Editor's Note: At the time POLICE went to press the suspects had just been taken into custody. Officer Finley's article serves as an important reminder that you can't lower your guard. Ever.
POLICE magazine and, I'm sure, our readers, send our deepest sympathies to thefamily of slain officer Aubrey Hawkins of the Irving (Texas) Police Department. --Roy Huntington, executive editor
On Christmas Eve, Officer Aubrey Hawkins of the Irving, Texas Police Department was answering a "Suspicious Person" call at an Oshman's Sporting Goods store in Irving. As Officer Hawkins pulled around the rear of the store, he was ambushed and killed.
The suspect's actions, tactics used, and weapon information is something every SWAT or patrol officer needs to be aware of.
Who Were They?
The suspects in this case were the seven recently escaped fugitives from a TDC unit near San Antonio. The prison break occurred approximately two weeks prior to Officer Hawkins' death. After the prison break, one fugitive left behind a note that said, "You haven't heard the last of us." During the prison break, which TDC officials describe as "one of the most violent and well-planned breaks" they have seen, the seven suspects overpowered guards and left with 14 .357 revolvers, one semi-automatic Colt AR-15, one Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun and over 200 rounds of ammunition.
It is believed the suspects then robbed a Radio Shack store in Pearland, near Houston and took walkie-talkies and cellular phones. They then regrouped in the Dallas area and cased out the Oshman's store in Irving. It is also believed the suspects committed a burglary of an Oshman's employee's vehicle a few days before the incident.
Then, one of the suspects, dressed as a security guard from ADT, went to the store and spoke with the Oshman's manager. They said they were doing a security check of Oshman's after the vehicle burglary. They showed the manager a photo lineup and even obtained the film from the security camera. Two days later, the suspects were in the process of robbing that same Oshman's store when the Irving Police received a call regarding a suspicious person.
During the robbery, witnesses stated that at least one of the suspects was wearing an Oshman's shirt. Witnesses also stated that the suspects used radios and had a police scanner with them during the robbery. During the robbery, the suspects stole 31 pistols, seven 12-gauge shotguns and three .22 caliber rifles.
Officer Hawkins was killed while still in his vehicle and was shot from three different directions. Once he was killed, his body was removed from the vehicle and his bulletproof vest and Glock 9mm were taken from him. He was then shot numerous times again.
What Have We Learned?
The resulting investigation has revealed many important points to be aware of. You can obtain information about the prison break and the suspects on the Texas Department of Corrections Website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us. This will give you solid information as to the details of the actual break.
There are two particular suspects who are worth mentioning. One is George Rivas. Rivas is described as the leader of the group and over a two-year period in prison, assembled this group and planned the prison break. In the early 1990s, Rivas committed numerous robberies using the same M.O. used in the recent crimes.
In 1993, while in El Paso, Rivas and two other suspects committed a very similar robbery of a Toys-R-Us store. A "good-eye," or lookout, was stationed outside with an M-14 rifle while Rivas and another suspect entered the store and were in the process of robbing the store when the El Paso Police Department arrived. For some reason, the lookout had gone inside as well. It turns out this was a real blessing for responding officers.
Efforts to call on the phone and loud-hail were met with negative results. The lookout did emerge from the store and claimed he was a hostage. The El Paso SWAT team then made entry as Rivas and the second suspect were taking the store manager up a ladder leading to the roof.
After the eight hostages were rescued, a slow search found Rivas and his partner hiding in the roof area. A member of the El Paso SWAT team later stated that he was thankful the lookout had gone inside because during the incident they were short- handed and had paid no attention to the lookout vehicle. Inside the vehicle police found two M-14 rifles and disguises.
The second suspect you should be made aware of is Larry Harper. Harper is the son of a former Sgt. Major with the U.S. Army. His father was in the Green Berets and Harper had informally trained with his Father's unit numerous times. Harper was also a Captain in the US Army reserves in an artillery unit. Prior to his arrest for aggravated sexual assault, Harper was accepted to Annapolis and West Point. Harper was described as a "wannabe" and was constantly reading special operations literature.
All of Rivas' crimes have been well planned and the suspects have been well-equipped with communications gear, body armor and were always heavily armed. There has always been a well-armed lookout and disguises are usually used. They usually robbed a store that had weapons and they usually hit near closing time.
These felons were a serious threat to any law enforcement officer who encountered them. Most of these suspects have life sentences and it was believed they would not go without a fight. Given the armament they possessed and the violence they had shown, whichever city they went to could have had their hands full. It might have been your city.
When committing a robbery these suspects usually dressed as employees or security guards. They always had a well-armed lookout outside the premises, they usually wore body armor and always had a tremendous amount of firepower. Also, in the Oshman's incident, they attempted to use a smoke grenade but were unsuccessful.
Suspect Harper committed suicide after being discovered.
While not typical of your average robbery or burglary suspects, these seven serve as a reminder to us all to stay prepared and alert.
Don't assume anything.
Michael Finley is President of the Texas Tactical Police Officer's Association. He is a 14 year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, with the last ten years on their SWAT Team.