McLane appreciated his wife's company and believed there was profit to her occasionally joining him. It served as a reminder that the job wasn't always as dangerous as some made it out to be. That was the gameplan when they pulled away from the station.

Making a Stop

Two hours and a dozen traffic stops later, McLane found himself monitoring traffic on the west edge of town where the highway adjoins Yellowstone National Park. He picked up a red truck doing 53 in a 35 mph construction zone. Making a U-turn, he activated his overhead lights and siren to effect a traffic stop of the vehicle.

The truck took a little longer than normal to pull over than most. McLane knew this could be attributable to any number of things, ranging from intoxication to someone planning something dangerous or just being a bad driver.

He was planning any number of reactions. But the vehicle finally pulled to the side of the highway and McLane stopped behind it. He angled his car slightly to the left rear of the vehicle so as to afford himself the cover of the engine block as well as a corridor in which to make his approach of the driver.

McLane then called in the truck's license plate. But Friday nights can be busy for Bozeman dispatch, and tonight was no exception as the return was taking longer than normal. After some time had passed, he elected to get out of his car and contact the driver anyway.

As he stepped from his patrol vehicle, McLane saw that the driver was monitoring his approach, alternately checking his side and rearview mirrors. Again, something to notice, but nothing to be alarmed about. Still, it registered in the back of his mind.

The Return

Then just as he came abreast of the driver's side of the pickup, McLane heard his radio crackle.

"Are you 10-12?"

Bozeman dispatch was finally getting back with McLane's return and asking if he was out of earshot of his detention.

Not only was McLane not out of earshot but he was now within a foot of the detainee's open window. Not comfortable with the prospect of turning his back or otherwise backpedaling to receive the information, he ignored it. Whatever dispatch had to pass on would have to wait. McLane felt that he was now committed to dealing with the driver.

If McLane had retreated to his patrol unit and copied the information, he would have learned that the driver, Gary Gottfried, had over the prior few weeks grown increasingly volatile and depressed. Most recently, Gottfried had made threats to his ex-girlfriend that he would kill her and any cop that tried to come between them.

McLane was now that cop.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Morning Eagle @ 7/28/2010 1:54 AM

As always Dean, your Shots Fired columns are worth reading for the lessons they contain. Having made a couple of traffic stops myself I can't say I would have done anything much different than Officer McLane did except for one small point. When he heard the 10-12 call that should have been enough of a warning that there was something out of the ordinary about the subject he had pulled over stop his approach. I do not want to sound like an all-wise early Wednesday morning quarterback and I know McLane was there and did what he thought best at the moment. But I might have told the subject to hang tough, I would be right back then backed away while observing him closely and would not have had to turn my back to him to do that. True, that maneuver could have alerted the subject that I might be onto him but it would have also put some distance between us and maybe allowed me to reach the partial cover of my patrol vehicle while obtaining whatever info dispatch had for me and perhaps getting some backup on the way. I am not criticizing him and he is absolutely correct that this was not an attempt to commit suicide by cop, it was instead an "I am going to kill a cop" day. His use of deadly force was definitely justified and the idea fostered by many movies, TV and the general media that using deadly force is supposed to be emotionally devastating for the officer is wrong. And, listen up internal affairs investigators and senior administrators, if it was a "good" shooting there is no need to put the officer through some kind of inquisition because you think he or she isn't showing an adequate degree of remorse. I am not saying that happened here but it certainly does in too many incidents.

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