Shots Fired: Bismarck, North Dakota 07/08/2012

A domestic. Despite the shorthand, Officer Brad Jerome of the Bismarck (N.D.) Police Department knew such calls usually portended something decidedly undomestic, and the fact that this one was in a trailer park on the eastern part of town only raised the odds.

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A domestic.

Despite the shorthand, Officer Brad Jerome of the Bismarck (N.D.) Police Department knew such calls usually portended something decidedly undomestic, and the fact that this one was in a trailer park on the eastern part of town only raised the odds. What Jerome and other Bismarck officers could not have known was just how much it would raise the stakes on this night.

With Officer Jason Bullis accompanying him, Jerome arrived at the Broadway address shortly after 10:40 PM. As they approached the dwelling on foot, they passed a white economy-style van—the type used by contractors—and an intoxicated woman in search of a cigarette. After sending the woman on her way, Jerome and Bullis made contact with a second female outside who said that her son had called the police.

The woman told the officers that she and her boyfriend, Stephen G. Bannister, had earlier had an argument during which he'd held a knife to her stomach and threatened to slit her throat. While she'd succeeded in getting away from Bannister, she didn’t know if he was still inside the house or had migrated elsewhere.

The officers convened and it was decided that Bullis would stay inside and search the residence while Jerome went to search the outside area. Just then, Sgt. Cody Trom arrived on scene and was briefed. He went inside with Bullis.

Jerome left the residence and drew his sidearm. He figured that while he didn't know where the outstanding suspect was, the odds were very good that if Bannister was still in the area he had seen the officers. Jerome didn't want the knife-wielding man to get a drop on him.

For a few minutes Jerome carefully searched about the trailer court until he heard, "Police officer! Show your hands!"

Tinted Windows

The voice belonged to Sgt. Steve Kenner of the Bismarck PD who had arrived as backup. Jerome ran from the east side of the trailer to its west side. There he found Kenner shouting instructions at the unseen occupant of a white van with tinted windows. It was parked across the street from the trailer to the west. It was the same van that Jerome had walked by on his approach to the residence.

Running up to the driver's side of the van with his weapon drawn and flashlight out, Jerome pressed his face up against a tinted window behind the driver’s door and joined Kenner in yelling commands.

"Bismarck Police, show your hands!"

Just beyond the black veil of the window, Jerome's flashlight beam revealed the presence of an unkempt male with long, stringy hair seated in the back of the van. The man looked upward, a moustache and goatee coming into view as well as a gaze that Jerome had long ago come to associate with some chemically altered state.

Time seemed to slow down and the suspect stared in Jerome's direction on the driver's side of the vehicle. The man held the stare for the better part of five seconds, then craned his neck in the direction of the passenger side of the van where he appeared to look at Kenner for a couple of seconds, as well. His head swung back in Jerome's direction for a couple more seconds before again swiveling back toward Kenner. Only this time there was a loud bang.

An amber flash lit up the interior of the van. Jerome instantly realized that the man was now firing at Kenner with a handgun. Jerome returned fire with his Smith & Wesson 4006. Four rounds of .40 caliber Hydra-Shok ammo shattered the tinted rear passenger window; then Jerome peeled off and out of the kill zone.

Forty Down

Not knowing whether the gunman had been hit or not, Jerome moved to the front of the van in hopes of acquiring a tactical advantage. He crouched and listened but could only hear and see Sgt. Trom and Officer Bullis as they emerged from inside the trailer.

As soon as the gunfire had erupted events had begun to progress with slow-motion finesse.

"What happened?!"

It was Trom's voice, coming through loud and clear. But then auditory exclusion had not for one second been Jerome's problem—tunnel vision was. And he had it really bad; his peripheral vision was gone and all that he could see was whatever was directly in front of him down a long hollow.

Come on, he told himself. You have to finish this and finish it right.

"Shots fired!"

As soon as he'd yelled the reply to Trom, Jerome's peripheral vision opened up and from the corner of his eye he glimpsed the image of a flashlight on the ground that he knew wasn’t his. He peeked around the corner of the van.

Kenner lay there on his back. The big sergeant was still moving his right arm, and it looked like he'd had the wind knocked out of him and was trying to catch his breath. Twice Kenner gasped for breath, and the third time he exhaled, blood poured out of his mouth.

Jerome keyed his portable radio.

"Officer down! Forty is down!"

"Forty" was the call sign for the 6-foot- 6-inch Kenner, and the officers on-scene immediately transitioned from fight mode to extract mode, with Officer Noel Lindelow running to Jerome's aid as Jerome yelled for him to get down. While he hadn't heard any sounds associated with the van since he'd fired his rounds, he still did not know if the suspect had vacated it or was still in the rear and prepared to re-engage.

Now hunkered down near the front of the van with Jerome, Lindelow whispered to him, "We gotta get you the hell out of here. We gotta make a break for it."

They did exactly that, sprinting across to the east side of the street, where they took cover behind some curbside vehicles before Lindelow doubled back to join Trom and Bullis.

With the kind of characteristic leadership that had made him a ranking officer on the Bismarck PD SWAT team, Trom began coordinating rescue efforts for Kenner. Each of the officers knew that the extraction was not going to be easy: Kenner weighed more than 300 pounds and was in no position to help himself.

Trom sprinted three-quarters of a block north and grabbed a patrol car, which he drove back to the scene where Bullis grabbed a ballistic shield from it. With the shield for cover, the trio advanced to the van where Trom veered off to tend to Kenner as Bullis slammed the bunker up against the window of the van. The remaining fragments of glass occupying the window frame shattered, revealing a clear view of the rear of the van and the fact that Bannister was incapacitated.

At the sound of "Subject's down inside the van!" over the radio, Jerome ran back across the street to the van. Staring into its rear, Jerome could see a bullet wound just above Bannister’s right eye at the browline.

Although Bannister was breathing, they could see that he was plainly out of the fight and opened the rear doors of the van to effect his arrest. They threw a set of cuffs on Bannister, then Bullis grabbed his shoulder as Jerome corralled his feet. Together, the officers extracted Bannister from the van and set him down outside as Lindelow set about trying to locate and retrieve the weapon from the van.

Casualties and Conviction

Bannister was transported to St. Alexius Medical Center where he was treated for his injuries before being transferred to a custodial facility.

Sgt. Kenner was not so fortunate. A bullet entered the right side of his upper torso. The round first struck the aorta, ricocheted off his vertebrae, then stopped in his lung. The 32-year law enforcement veteran was pronounced dead at Med Center Hospital.

Why Kenner was not wearing his ballistic vest that night can only be speculated upon.

"He'd been dealing with a shoulder injury and been looking at rotator cuff surgery," Jerome recalls. “I know the cold weather made it worse. Maybe he’d just found it too uncomfortable to wear one.”

Nor can Jerome say why Bannister—a man with only misdemeanor weapons violations in other counties prior to that night—shot Kenner instead of him.

"The only thing I can think of in recalling him looking back and forth between us was that Kenner made that much more of a target."

Not that Jerome hadn’t been targeted himself. Investigators determined that Bannister had already started to transition toward him when Jerome opened fire. Jerome’s decisive and aggressive fire had not only saved himself, but possibly other officers, as well. Still, his obvious wish is that Kenner had been spared, too. He might well have been, had they any idea of the possibility of Bannister’s possession of a firearm.

"But Bannister's girlfriend never said a word about it," Jerome notes. "She'd only volunteered to Trom and Bullis that Bannister would sometimes go and 'sleep it off' in the van about the time that the first shots went off. But later she'd admitted to investigators that she’d known him to have been armed in the past since he’d brandished a gun and threatened to kill her with it."

Bannister has had little to say about the incident other than, "I don't know why they didn't just leave me alone." He was tried and convicted for the murder of Sgt. Kenner and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Long Nights

Jerome has had his own demons to contend with. Not too long after the shooting he began experiencing difficulty falling asleep. He would lie in bed and listen anxiously as his breathing became heavy and labored.

He sought counseling. He says it has helped considerably.

"Still, that was the start of a really terrible year for me," Jerome says. "We had a second officer-involved shooting not long thereafter—the specifics of which I can't elaborate on as it is still tied up in court. But that's been a stressor, too."

When Jerome reflects back on the terrible night that ended Sgt. Kenner's life, he finds a multitude of factors that came into play, not the least of which was Kenner's failure to wear a protective vest. Nor is Jerome a fan of window tinting.

"It was drilled into my head from early on that it was an officer safety liability, and this incident only helps illustrate that fact," he explains. "Unfortunately, the vehicle was street legal in the eyes of the state and its vehicle codes."

Jerome is thankful for the training that got him through the night.

"I firmly believe that our being a proactive shift helped considerably as it has to a degree fallen upon the shifts to take up training," he says. "Within two months prior to the shooting we conducted what we refer to as 'box-training,' where the officer is brought into a situation with a box over his head, effectively blindfolded. The 'blindfold' is then removed and you have to deal with the threat that is immediately and directly in front of you. I honestly believe this training saved my life because I didn’t have time to think about anything other than what was there right before me. By removing the peripheral distractions that can sometimes become inhibiting, I was conditioned to react that much quicker to the threat and put the suspect down before he had a chance to spin back in my direction and fire."

Officer Brad Jerome was awarded the Bismarck Police Department's Medal of Honor and its Hostile Engagement medal. In addition, the state of North Dakota recognized him with the Bravery Award. Sgt. Cody Trom, Officer Jason Bullis, and Officer Noel Lindelow were awarded the department's Medal of Valor. Sgt. Steve Kenner was posthumously awarded the department’s Medal of Honor.


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