Master Police Officer Joe Young of the Fredericksburg (Va.) Police Department protected a family from a man recently released from jail who threatened his ex-girlfriend because she had a new boyfriend. Young was forced to shoot the man, who took his own life. For his actions, Young has been selected as the June 2013 Officer of the Month by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The subject had been threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend since he had been released from jail. "On June 6, 2008, it came to a head," says Young. "He had purchased a handgun two weeks prior and had been threatening her throughout the day."
The woman's home went out to request an emergency protective order, on Young's recommendation. When she came back to her apartment building with her daughter and new boyfriend, the subject was waiting for them with a gun. He chased them down the stairs to their basement floor apartment, but the boyfriend locked the door and called 911.
The area was part of Young's beat, so he responded there again. By the time he arrived, the subject had left. "The new boyfriend, a huge guy, was close to 280 pounds and about six-foot-four," says Young. "When I got there, number one he wouldn't open the door, and then when he did this huge guy was in tears. Seeing that, I knew this was a legitimate threat."
Young put out a BOLO for the subject and his car, and both were quickly located in a nearby shopping center. Officer Todd Bahr, Young's squadmate and good friend, responded to assist, but when he arrived the subject drove away.
"When I heard that on the radio, I knew that he wasn't running from the police. He was running to the apartment," says Young. "I told the woman, 'He's running to you.'"
Considering the subject's many threats and his earlier attempt to enter the apartment with a gun, Young told the woman and her daughter and boyfriend to hide in the room furthest from the front door and to barricade themselves inside.
Young had a prospective employee riding along with him that day, and he wanted to keep him safe. "What I didn't want to do was put him in my car, because your car is a bullet magnet and he was my responsibility," says Young. So he told the man to go to the apartment complex nextdoor and lie on the ground of the breezeway on the top floor so he would be out of harm's way.
Next, Young came up with a plan for how to handle the subject's imminent approach.
"I knew I needed something to get the edge, so I moved my car right in front of the building, rolled the windows down, turned the radio up as high as it could go, and blasted Alice Cooper," Young says. He figured it would draw the attention of the subject. And he was right.
But before the man got to the apartment complex, Young heard four shots coming from a heavily landscaped area next to the building. He later found out the sounds were squadmate Todd Bahr being shot in the head, presumably by the subject.
At the time, all Young knew was that the man must be coming in his direction. He got into position on the second-floor breezeway of the threatened family's apartment building. "The family was in the basement apartment. I knew if I was on the second floor, the only way to get to them was underneath me," says Young.
The subject came out of the treeline, saw Young's parked patrol car, and shot at it repeatedly. Once he approached the car and realized no one was inside, the man moved toward his ex-girlfriend's apartment. Young announced himself from his position and told the man to stop. Instead, he shot at nearby apartments, but missed. It was time to act.
"I hit him four times," says Young. "He went down and shattered his femurs. I shot both femoral arteries out and shot him in the upper torso twice." Young went to cuff the man, but he shot himself in the head before Young or other officers and deputies by then on scene could intervene.
"If he had survived he would've gotten the death penalty for what he did to Todd," Young says.
This was only the second line-of-duty death in the department's history, the first having occurred 44 years before. Because of this incident, the Fredericksburg PD's chief made dramatic policy changes, such as more realistic training and improvements to the way officers are interviewed following shooting incidents. Young joined the peer counseling group that was created, and he's confident that when another line-of-duty death occurs officers will benefit.
"The night was tragic, but so many good things have come out of it," says Young. "Everybody who was there that night has gone on to do great things. Everybody gives 100% every day, and part of each one of us does it for Todd."