The suspect was pronounced dead the next day at the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center.
Leading up to this encounter, Officer Stabio viewed other officer-involved shootings as learning experiences.
"It became in my mind an inevitability that this was probably going to happen at some point in my career and it really thrust it into the forefront of my mind. I started to think about what I would do, how I would react. I think it allowed me to go a little bit on auto pilot that night."
He views his own shooting in the same light, evaluating his actions and decisions that night with a critical eye.
"With the advantage of hindsight, I would have shot slower," Stabios says. "Eighteen to 20 yards is a decent distance for an engagement with a handgun. It's certainly doable. Our qualifications for the longest time were at 25 yards, so it's not like I hadn't shot at that distance before. I was also upset at myself because the folks that instruct on the range were always telling us you can never miss fast enough to win the gunfight. Thinking back on it, I would have taken an extra half second to a second to make sure I had a sight picture on him because my sights were blurry and they were moving. I remember seeing my sights drift across him, but I was focusing so much on moving as quickly as I could so I would present a harder target for him to hit. So I didn't focus quite enough on what I should have been doing."
One thing Stabio does not second-guess is his decision to pursue the suspect into the supermarket. "Knowing what happened and knowing what could have happened, I would still do that," he says. "The possibility that something tragic could happen to the people in there is significant and what are they going to do? They're going about their day, shopping and not paying attention to that sort of thing. If the police don’t go in after him, he's just going to be able to do whatever he wants? That’s not right. So I would still chase."
Since the shooting, Stabio continues to use this experience as a learning tool and hopes that other officers will learn from his experience. He also hopes they will talk to him and other officers who have been in deadly shootings about their emotions during the incident and afterward.
"Nothing had ever hit me quite that hard," Stabio says. "It wasn't what I expected. Although I was concerned that I was going to be killed. I didn't feel anything. I didn't feel anger. I didn't feel much in the way of fear, not like I would have expected. It was like an absence of emotion from the time that it started through the whole night. Afterward, I don't remember feeling upset, but I was happy to be alive. For a while I dreamed about it. Most of the thoughts about it are when I'm awake. Nothing terrible. If anything, it has served to make me better, faster, more aware."
Stabio uses memories of the shooting to prevent him from being complacent on the job. He says it's made him sharper and more vigilant.
"If I feel like I'm getting lax or feel like I'm not as sharp as I should be, I let the events push back into my head a little bit and it gets me in the right frame of mind so that if this were to happen again, I could take the things I knew before and the things I’ve learned—I've learned a lot from this—and still win," he says.
Stabio continues to work patrol as a field training officer, is a member of a regional SWAT team, and continues to serve as both the firearms trainer for the team and an assistant range master with the Glendora Police Department.
For his actions in the Valera shooting, Stabio was presented his department's 2012 Medal of Valor and recognized with the California Robbery Investigators Association Officer of the Year Award.
What Would You Do?
Put yourself in the shoes of Cpl. Chris Stabio of the Glendora (Calif.) Police Department. An armed robbery suspect has just run into a grocery store. Now ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you feel about going in foot pursuit of a suspect who is possibly armed? Would you have followed the man into the store? What other options might you explore in detaining or arresting the man?
- Stabio notes that if he could do it over again, he would have slowed down his shooting and gone for better target acquisition. Do you feel that your department does an adequate job of training in this area? What more can be done in-house so as to anticipate the reality of a deadly force encounter?
- Stabio made a conscious decision to continue advancing on the suspect after shots had already been fired. Would you have attempted to close the distance? How important is it to you to be familiar with the layout and patronage of commercial businesses in your area?
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