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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Jefferson City, Missouri 12/10/2011

Pursuit of a former sheriff's deputy led Officer Curtis Bohanan into a deadly close-quarters confrontation.

January 22, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Map and Photo: iStockPhoto.com
Map and Photo: iStockPhoto.com

The information came through a local law enforcement clearing house to the Jefferson City, Mo., police: A suspect was wanted for a double homicide that had occurred in Dent County down the state. Included in the alert was a description of the outstanding suspect, former Dent County Sheriff's deputy Marvin R. Rice, as well as that of his vehicle, a white Subaru station wagon.

That information was weighing on Jefferson City officer Curtis Bohanan's mind when the call of a stalled vehicle came in around 9:00 on the evening of Dec. 12, 2011. The vehicle stalled atop a bridge that spanned the Missouri River at the town's border was a white station wagon.

As the shift's cover officer, Bohanan was responsible for pinballing between the city's five patrol zones and assisting his fellow officers. "Where needed, as needed" was the veteran officer's motto, and right then the stalled vehicle call was telling him where he was needed.

Bohanan met up with the handling officer on the bridge. They investigated the parked station wagon and quickly arrived at the conclusion that the stalled vehicle was not the same as the one driven by the subject of the manhunt. Their determination was confirmed by an update that they copied over the radio: The suspect's station wagon was still mobile—and headed in their direction.

That information came from neighboring Osage County sheriff's officials. They had pinged Rice's cell phone and located him in the vicinity of nearby Vienna, triggering a vehicle pursuit—a pursuit that was headed up Highway 63 to the Cole County line.

Jefferson City lay beyond that county line. Bohanan and the rest of the city's finest began mobilizing eastward in the direction of the oncoming pursuit. It was a straight shot into Jefferson City from Highway 50/63, so Bohanan drove to place himself in an intercepting position ahead of the pursuit's progress. Pulling to the shoulder, he waited for it to catch up to him. He didn't have to wait long.

Spike Strips

Off in the distance Bohanan saw a sea of red and blue flashers, which gained clarity as they approached. The lead station wagon passed at high speed, and Bohanan fell in line, becoming the second unit in the pursuit, as well as assuming radio coordination of it. As Bohanan broadcasted updates, his brethren hastily deployed spike sticks in anticipation of the vehicle's path. The collective hopes of all involved were that the suspect's flight might be curtailed before it migrated from the outlying rural confines and into the urban heart of the city where light-controlled intersections would pose whole new dangers to commuters and officers alike.

The pursuit closed in on the downtown area at 80 mph. That concerned Bohanan; he knew that each minute the pursuit continued it was more likely to end in disaster. But it couldn't be called off. All the officers involved could do was make it as safe as humanly possible.

As hoped, the suspect's station wagon hit a set of spike strips at the intersection of Highway 50 and Monroe. But Rice wasn't alone. The spike strips took out several of the pursuing patrol cars, as well. Bohanan realized that he'd clipped two of his car's tires as well, and wondered how much longer he could hang in the pursuit.

The Capitol Plaza

For another five blocks the pursuit continued before Rice lost his right front tire just as he hit one of the largest intersections in the city, Highway 50 and Missouri Boulevard.

With only one direction to go, Rice made a right onto Missouri Boulevard. Even this maneuver was compromised by the flattened tires, and control of the station wagon had become visibly haphazard. Making a right onto McCarty Street, Rice then turned into the parking lot of the Capitol Plaza Hotel, one of the premier hotels in town.

The sight of the wagon pulling into the hotel parking lot caused Bohanan's heart to sink. He hoped that the suspect would drive through the hotel lot and continue on. He didn't want to have to deal with a desperate murder suspect loose in the hotel.

The pursuing officers fanned out through the parking lot. Bohanan followed the station wagon into the hotel portico. But he could only watch as its driver bailed out of the car without putting it into park and ducked inside the building.

As Rice sprinted into the lobby, Bohanan's heart sank further. With two people's lives already under his belt, how much respect would the man pay to the lives of strangers in trying to effect his escape?

Bohanan wasn't going to wait to find out. He jumped out of his car and sprinted through a bewildered crowd milling about the outside of the hotel. Following Rice though the double glass doors into the lobby, he saw the man reach the reception desk where he tripped, fell, rolled, and stood back up before continuing into the hotel past the reception area.

Bohanan lost sight of Rice as the murder suspect rounded the corner to the left toward a bank of elevators. The suspect's action made Bohanan think twice about charging after him. He slowed down and began slicing the pie.

Rounding the corner, Bohanan saw the suspect a mere 13 feet away taking cover behind a small wall near the elevator bank. Rice also saw the officer, and immediately opened fire with a .40 caliber Glock. Bohanan returned fire, feeling very much the underdog in this fight. The suspect had put himself in a much better area of concealment than Bohanan.

Unexpected Backup

Fortunately for Bohanan, there was a large Christmas party going on in one of the hotel's banquet rooms and among its guests was a Cole County Sheriff's deputy providing security for the event: Christopher J. Suchanek.

Suchanek—in plain clothes, but armed—exited the banquet room at the sound of gunfire. Seeing Bohanan engaging Rice, he asked where the suspect was. Bohanan pointed.

Suchanek jumped over some planter beds, circled around the elevator bank, and stationed himself behind Rice, offset and out of the field of fire. Taking aim, Suchanek fired one shot.

A round struck Rice in the body, and the suspect dropped instantly. Other officers secured the gun and took charge of the scene.

Training and Response

Bohanan and Rice each fired seven rounds throughout the course of the firefight.

"I hit him either three times, or once incurring three injuries in his arm," Bohanan says. "Suchanek's round was near-fatal—it hit Rice in the back, around the liver area. He's since recovered." Rice was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in Dent County and assault on an officer and armed criminal action in Cole County. He awaits trial.

Looking back on the incident, Officer Bohanan is thankful that things ended the way they did. "The first couple of exchanges, I was suddenly acutely aware that I was in the lobby by myself," he says. "You can look at the video, and I turned around and there was nobody there. I thought that was strange, because there must have been 30 of us involved in this pursuit.

"The way the architecture of the building was, and the way he entered it through the portico, I guess I was fortunate enough that I was the only person who saw him bail out of the car. Other officers went to the car. It wasn't until the shooting started inside that people started to realize what was going on and started setting up an active shooter routine.

"It was a pretty lonely feeling," Bohanan adds. "I reached for my radio to call out shots fired. Surely someone left their radio on and continued to engage him. We were several exchanges into it and really not getting anywhere. That's when I started to settle down and get my breathing under control and really take aim. The next exchange was when I knew that I'd hit him. I saw him flinch. I knew I was getting somewhere at that point."

The training provided by Bohanan's agency proved no less providential. He says the Jefferson City PD has provided him with many opportunities to hone his shooting and survival skills.

"Our department is probably one of the best that I've worked for as far as that kind of training goes," he explains. "I qualify on the range four times a year. We have monthly open range. We set up different scenarios, confirm positions. We have very good active shooter training. We use a lot of different buildings throughout the city, including schools and an old prison. We train with airsoft equipment, and go through scenarios and tactics."

Bohanan quickly adds that the training is only as good as the effort that officers put forth in it. He marvels that some officers don't even participate.

"I always take advantage of training when it's presented," he says. "If the department is willing to offer it, why not use it? I take the philosophy that it's not a matter of if, but when. We're not a large community, but these kinds of things can happen anywhere and if you're not prepared for it, even if you're driving around on your beat and enjoying your regular activities, thinking about it and mentally preparing yourself for it, your chances of handling it successfully are diminished."

Bohanan also gives a lot of credit to Suchanek. The two men even knew each other before the incident because Suchanek had once worn the Jefferson City uniform.

"When I saw him there the night of the shooting, it was a great feeling. As far as colors of the uniform go, that all went out the window. Knowing Chris as long as I have and working with him and knowing how he would react and come through, it was a phenomenal feeling. I can't say that I would have liked anyone else there."

At the scene and handcuffed, former sheriff's deputy Rice expressed remorse for shooting at Bohanan. Bohanan does not accept the apology. "It's a moot statement and not acceptable," is all he has to say of Rice's words. "I don't have any anger, animosity, or bitterness towards the man. I just want to put him away for the rest of his life and move on."

Moving on does not strike Bohanan as a difficult thing to accomplish. For one, he has already had the benefit of department-mandated counseling and has not experienced any PTSD symptoms. For another, he's moved on before.

"I'd been in a shooting two years prior. I'd spotted a guy who'd been seen carrying a rifle around a neighborhood, ordered him to stop, he took off running, and I took off running after him. At that time, he didn't have the rifle visible; it may have been stuck down his pants. As we ran through the parking lot, he drew the rifle out of his pants and then ran around the building. In my infinite wisdom, I cleared the corner at full speed and he was right there turning with the rifle. I popped off two defensive shots at him. He continued running into the apartment building. SWAT later took him into custody."

Bohanan now sees that incident as a most valuable learning experience, acknowledging it as having served as a reminder of the hazards of blindly pursuing someone and perhaps saving his life during the Rice incident. "It helped remind me to slow down and slice the pie, and not come blasting through the corner in the hotel chasing Rice."

Bohanan's heroism was recognized by Missouri State Governor Jay Nixon, who awarded him the state's Medal of Valor. He continues to serve the citizens of Jefferson City.

Tags: Shots Fired, Jefferson City (Mo.) PD


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