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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Reno, Nevada 07•15•1999

When a man barricaded himself in his home and held a knife on his terrified girlfriend, Reno SWAT answered the call.

July 01, 2008  |  by - Also by this author

Kelly appeared to be unharmed. But Sunde's violent intentions were not in question and Lessman knew it was only a matter of time, perhaps seconds.

With his H&K MP5 pre-selected for semi-auto and his finger squeezing back on the trigger, Lessman zeroed in on Sunde's nose. A single thought occupied his mind. I'm not going to let this guy kill her.

He gave Sunde one more command.

"Let her go. Drop the knife."

Lessman saw Sunde raise the large butcher knife above Kelly as he arched her upper torso backwards, angling for optimum penetration of the knife's blade into her chest. Standing to the right of Lessman, Darren Swetkovich saw that Sunde held a smaller knife in his left hand and feared that the suspect would puncture her lung. While the two officers observed different yet simultaneous threats, both reached a similar determination at the same time.

Lessman depressed the trigger of his 9mm subgun. At the same time, Swetkovich fired his AR-15. Their actions were so synchronized that a news crew outside the location recorded the amplified reports of both guns as a single gunshot.

The two rounds tore into Sunde's skull, obliterating it. The .223 round from Swetkovich's AR-15 struck the suspect's nose, causing his head to turn toward the right. Lessman's 9mm round, traveling half as fast as the AR-15 round, struck the suspect's right cheek and exited at the nape of his neck. In a split second, Sunde went from very angry to very deceased.

Both officers rushed up to the table, seized Kelly, and pulled her over it. As they did, one of Sunde's arms remained draped over her shoulder.

Officer Dave Keller, positioned to the right of his team members, did not see the rounds fired and was left to infer that the suspect was still a threat to the victim and his fellow team members. Armed with an H&K 33, Keller hit Sunde with a three-round burst.

The officers then extricated Kelly from the scene and another SWAT officer escorted her outside.

Training and Execution

Lessman's training played a large part in helping him to perform in this life and death situation.

"It wasn't vastly different from a training exercise," he says. "There was no emotional attachment; I was very detached. I knew what I had to do, what action I needed to take to save this gal's life."

A former Simunitions trainer, Lessman believes that if you download information into officers' minds through training, they don't have to search for the answer when they come across the situation in real life. If you do that, their reaction will be "Wow, I've been here before. I've seen this scenario before."

At the same time, one shouldn't be too committed to a preconceived mindset.

"One thing we learned from the incident is to not go into a situation with a predisposed mindset of where the suspect is at," Lessman notes. "Initially, the point man and others were sure that the suspect was at the back of the house away from the fire when it wasn't the case. You need to be able to change and adapt upon entry."


Two weeks following the fatal shooting of her former boyfriend, Lisa Kelly delivered an appreciative message to the SWAT Team and Reno PD.

"I cannot imagine being in your shoes on the morning of July 15," Kelly wrote. "In my estimation of the circumstances, I would have to agree with your decision and your ultimate response as traumatic as the whole experience was for myself and Glenn.

"I want all of you to know I empathize with your positions. It must have been awful for those who came into the scene. I've thought of you often and will not forget that you may very well have saved my life. For that, I am truly grateful. My 10-month old daughter, Nicole, and I are doing well. My hope for our future is one of peace and love. Thank you and please accept my appreciation. I still can't believe I wasn't hit. Amazing. Sincerely, Lisa Kelly."

Such words of gratitude coupled with the successful outcome of the incident helped Lessman deal with the shooting. This was Lessman's second shooting in a little more than two years, but his first fatal. Having learned from the experience of his first shooting, Lessman surrendered his clothing and gear and went to the gym with a fellow SWAT officer. With an appropriate outlet for the adrenaline that built up during the intense confrontation, he experienced no stress-related issues as he had with his first shooting.

"To go back to duty we had to see a psychologist," he remembers. "In my mind, I saved this gal's life. If I had waited two seconds, I would regret this for the rest of my life saying, 'God, if I'd only been on the trigger two seconds sooner.' So I was fine with it. I didn't have any type of emotional distress over it just because I realize that if I didn't act, what the consequences were."

That realization gives Lessman peace of mind not only for the actions that he took that night but also for any action he knows he must take the next time he gets the call.

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Stetson @ 9/7/2012 7:51 PM

My impression the officers training took over,and the situation had a positive ending! I don't care where you live policeman have a job of extremes:So often when a situation like this comes to mine many departments would have the same outcome but it takes only one screw up law enforcement will receive negative press regardless.
I think only finest want this kind of job and we (the public) don't give them enough recognition for their work!

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