Like most college towns, Bozeman, Mont., has its fair share of DUIs and all around bad drivers. Responsibility for keeping these vehicular threats in check falls largely on the shoulders of the city police department. To that end, the Bozeman Police Department occasionally hires its own on overtime to do traffic enforcement, and on the night of June 2, 2006, Lt. Rich McLane was working in that capacity.
Normally, McLane wasn't one for ridealongs. He had enough problems watching out for his own welfare without worrying about whoever was occupying the passenger seat. But tonight that passenger seat was occupied by his wife, Rhonda.
McLane felt that she'd earned the right. If Rhonda had figuratively been by his side during his 14 years with the department, she might as well occasionally tag along with him on duty as well.
Truth be told, McLane appreciated his wife's company and believed there was profit to her occasionally joining him. It served as a reminder that the job wasn't always as dangerous as some made it out to be. That was the gameplan when they pulled away from the station.
Making a Stop
Two hours and a dozen traffic stops later, McLane found himself monitoring traffic on the west edge of town where the highway adjoins Yellowstone National Park. He picked up a red truck doing 53 in a 35 mph construction zone. Making a U-turn, he activated his overhead lights and siren to effect a traffic stop of the vehicle.
The truck took a little longer than normal to pull over than most. McLane knew this could be attributable to any number of things, ranging from intoxication to someone planning something dangerous or just being a bad driver.
He was planning any number of reactions. But the vehicle finally pulled to the side of the highway and McLane stopped behind it. He angled his car slightly to the left rear of the vehicle so as to afford himself the cover of the engine block as well as a corridor in which to make his approach of the driver.
McLane then called in the truck's license plate. But Friday nights can be busy for Bozeman dispatch, and tonight was no exception as the return was taking longer than normal. After some time had passed, he elected to get out of his car and contact the driver anyway.
As he stepped from his patrol vehicle, McLane saw that the driver was monitoring his approach, alternately checking his side and rearview mirrors. Again, something to notice, but nothing to be alarmed about. Still, it registered in the back of his mind.
Then just as he came abreast of the driver's side of the pickup, McLane heard his radio crackle.
"Are you 10-12?"
Bozeman dispatch was finally getting back with McLane's return and asking if he was out of earshot of his detention.
Not only was McLane not out of earshot but he was now within a foot of the detainee's open window. Not comfortable with the prospect of turning his back or otherwise backpedaling to receive the information, he ignored it. Whatever dispatch had to pass on would have to wait. McLane felt that he was now committed to dealing with the driver.
If McLane had retreated to his patrol unit and copied the information, he would have learned that the driver, Gary Gottfried, had over the prior few weeks grown increasingly volatile and depressed. Most recently, Gottfried had made threats to his ex-girlfriend that he would kill her and any cop that tried to come between them.
McLane was now that cop.[PAGEBREAK]
At the driver's window, McLane smiled and greeted the man with an explanation for the stop.
Normally, Gottfried was one for poor impulse control, with a battery of narcotics arrests and others to validate the assertion. But tonight, the 48-year-old's demeanor was calm and personable, and the broad smile he extended from beneath a large handlebar mustache matched McLane's.
"How are you doing?" he asked amicably.
Everything about Gottfried's demeanor was so immediately disarming that any reservations McLane had about the driver's delay in pulling over or the man's vigilance of his approach seemed to dissipate.
And it was at that moment that Gottfried swung the barrel of a Glock right at his face.
Kill or Be Killed
McLane's synapses kicked into hyperdrive, his mind asking if the gun was real and just as quickly discounting the possibility it wasn't. With a mere six inches separating his face from the barrel, there wasn't much ambiguity about the threat. Gottfried's finger squeezed the trigger.
McLane didn't know what was more incredible-that the man had tried to kill him, or that he'd failed. A misfire? An empty chamber? McLane had no idea, but he knew he couldn't count on fate or the driver for any second amnesty.
Batting at Gottfried's gun with his left hand, McLane stepped back and to his right, determined to simultaneously put distance between himself and the gun and saddle Gottfried with a more difficult angle to draw a bead from.
As he moved, he saw Gottfried's hands were already manipulating the slide in a desperate bid to rack a round into the Glock's chamber.
McLane wasn't going to allow the man that chance. He drew his own Glock sidearm and fired five rounds, rapid fire.
Darting back for his driver's door, he knew that he didn't want his wife confined to the car if the firefight continued. Pointing at a bank across the street, he wordlessly indicated where he wanted her to take cover. Rhonda didn't hesitate, and moved from the passenger door of the unit and around the rear of the patrol unit for the bank.
McLane dove behind the driver's door of his unit, appreciative of the angle that he'd selected for parking the car and the fact that he had an engine block between himself and the suspect. He then radioed the shooting in.
Verbal commands failed to elicit any response from Gottfried, and once a sufficient number of officers were on scene, they made a tactical approach on Gottfried's vehicle. They found him unconscious. He was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead two hours later.
Back to Normalcy
McLane's first four rounds of Speer .40 S&W formed a tight grid on the left rear of the driver's compartment window. A fifth round was just to their right as McLane had compensated in anticipation that the driver might slump or dive to his right.
Some have speculated that this incident was a suicide by cop. McLane suspects not.[PAGEBREAK]
"Gottfried had told others that he was not going to let law enforcement take him in. That's not suicide by cop. That's just a bad guy. The fact that he made a cardinal mistake in not racking a round doesn't mitigate the fact that he tried to rack the slide immediately thereafter. If it'd been a suicide by cop, he would have simply pointed the gun and let things play out," McLane reasons.
In the days following the shooting, McLane noticed a reticence on the part of some to talk with him. "A lot of people walked on eggshells; they didn't know how to approach. They don't know if I was supposed to feel bad, or what."
McLane has advice for others who find themselves dealing with officers who've been in shootings. "Just walk up to them and talk with them. If they don't want to talk about the shooting, they won't. The main thing is that they want to get back to a sense of normalcy," he says.
Things got back to normal relatively quickly for McLane and his wife. Fostering that return to status quo was the shared anticipation between McLane and his wife that things might not always be so, and he was thankful that he'd taken the time to explain to his wife what he expected of her during a crisis ahead of time.
"A conversation I have with all ridealongs, including my wife, is that if I tell you to do something, don't ask questions. Just do it. I looked back at her and saw this freaked out expression on her face but all I had to do was point toward the bank and she knew what to do.
"She moved there and was in relatively safe position for any back-and-forth shooting that might still occur," McLane says. "She didn't have a lot of issues about the incident afterward, either. She saw how it went down and how I reacted and I think that it's helped her feel more secure in my ability to do the job."
Another thing that gave McLane peace of mind was knowing that he had multiple documentations of the incident through video and audio recordings. "We have dashboard cameras, but I believe in having something for backup and had a pocket recorder running throughout the incident," he says.
Knowing that he had audio and video documentation of the incident was important to him. As an internal affairs investigator on the department's last two officer-involved shootings, he knew how important it was to have such material available. "I knew what the investigation was going to entail, and I knew what I did. I knew that there wasn't going to be any question marks about what had happened and whether or not my actions were necessary. And ultimately, there weren't."
There aren't many things that McLane would have done differently in dealing with Gottfried. While he would have liked to have gotten the information regarding the man's frame of mind, he understands that sometimes returns on requests don't come as quickly as you'd like them to. Still, he tends to take more time with his traffic stops these days.
"Racing up to the window isn't going to speed up the resolution of the traffic stop, even for a non-violent situation, and it isn't going to give a subject any more time to do something that they're already predisposed to commit. It's going to give you that much more time to prepare and react.
"Had I taken a little more time in walking, I would have gotten that information which would have availed me the opportunity to handle things differently," he admits.
Another thing that McLane has committed himself to doing is conditioning himself to react more quickly to any such threats in the future.
"I noticed during the incident that I had about a fifth of a second of hesitation in getting the gun out of the holster, which I have since corrected," McLane says. "I wasn't even consciously aware of it at the time, but I can see it on my dashboard video and remember it."
McLane notes that all of the evening's preceding traffic stops had been in more remote areas. This was the first that happened to be in the city. Perhaps at some unconscious level and because the traffic detention had been made in a well-lit area, McLane had elected to leave his flashlight in the vehicle, thereby freeing up his hands.
He believes it a fortuitous oversight, and that it may have been instrumental to his survival.
McLane continues to work for Bozeman PD, and recently, he had the disconcerting experience of conducting a traffic stop near the site of the shooting: A red pickup whose driver sported a large handlebar mustache.
"He turned out to be a pretty nice guy," McLane says.
We invite you to submit a comment below telling us how you would handle a similar situation?