Coping With It
With his partner in crime, the 23-year-old Wynn had been responsible for a series of robberies throughout the Norfolk region. The two men had taken turns as look-out and robber. Less than an hour earlier, the partner had himself been the gunman on a robbery at another Shell station on Tidewater Drive; he was to have been Wynn's getaway driver had Wynn succeeded in getting past Scallon. Detectives would clear some 30 robberies between the two men.
Looking back, Scallon recognizes where both his undercover work and a willingness to take off-duty action worked in his favor.
"I always had my badge on me, and if I ever had to pull my gun out, I automatically yelled, 'Police officer!'" the investigator reflects. "If only for the fact that not everyone knows that I'm a police officer, I want to make it completely clear that it's not two bad guys shooting it out with each other."
The incident left a dramatic impact on Scallon nonetheless. "I wasn't hungry for seven days after the shooting, as I went through the whole gamut of emotional problems," he says. "I lost 50 pounds [and I] became hypersensitive. People couldn't understand that flippant comments like, 'Good job, killer,' would bother me. I'd spent my entire life trying not to harm people, but the nature of the job is that eventually you may have to. They couldn't understand why I would feel bad for killing someone who was trying to kill me. That was a conflict that I had with myself and with other people who were trying to be supportive. They'd say, 'You did a great job.' I don't think that I did a great job; I did the job that was required. I think it was just, but there was a lot of inner turmoil."
Required by the department to see a doctor, Scallon met with a psychiatrist who said he understood what he was going through. The investigator immediately resented the overstated empathy.
"I hadn't talked to anyone about the shooting, so how could he understand?" Scallon asks rhetorically. "The man had never been involved in a shooting, but said that he'd been around a lot of people who have."
Scallon told the shrink off. "You have no clue what you're talking about and I don't want to talk to you," Scallon told him.
Later when a female psychiatrist-who'd likewise said that she knew what Scallon was going through-also admitted that she had never been involved in a shooting, Scallon's response to her was unprintable.
Scallon left the office angrier than when he'd gone in. He resented being obliged to talk with someone who hadn't been in his shoes, and questioned the credibility of anything that the two might have to offer.
Eventually, Scallon did receive help from someone who could give it: A fellow officer who had engaged a suspect who'd also killed the officer's partner.
"We met at a location away from the police department, in plain clothes," Scallon recalls. "We talked for three hours and not a bit of it had anything to do with the police department. It was just a nice chat and it felt good. He told me to call if I ever wanted to talk again."
The officer gave Scallon a piece of advice before leaving. "You need to see a doctor or you're going to explode."
Scallon respected the officer's opinion and, armed with new insight, acted on the advice. It paid off.
These days, Scallon knows that the unique dynamics of his particular shooting had a lot to do with his emotional response to it, including his hair-trigger temper and his touchiness.
"If the shooting had been over after a couple of seconds, I would have had symptoms, but not as bad. The prolonged shooting-anything over 10 seconds-causes you to go into survival mode. After the shooting, I took off my jacket and was numb. I didn't know if I was hurt, only that I felt emotionally drained. Coming to terms with all this helped clear my head."
Scallon says he is appreciative of the assistance that he has received since the shooting and the department's willingness to have him discuss the matter candidly. And in retrospect, he knows that some of his acting like a jerk was even cathartic as it allowed him a release until he was willing to recognize more appropriate channels for dealing with the shooting.
A letter to police Chief Bruce P. Marquis from the Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Doyle summed up Scallon's heroic
"Only when Wynn responded by opening fire upon the investigator in the presence of two innocent civilians did Investigator Scallon resort to deadly force," Doyle wrote. "Investigator Scallon should be commended for his bravery and dedication in putting himself in harm's way confronting this armed robber."
For his courage under fire, Scallon received his department's Medal of Honor, as well as the Virginia Public Safety Medal of Valor. He has since been promoted to sergeant and continues to serve the citizens of Norfolk.
What Would You Do?
- Put yourself in the shoes of Investigator Chris Scallon. You're wearing street clothes and you've come upon a robbery in progress at a business. Now ask yourself the following questions:
- When contemplating a robbery being committed in your presence, are you philosophically inclined more toward taking action or merely being a good witness? What factors determine your decision to transition from one to the other?
- Whether or not you currently work in an undercover capacity, do you feel that you've taken adequate precautions to make yourself identifiable to arriving law enforcement personnel in similar situations? Do your off-duty activities often put you in jurisdictions where you do not know any of the local officers and they have no idea who you are?
- Investigator Scallon made a conscious decision to position himself between the suspect and the employees. Would you have done the same, or opted for the cover of the counter in the first place?
- A vast majority of officer-involved shootings take place within a matter of seconds. This one transpired over the course of 10 minutes. Do you feel that you would be emotionally and physically capable of dealing with the immediacy of such an incident? How do you feel you would react in its aftermath? How important is it to you to be able to communicate your experiences to others?