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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Panama City, Florida 12/14/2010

When a gunman interrupted a school board meeting, Chief Mike Jones was forced to respond.

May 17, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

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Mike Jones, second from left, was awarded the Panama City PD's Medal of Honor.

This time when Jones stepped inside, he was determined not to back out. As Duke started to move left, Jones entered the room and shot him once. Duke reached the other side of the room, and squeezed off two rounds at the board members over the top of their desk.

Jones fired several rounds at the gunman.

The two men were moving in deference to one another, Duke darting this way, then that, Jones feeling his way with his left hand around tables and chairs as he point-shot with his right hand.

Jones got about halfway into the room, and he saw Duke go down.

Duke's arm came up and squeezed off another round at Jones, forcing the chief to take cover behind the gallery chairs.

Jones laid down three or four more rounds to keep Duke pinned down. He then crawled toward the aisle where Duke was lying. Just as he got to the end of the aisle and came up over the chairs, Duke put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

No Second Guessing

Duke died where he lay. With the exception of Jones' demands for Duke to stay down, not a word had been exchanged between the two men during the firefight.

Jones' command for Duke to stay down proved unnecessary. The gunman's spine and pelvis had been shattered in the firefight, so he was unable to get up. Perhaps recognizing as much, he'd taken his life.

The retired officer and school district chief is amazed that he wasn't wounded during the exchange of gunfire in the board room.

"If you saw the crime scene photos of where he shot at me where I was standing and fired my first round, he haloed me," Jones says. "He drew a circle all the way around my head. Over my left shoulder, my right shoulder, my right forehead, the top of my head, my left forehead, and one right at my heart. The sixth one went into another wall into a door frame."

As pleased as he was with his own survival, the knowledge that he'd taken a human life proved immediately emotional for Jones, and he can be heard crying on the tape in the aftermath of the shooting. He was comforted by those present at the scene and by many others over the following weeks.

"I got a lot of calls from cops all over the United States," an appreciative Jones reflects. "It was like a prerecorded message: 'This is (name, shootout, year). I know what you're doing right now. Don't second guess yourself. The bad guy's dead. You're alive. End of the story. If you need to talk to me, call me back at this number.' Every one of their messages was the same."

Jones says that the messages were an immense source of comfort, but admits that he has yet to cease second-guessing his actions.

"What if I had gotten my fully automatic Colt M16?" he asks. "What if I had gotten my AR-15? What if I had gotten my shotgun? You have only so many seconds when you have to make that decision.

"My decision was that I can't go into that little room with a 35-foot span and engage him face-to-face with six people sitting straight up in chairs right behind him with a shotgun or an AR-15," Jones explains. "I knew it was going to be hand-to-hand combat and my shots were going to have to count. I knew I had to get a vest, get it on, and go do it."

Jones is quick to credit his trainers with helping him learn to act so decisively. "I have no idea how I did it," he says. "You train, you train, you train. I went to active shooter school last year with the military, as well as our local police department's rapid response training. When I got in the room, I just moved left and fired, moved left, fired, moved left, fired, ducked and covered."

Chief Jones still shies away from dwelling on the matter or exposing himself to more of the shooting and its aftermath than necessary.

"I haven't even gone to Duke's Facebook account, which was up for weeks after the shooting," Jones notes. "I'm trying to leave this thing alone. I needed my time to heal. I viewed the video one week after the shooting and that was to work with law enforcement to put my statement together and make sure everything was accounted for and all their questions were answered."

For his heroic actions that fateful night, Chief Jones was awarded the Panama City PD's Medal of Honor.

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