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Cover Story

SWAT's Small-Town Question

Many communities do not field tactical incident units. How prepared are you?

April 01, 1998  |  by Dale Stockton

Detective Gary Entrekin was just assisting a friend when he told Chris McCurely that he would help serve a warrant late last fall. The Rainbow City, Ala., detective was working an overtime patrol shift when McCurley, the head of the Etowah County Drug Task Force, asked Entrekin to be part of a narcotics warrant service the following day. McCurley had personally worked up the case on Ezra George Peterson, a 50-year-old probationer, and didn't expect any problems.

"Chris briefed me before the warrant and there was no intel that indicated the guy was armed," Entrekin said. "He felt sure there were no weapons in the house. He was expecting it to be a pretty low- key warrant. If we knew we needed them (the tactical team), we would have taken them."

Although Rainbow City had a small tactical team, it lacked special weaponry and the team's training had been somewhat limited. McCurley and the assisting officers were experienced in serving warrants and he didn't think the team would be needed.

Officers went to Peterson's house with Det. Entrekin going to the back with another officer while McCurley and the others approached the front. When the officers knocked on the door, they were initially met with silence. When they tried to force entry, they encountered every officer's worst nightmare. In what was supposed to be a "routine" warrant, a well-prepared suspect opened up with a AK-47 assault rifle.

"I was around back with another officer when I heard the door crash in," Entrekin said. "I heard the sound of a high powered rifle and it sounded like it was fully auto. I ran around to the front and was hit in the legs." Entrekin crawled behind a can on the property, but the suspect seemed to specifically target the wounded detective. "He kept shooting, ricocheting the shots off the ground,: said Entrekin. Seeing the extent of his wound, Entrekin knew he was in serious trouble. "My legs were all mangled and I was losing a lot of blood," he said.

Without warning, the suspect came out of the house, moving directly toward Entrekin. "He was yelling, 'I'm going to finish you, you son-of-a-bitch," said Entrekin. The experienced detective thought his life was over until his partner, Sgt. Tommy Watts, shot the suspect multiple times with a shotgun. The suspect went down, he was not seriously injured because he was wearing body armor.

Peterson was taken into custody without further incident. His girlfriend, Connie Stozzie, 30, was also arrested. She, too, was wearing body armor, and had been helping Peterson reload the AK-47.

When the smoke cleared, Peterson had fired more that 200 rounds. Chris McCurley was dead. Gary Entrekin's legs were so badly torn by the AK-47 rounds that he spent more than two months in the hospital and ultimately had to have one leg amputated. Two other officers were also wounded but eventually recovered from their wounds.

In the aftermath, officers in the area questioned how prepared they were to deal with incidents of this nature.

How prepared are you and your agency?

Reality Brings Need

Whether you work for a metropolitan police department with thousands of officers or small- town agency with only a handful of personnel, such as Rainbow City, an incident requiring the response of a special weapons team can happen in your town. In the last few months, the media has brought us stories of barricaded suspects, schoolchildren held hostage, heavily armed bank robbers, and drug- crazed maniacs with assault weapons. Many of these stories have come from small towns, thrust into the national spotlight when a tragedy struck without warning.

The question becomes then: How prepared is your agency?

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