Not only did Officer Rocco Cipriano end a standoff with an emotionally disturbed teenage girl without injury to anyone, in doing so he also saved the life of the girl's guardian, who suffered from a severe heart condition. For his actions, this Scranton (Pa.) Police Department patrolman has been selected as the January 2011 Officer of the Month by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
It began when a call came in on Sep. 16, 2010, of an assault on a sibling. The guardian of two girls called 911 when he saw the 15-year-old drag her 10-year-old sister down a flight of stairs and punch her in the face. He barricaded himself in his bedroom when he realized the older girl knew he'd witnessed the scene. He had a severe heart condition and was on the list for an organ transplant, and was worried the older girl, who had a history of mental health problems, could cause him harm.
Cipriano responded and parked a few blocks away before walking toward the residence. A neighbor stopped him and said the girl had been outside of the house carrying a butcher knife and told the neighbor she would kill the cops if they came.
"I immediately heard yelling and screaming and things breaking," says Cipriano. "The female was pacing and throwing things. I knocked and announced and tried to gain rapport, but I couldn't."
Considering the emergent situation, Cipriano decided the time for talking had ended. The caller was barricaded inside his room, in danger because of his heart condition, and the armed teenager was roaming the house raving. The officer broke the lock on the front door, but something inside was blocking entry. He later found out it was a homemade wooden security device the guardian had devised.
"The EDP was mirroring my movements and yelling and screaming," says Cipriano.
Changing tack, the officer eyed an air conditioning unit sitting in a large window along the front of the house. His plan was to push the unit inside to provide an opening and then climb through the window. The teen watched him and waved her knife wildly.
"She was yelling, 'You're going to get this if you come in!'" the officer remembers.
As Cipriano pushed the air conditioner through the window, the girl attacked the unit with her knife and the blade became stuck, leaving the girl holding just the wooden handle.
Suddenly disarmed, the teen became more compliant, so Cipriano stayed outside and was able to convince her to walk toward the door to let him in. He heard her remove something from the door as his backup arrived and joined him. The girl opened the door, and the officers wedged themselves into the door and grabbed her.
"A struggle began. We weren't able to restrain her, so my sergeant deployed a TASER, and we were able to take her," says Cipriano. "The guardian was in his bedroom, barricaded. He was found before he suffered any setbacks."
It was discovered that the younger sister had run to a neighbor's house where she was found unharmed. The older sister was transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and treatment.
"In this situation, there was a necessary situation that had to be acted upon immediately. But if there is no imminent threat, it's advisable to await a backup unit in case you fall or something else happens," Cipriano advises.
Under the circumstances, he wouldn't have done anything differently.
"I think the incident ended in the perfect way," says Cipriano. "No one was injured. I don't think it could have ended any better than it did."
For more information, visit the Website of the NLEOMF Officer of the Month program.