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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

"Gottfried had told others that he was not going to let law enforcement take him in. That's not suicide by cop. That's just a bad guy. The fact that he made a cardinal mistake in not racking a round doesn't mitigate the fact that he tried to rack the slide immediately thereafter. If it'd been a suicide by cop, he would have simply pointed the gun and let things play out," McLane reasons.

In the days following the shooting, McLane noticed a reticence on the part of some to talk with him. "A lot of people walked on eggshells; they didn't know how to approach. They don't know if I was supposed to feel bad, or what."

McLane has advice for others who find themselves dealing with officers who've been in shootings. "Just walk up to them and talk with them. If they don't want to talk about the shooting, they won't. The main thing is that they want to get back to a sense of normalcy," he says.

Things got back to normal relatively quickly for McLane and his wife. Fostering that return to status quo was the shared anticipation between McLane and his wife that things might not always be so, and he was thankful that he'd taken the time to explain to his wife what he expected of her during a crisis ahead of time.

"A conversation I have with all ridealongs, including my wife, is that if I tell you to do something, don't ask questions. Just do it. I looked back at her and saw this freaked out expression on her face but all I had to do was point toward the bank and she knew what to do.

"She moved there and was in relatively safe position for any back-and-forth shooting that might still occur," McLane says. "She didn't have a lot of issues about the incident afterward, either. She saw how it went down and how I reacted and I think that it's helped her feel more secure in my ability to do the job."

Another thing that gave McLane peace of mind was knowing that he had multiple documentations of the incident through video and audio recordings. "We have dashboard cameras, but I believe in having something for backup and had a pocket recorder running throughout the incident," he says.

Knowing that he had audio and video documentation of the incident was important to him. As an internal affairs investigator on the department's last two officer-involved shootings, he knew how important it was to have such material available. "I knew what the investigation was going to entail, and I knew what I did. I knew that there wasn't going to be any question marks about what had happened and whether or not my actions were necessary. And ultimately, there weren't."

Self Analysis

There aren't many things that McLane would have done differently in dealing with Gottfried. While he would have liked to have gotten the information regarding the man's frame of mind, he understands that sometimes returns on requests don't come as quickly as you'd like them to. Still, he tends to take more time with his traffic stops these days.

"Racing up to the window isn't going to speed up the resolution of the traffic stop, even for a non-violent situation, and it isn't going to give a subject any more time to do something that they're already predisposed to commit. It's going to give you that much more time to prepare and react.

"Had I taken a little more time in walking, I would have gotten that information which would have availed me the opportunity to handle things differently," he admits.

Another thing that McLane has committed himself to doing is conditioning himself to react more quickly to any such threats in the future.

"I noticed during the incident that I had about a fifth of a second of hesitation in getting the gun out of the holster, which I have since corrected," McLane says. "I wasn't even consciously aware of it at the time, but I can see it on my dashboard video and remember it."

McLane notes that all of the evening's preceding traffic stops had been in more remote areas. This was the first that happened to be in the city. Perhaps at some unconscious level and because the traffic detention had been made in a well-lit area, McLane had elected to leave his flashlight in the vehicle, thereby freeing up his hands.

He believes it a fortuitous oversight, and that it may have been instrumental to his survival.

McLane continues to work for Bozeman PD, and recently, he had the disconcerting experience of conducting a traffic stop near the site of the shooting: A red pickup whose driver sported a large handlebar mustache.

"He turned out to be a pretty nice guy," McLane says.

We invite you to submit a comment below telling us how you would handle a similar situation?

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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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