Michigan State Trooper Kevin Caldwell never expected to exchange gunfire with anyone May 22, 2009 on his day off. But the law enforcement officer and ordained pastor who serves as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve drew on training from both his occupations to aid a fellow officer taking fire from an enraged home owner. It was for his selfless actions he has been chosen as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) Officer of the Month for June 2010.
Caldwell was just leaving class for seminary training in Allen Park, Mich., when he happened to pull into traffic behind a city patrol officer. As he drove past a residential area, Caldwell heard the unmistakable sound of shotgun rounds in rapid succession. It was coming from a house just off the main road he was traveling on.
"The officer in front of me hit his brakes," remembers Caldwell. "With no good conscience could I just keep driving, so I hit my brakes and followed him as he turned around toward the sound of the shots. We had just passed the street."
Caldwell later found out the sounds they heard were shots being fired at a civilian court officer who was serving eviction papers on the home owner. The man escaped unscathed. But at the time, neither officer had any idea what they were dealing with.
The uniformed officer pulled up in front of the house and Caldwell parked behind him. It didn't take long for things to go south.
"The officer got out and the suspect opened up on him. Within the next few moments, he shot him several times through his [patrol] car," Caldwell says.
In his church clothes, without ballistic protection, armed only with his department-issued .40 caliber SIG Sauer, Caldwell took up a position of cover behind his car's engine block to help the uniformed Allen Park PD officer.
Barricaded in his house, the shooter kept firing on the police officer from behind various windows, both upstairs and downstairs, never revealing himself.
Shots shattered the patrol car's windows, throwing shards of glass into the officer's face. The officer moved away from the car. Caldwell left his position of cover to retrieve the officer and pulled him to safety behind a cement wall adjacent to the house. There, Caldwell assessed the officer's wounds.
"There was a large amount of blood over his chest. He saw that just like I did," says Caldwell. "But when I opened his shirt I saw the blood had just pooled there [on top of his ballistic vest] from where the glass had injured his face. That was a tremendous relief that there were no internal injuries to his vital organs. He had, however, been shot through the arms."
After administering first aid, Caldwell commandeered the officer's AR-15, a definite upgrade from his pistol, and again took up a position behind the engine block of his personal vehicle. He was afraid the barricaded man might exit the house and injure people in the neighborhood, and wanted to contain the threat.
A backup officer arrived on scene and took the wounded officer to the hospital, where he recovered. But Caldwell wasn't out of the fight yet.
"I got pinned down for almost three hours by gunfire," says Caldwell. "There were a few times where rounds were skipping by my feet between our cars, and then eventually our Emergency Services team was brought in."
After firing a total of more than 200 rounds, the man was found dead in his basement.
Caldwell credits his faith and his support from his department and his family with helping him to endure the incident and its aftermath.
"I think that was very helpful to come home and talk to a wife who is also willing to face danger," says Caldwell of his spouse, who serves on the Ann Arbor (Mich.) Police Department. "Having a wife who is a police officer has been very helpful."
Far from being a stumbling block, the incident solidified Caldwell's resolve to embark on his new second career as a chaplain. "Since that time, it just reassured me what I was doing," he says. "A lot of times the chaplains in the military are full-time pastors. I'm able to bridge that gap big time because I've been there."
Caldwell received the Michigan State Police Bravery Award for his actions.
Caldwell's advice for other officers? "When dealing with things of this nature, looking for a resolution in dealing with the stressors and the baggage, I'd encourage them not to look inward, not to look outward, but to look upward."