Officers Rachel Morgan and Ryan Hayo of the Paramus (N.J.) Police Department fired back at a driver who began shooting at Morgan from his car lodged in a snow bank. Officer Morgan stayed in the fight after going down with three bullet wounds, and Officer Hayo assisted as backup. For their actions, they have both been named July 2011 officers of the month by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Officer Rachel Morgan wasn't even supposed to be working on Superbowl Sunday. She traded shifts with a friend so he could celebrate his birthday. She was checking on businesses that night while most people were inside watching the game. But Michael Carmody, 23, was on the road.
He exited a gas station abruptly and almost ran into Officer Morgan's car as he entered the right lane of traffic instead of slowly merging from the shoulder, as most drivers do in that area. He didn't seem to notice what had just happened and even swerved in front of her again.
"I figured he was on his cell phone or whatever," remembers Morgan. The driver was clearly not paying adequate attention to the road for some reason, and the officer's suspicion was piqued. She continued to follow the silver Acura and entered the license plate on her in-car computer. Just as she was getting a return that signified the plate belonged to a Porsche, Morgan saw Carmody glance over his shoulder and realize for the first time a police cruiser was behind him. The silver car sped away, leaving smoke from a noisy exhaust in its wake.
Morgan took chase and soon saw the car lodged in a snow bank next to the Garden State Parkway onramp. At such a high speed it couldn't take the curve and turned 180 degrees to face Officer Morgan's approaching vehicle.
Morgan stopped, exited the car, and drew her weapon. She gave the driver verbal commands: "Show your hands, shut the car off," but he wouldn't make eye contact. Instead, he focused on trying to drive the car out of the snowbank.
"The engine was screaming. I remember the revving of his engine and the loud exhaust, and I yelled louder to make sure he could hear me," says Morgan. "I said, 'Dude, it's not worth it. It's a traffic ticket.' I was doing my best to rationalize with him."
But the officer was making no progress with words, and she was worried that if he wasn't brought under control the man would do something rash like run the officer over or flee and kill someone. So she approached the vehicle to physically remove him from the car. "I needed a hand to open the car, and one to grab him, so I holstered my weapon," Morgan says.
Then, in an instant, Carmody brought his arm up from under his seat and started shooting a 9mm semi-auto pistol directly at Officer Morgan. The six-foot-tall woman took two bullets in the abdomen, under her ballistic vest. She began a tactical retreat, backing up toward her vehicle while trying to unholster her sidearm. As she reached her car door, another bullet hit her hip, and her legs went out from under her.
"As I got out of my car, she was approaching the suspect's vehicle from a 45-degree angle to his rear, so I approached from a 45 to the front," remembers Officer Ryan Hayo, who had arrived as backup. "I got maybe two or three steps when I saw the suspect shooting at her. I could see the flashes in the car. She went down pretty quickly."
Having drawn his gun as he exited the car, Hayo was able to immediately engage the suspect. Meanwhile, Morgan did what she could to stay in the fight from where she lay on the ground.
"I rolled on my side and got my gun free and aimed at the door where I thought his body should be in the vehicle," says Morgan. "I shot eight rounds, and I remember looking at the grouping in the door and not being happy with it. I propped myself up on my elbow so I could get more height and emptied the clip."
Both officers emptied their guns. Hayo reloaded his weapon and rushed to Morgan's side. She was still on the ground and began a tactical reload, but Hayo touched her shoulder and assured her he'd cover her. The suspect had stopped shooting, but neither officer could be sure he was out of the fight.
A third officer arrived on scene. He and Hayo cautiously approached Carmody's car and saw the man had been shot in the head and he'd dropped his gun. They secured his weapon and waited for medics to arrive. Carmody died three days later of his wounds. He had a history of arrests related to drugs and alcohol, but it's not clear why he fled and shot at officers.
Morgan was transported to a hospital where she underwent hours of surgery to save her life. She is now undergoing physical therapy five days a week to recover from severe nerve damage in her leg, among other issues. "It's huge, the progress I've made," says Morgan. "I have faith I'll be good as new."
Hayo was not injured in the incident and returned to work three weeks later. But the experience of being involved in his first shooting has changed him.
"One of your worst fears is seeing another officer get shot, and that happened right in front of me," Hayo says. "It makes you look at things a little bit differently. You take that extra step to take the time to be a little more careful, so it won't happen again."
Both officers say their training kicked in and allowed them to react quickly and stay in the fight. They agree that drills that seemed silly in the academy can be the very things that save your life.
"In the academy they yell at you, and when you're there you don't get it," says Morgan. "They always tell you, 'Don't quit now.' I remember hitting the ground, and I know right there I had a choice to make. I could hear my trainers' voices in my head saying 'Don't quit.' I would tell everyone, never count yourself out of the game. Stay in it."