Wednesday. Humpday. Payday. July 9, 2008, had been all this, and for Jim Simone it would prove to be more. Having spent part of his morning in court, Simone stopped by his local bank branch as he'd long been accustomed. Even if he wasn't the only guy on the Cleveland Division of Police who still cashed his paycheck in person, he'd still have been obligated to pick up the $10 in pennies he'd later divide up among the 10 five-gallon piggybanks he kept at home for his grandchildren.
Pulling into the parking lot behind the bank, Simone stepped out of his truck and took a moment to take off his uniform shirt, carefully fold it, and lay it on the seat. He wanted to be able to conduct his business in the bank without anyone getting upset at the sight of his uniformed presence. A few seconds more and his cell phone and holster were enveloped beneath his shirt and out of view. Removing his Glock 9mm from its holster, Simone stuck the gun in his waistband and headed for the bank.
Simone entered the back door of the bank, carrying his checkbook, ink pen, check, and deposit slip inside. It was all part of a routine that had found Simone equally familiar with the girls who worked at the branch and the bank's business. It was this familiarity with the bank's employees and operations that caused him 20 feet in to note an inordinate amount of silence as he made his way inside.
Simone glanced at a teller to his left. The two knew one another well enough for Simone to see that she was having a hard time preventing a bizarre expression from registering on her face. It alerted Simone to the presence of a male standing at the next teller window. Simone realized very quickly that he had walked into a robbery in progress.
The man at the teller window stopped stuffing money into his pockets and quickly turned and looked at Simone.
Simone made a mental commitment to himself that the suspect wasn't going to get by him, and he wasn't going to let him rob the bank in front of him, either. The man stared at Simone and then started walking toward him. When Simone refused to back up, the man jammed his hand into his jacket pocket and gestured as if he had a gun.
Simone's uniform shirt might have been in his ride, but his uniform pants were still present and accounted for. Nonetheless, the sartorial implications failed to visibly register with the man. Simone decided to make sure they did.
Lifting his shirt, Simone grabbed his Glock and announced himself.
The robbery suspect opted for Plan B: He turned and ran for the opposite door.
As the man cleared the door, the dyepack he'd stuffed into his pocket detonated. Undeterred, the man veered southbound down the street at full throttle, smoke blowing from his pants. Simone yelled to the teller to call 911, then chased the man through the parking lot of the plaza until he spotted a Jeep stopped in front of him.
"That guy just robbed a bank!" yelled the off-duty nurse in the Jeep.
"I know it. I'm a policeman and I'm trying to catch him."
Simone didn't have to be invited a second time. Jumping into the passenger side of the Jeep, he monitored the suspect as the woman steered behind the man's billowing trail. After another half a block, the man suddenly jumped into a truck parked on the west side of West 52nd Street, halfway between Memphis and Woburn. That was when the woman did something Simone didn't expect her to do.
She pulled up right next to the truck.
Show Me Your Hands!
Another time and place, Simone might have taken the opportunity to edify the Samaritan as to the import of sound officer safety practices. He would have at least advised her of the precarious position that she'd put him in. But circumstances at that particular moment were such that the officer had to act decisively.
So Simone leaped out of the Jeep and onto the running board of the truck, his 9mm in hand.
"Show me your hands!"
For the second time the guy in the truck looked at Simone, this time with an incredulous "Where the hell did you come from?" expression. Instead of complying with Simone's commands, his hand went for his pants pocket. It was a fateful lack of compliance.
Fearing that the man was going for a gun, Simone fired one round from his Glock through the door of the truck. The bullet hit the suspect in his left side and went through his chest.
Jumping off the truck, Simone watched as the robbery suspect drove off. He got back in the Jeep, and he and the nurse followed the truck as it continued for half a block before coming to a stop in the middle of the street.
The nurse pulled up just short of the truck this time, and Simone was able to take a more evaluative posture on things. He yelled at the driver to pull his vehicle around the corner. Nothing.
As people began to mill about the general vicinity, Simone yelled at the top of his lungs in the hopes of getting some degree of compliance from the robbery suspect who'd failed to exhibit any so far.
"Show me your hands!" he bellowed. "Show me your hands!"
But the man didn't show his hands. Simone approached the truck. Training his 9mm on the suspect with his right hand, he opened the door with his left. That was when he saw the gunshot wound.
Reaching into the cab, Simone grabbed the suspect by his hair and pulled him out. Laying the man in the street next to the truck, Simone realized that the robbery suspect had only a few minutes to live. A death rattle and a deep breath later and the man was gone.
The nurse called 911 and the ambulance came. Internal Affairs and the shooting team came. They taped off the area. They were there for hours. Simone accompanied the shooting team back to the bank where they pulled the video and reenacted the shooting. Simone watched himself enter the bank.
"I came in the back door. He was trying to go out that door because his truck was parked on the adjacent street. His truck was parked southeast of the bank," Simone recalls. "He came in the east facing door. He went out the west door instead, which put him in the parking lot of the shopping plaza with several hundred people."
Because Simone believed the robbery suspect to be a threat to the public he chased after him. "When I got to Memphis Avenue, the next major street, traffic was stopped for a red light. He jumped over the hoods of a couple of cars. I, at 60 years old, jumped over the same hoods. My adrenaline was running."
Earlier that day, the deceased robbery suspect Robert Hackworth had picked the truck up from a dealership on the pretext of taking it for a test drive. Instead, he'd taken the truck to use in the bank robbery, no doubt seeing both the truck and its dealer plates as agreeable buffers to his being identified.
A patrol officer of the year and medal of valor recipient, Simone experienced something unfamiliar to him: difficulty dealing with the shooting. At first blush, this might not sound like much of an anomaly; lots of officers experience some regret in the aftermath of a shooting. Simone had been in 19 such incidents. "But this was the first time where I'd shot someone who wasn't actually armed."
That the 35-year-old Hackworth had an extensive record and was a known drug dealer did little to mollify Simone's conscience.
"That doesn't justify the act after the fact, but I felt sorry for his family," he says. "But in reality, he created the scenario that caused his own death. All he had to do was put his hands up and there would have been no problem. He would have been arrested for bank robbery. He opted to do all the crazy stuff that caused me to kill him. I've never shot a guy who didn't have a gun. I felt bad. I really did feel bad."
But his response to the shooting was solely his own, and not predicated upon the rants of Hackworth's girlfriend who was televised on the local six o'clock news that night simultaneously demonizing Simone and lionizing the decedent as a man who'd been planning to stop selling drugs, turn his life around, get his GED, and marry his baby's mama. "Why kill him over money?" she asked, before dying herself three weeks later of a heroin overdose.
If Simone had his way he wouldn't have killed the man. His concern for human life had been in the forefront of his mind throughout the incident.
"My big concern was tactically there's going to be a background, people shopping," he explains. "You've got to watch your fire. There's a whole line of stores, then there's a residential street. Kids are playing kickball in the street. People are on their porches. I was conscious that at one point I was going to fire at him as he was running away, but there was traffic on the adjacent street. I might have missed him and hit a car on Memphis. You have to be conscious of your surroundings at all times. I wanted to narrow the distance and get close to him. That's why I pursued him."
Simone's concern for human life included his own, and it was Hackworth's actions that forced Simone's hand. He knew that he had an obligation to come home to his wife every night, and no bank robbery was worth losing his life. He also understands that a difficult part of the job is that at some point you may have to take someone's life.
Simone, who retired in March 2011 and currently works as a part-time police officer in Grand River, Ohio, has one last piece of advice for those who stand to don the badge. "If you think you can get through your whole career as a police officer and not dispense any violence or hurt to anyone, go find another career. This is a violent job and we deal with violent people. Sometimes you have to be violent yourself. But you have to be in control of your violence—and they don't."
What Would You Do?
- Put yourself in the shoes of Officer Jim Simone of the Cleveland Division of Police. You have walked into your favorite bank branch and a robbery is in progress. Now ask yourself what you would do.
- Do you routinely carry while off-duty? What about while traveling? Has recent legislation affected your choice in weapon carry?
- What would you do if confronted by a suspect in similar circumstances? Would you elect to pursue or simply be a good witness? What factors might affect your decision?
- Having been involved in multiple shootings, Simone said this was the only one that bothered him as the suspect turned out to be unarmed. Still, his use of deadly force was wholly justified given the situation. Would you be as decisive in your response to similar circumstances? How do you think you might respond if you realized that you'd shot an unarmed man?