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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Las Vegas, Nevada 02/18/2009

Lt. Randy Sutton had to make a fateful decision when a suicidal man left him no other choice.

May 15, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

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John Haines' forward momentum pitched him into a flower bed. As officers converged upon his body, they saw that his T-shirt had ridden up on his torso exposing a tattoo on his abdomen that read, "Psycho." Two semi-automatic firearms were recovered from the scene and John "Psycho" Haines was pronounced dead a short time thereafter.

Debriefings

"This was a pretty cut-and-dried suicide by cop," notes Sutton. "Not only had Haines told his father that he was going to have the cops kill him, but he'd even left the line on the cell phone open when he got up to charge the door. He knew what was going to happen and wanted his father to hear it when it did."

The weapons fired by six on-scene officers—Lt. Randy Sutton, Landers, Charon Griswold, Jason Hardwick, Christopher Sjoblom, and Marc Ashbock—included three handguns, two shotguns, and an AR-15 rifle. As one of several officers that had taken cover behind a car in a neighboring driveway, Sutton fired one round from his .45 Glock.

"He was 75 feet from me and I had a good visual on him," recalls Sutton. "I fired one round because as soon as the guy with the AR-15 fired, he went down quickly."

Sutton is complimentary to all the officers involved that night, noting the absence of contagion fire. Several officers did not engage because they did not have good target acquisition or their fields of fire weren't optimal.

Sutton notes that negotiator Landers had his work cut out for him, as the chemicals detected in Haines' autopsy would have amplified the effects of one another.

"I had no conversation with him," reflects Sutton. "Landers was the only guy doing the negotiation with him. You can't have a lot of people jumping into that. He did all he could to establish a rapport and try to lower Haines' stress and get him to put the guns down and talk. But the man just wasn't having any of it."

While Landers was able to successfully transition from negotiator to shooter when the situation demanded it, he still wished that the incident could have ended differently. "I would have stayed out there all night talking with him," the officer told a journalist later.

That had plainly ceased to be an option the moment Haines stood up and charged in the direction of his wife and child.

"As soon as I saw him stand up, in my own mind he was going to do one of two things: Either rush the officers, or try to get back in the house," says Sutton. "If he was going to rush the officers, then I wouldn't have had to give the order because they would do what they'd have to do. But if he was going to try to get into the house, that’s a different set of circumstances because his wife and child's safety had to be the number one thing on my mind then. I made the determination that there was no way I was going to allow him to get back into that house. I needed to help those guys make that decision."

A Different Feeling

Las Vegas Metro PD conducts formalized debriefings as part of its employee assistance program. Under the care of counselors, all of the officers involved discussed the incident at length for hours. Each officer described his individual impression about what occurred.

"That was very helpful to me," explains Sutton. "In that setting, we were all together. All of the officers that were there said they felt that my giving that command was the right decision. It eased their minds when I gave that command. It helped them later on deal with the emotional turmoil of it."

While Sutton has no regrets about the decision he made, he candidly acknowledges that the decision was not made lightly, and it did not come without some cost to all involved—himself included.

"This was my fifth shooting. This was different for me because all of the other shootings were me against them in a single combat situation. This was a little different because I was commander at the scene. So I had not only my own issues to deal with, but also keeping my officers safe, making tactical decisions, basically giving the order to fire. That played a little havoc with me for a little bit. It's different when you are the one making the single decision about your actions. It's different when you are telling other officers to take a life. That's basically what the situation was.

"When you're tactical commander, like on a SWAT team, you're making that decision all the time. But when you're a patrol commander, that situation doesn't arise very often. So giving that order, which was tantamount to ordering the death of another human being, is different and it plays differently in your mind than just you making a decision about your own personal combat," Sutton explains.

Legacy

The Clark County coroner's inquest into Haines' shooting coupled with the death of his mother found the lieutenant on leave for an extended period of time. Shortly after his return to work, Sutton suffered an on-duty stroke that resulted in his medical retirement from the department.

"It's kind of some weird irony that one of the last official acts of my career would be a fatal shooting," the 55-year-old reflects. "That's something that rises to the thoughts of what lies in store for all of us. What are the thought processes and how does fate play a role in all of our lives? It's certainly not what I would like to be remembered for, for one of my last official acts as a cop. Those officers that were there under my command that night, it's how they view me that will truly be what my legacy will be."

The legacies that men leave during the course of their lives is something that Sutton continues to concern himself with. Today, he is hard at work on a Website designed to give comfort to those left behind after a loved one’s death.

"The Website is designed to celebrate lives—past, present, and future—and leave personal legacies behind for generations. This is the most important thing that I have done, and it is the result of my life experiences. As such, I don't view them as negatives but simply as facets of my past. If I allowed myself to wallow in negativity because of any of it, I would be defeated. And that word is not in my vocabulary."

The Website is already receiving 1,000 visits a week, which Sutton says is very good because it's just a demonstration site. "I can't wait until this thing gets out and we can start touching lives," he says.

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Tags: Las Vegas Metro PD, Shots Fired, Suicide by Cop, Deadly Force


Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Tom Ret @ 5/17/2012 5:31 PM

Good call Lt. Your decision very likely saved two lives.

Lt. Robert Tester @ 5/17/2012 7:10 PM

Did what you had to do. Good judgement call, especially under all the stress of the moment. I am 99.9% sure if you hadn't made that call the wife and child would be dead.

William @ 5/18/2012 1:41 AM

Unfortunately in this case, like so many other situations involving the use deadl physicaly force, the decision is not really that if the police. LT.Sutton and the other officers on scene reacted to the only choice remaining.
Lt. Sutton's decision was usurped by the emotionally disturbed person.

Jim @ 5/18/2012 2:42 AM

Randy, you did what had to be done and quite probably saved the lives of two innocents that night. A very hard thing to actually order the death of another but sometimes that is the proper action to save lives. I am very proud of you, not only for the actions you took that night, but for you continued involvement in creating a website to help those Officers who also have to make that terrible dicision to fire their weapon and probably end someones life.

R. G. Montgomery @ 5/18/2012 5:11 AM

Good call, good work, Lieutenant. Nasty business, but not of your making or choice.

Good work to all the supporting officers who did not fire '...because everyone else was shooting'. Fire discipline is a worthy goal and a valued skill.

Lieutenant, good work in your website. I wish you a long a enjoyable retirement.

BLB @ 7/12/2012 3:38 PM

This was my cousins (Sarah) husband. I had just met him 2mo. earlier. Seemed very nice. Could not of imagined anything like this going down... Heard he was a good dad, who just had a bad day.

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