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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Fort Smith, Arkansas 09/15/2010

Serving arrest warrants on two rape-murder suspects, Fort Smith officers were attacked with knives and responded with deadly force.

November 07, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Melson's plight was plainly evident to Carter. Less visible was a clear shot at the man doing the slashing: Firing a definite "kill shot" would run the risk of hitting Melson, whose back and neck continued to bear the brunt of Thacker's attack.

Carter fell to his left and braced himself against the wall. He steadied his aim, drew a bead on Elvis' lower torso with his Glock, and squeezed off a double-tap. Two .40 caliber Remington Golden Sabre rounds tore into Elvis; a hole appeared in his jeans near the hip. A second round tore into his abdomen. His arm went limp and the knife fell from his hand. Melson rolled off Elvis as other officers swarmed and handcuffed him pending the arrival of paramedics.

Recovery and Conviction

Jonathan Thacker was booked at a Sebastian County jail while Elvis spent the better part of a month in the hospital before he was well enough to be transported to the jail.

Carter's reaction was a result of mental preparation, training, and an ability to adapt. He often played out a variety of scenarios in his mind, planning how he would react in certain circumstances. However, he'd never thought about being in this particular situation.

"It's a reflection of the training we receive. It was a result of having a clear mind, and being able to make quick, sound decisions," Carter says. "To be able to find out where the threat is and knowing that what you need to do is the right thing to do. When I saw Melson being stabbed, there was no doubt in my mind what I had to do."

Carter has reviewed the shooting in his mind on many an occasion, even asking whether or not he should have shot Jonathan when the man positioned himself above Det. Melson with a knife in his hand. While he recognizes that he would have been justified in using deadly force in that situation, the split-second option for compliance he availed the man worked out fine.

Elvis' attack on Det. Melson resulted in multiple stab wounds to the detective's back, neck, and throat. Had the wounds gone deeper, they would have cut his carotid artery. Melson received several stitches across his throat, but he has returned to work without any long-lasting complications.

A year and one conviction (for his attempted murder of Det. Melson) later, Elvis-who'd once told his brother, "I tried to commit suicide, and I can't even do that right"-remains true to form. In August of this year he tried to commit suicide again-this time with the blade of a disposable razor-and failed.

Elvis and Jonathan Thacker face charges in Oklahoma for the murder of Briana Ault. There has been speculation that the brothers may have been involved in a second murder, but nothing to establish any definitive tie-in.

For his part, Carter sleeps well these days.

"I haven't had any dreams about the shooting, lost any sleep, or missed any meals," he says. "I knew I did what I had to do. It's not just the job, but knowing that a higher power will help me deal with these things. The support from my family and my law enforcement peers has been tremendous. I've never been alone. I've always had someone to talk to. I've been very clear about it and haven't had any problems at all."

Det. Carter has been recognized by his department with the Fort Smith Police Department Lifesaving Award.

What Would You Do?

Place yourself in the shoes of Det. Jeff Carter of the Fort Smith (Ark.) Police Department. You have entered an apartment to serve an arrest warrant on two brothers wanted for suspicion of rape and murder. One of them, Elvis Thacker, has attacked a fellow detective with a knife. The other, Jonathan Thacker, made a threat to attack but backed down to avoid being shot. 

  • Would you have shouted a warning at Jonathan Thacker? Or simply taken the shot? Why?
  • Have you considered the use of aim stabilizers-such as portals and furniture-inside such close quarters? Does your training incorporate such aim stabilizers into scenarios? If not, why?
  • Would a shotgun be more of an asset or hindrance in dealing with such a situation? Which weapon would you prefer to have available to you?
  • To what extent does your agency avail its personnel protection against edged weapons? Would such gear offer sufficient coverage to the neck and extremities?
  • When making entry into less illuminated confines, do you rely on your regular flashlight, or something else? Do you ever conduct defensive tactics or "shoot/don't shoot" training in such environments?
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