There are times when you have to take your time on a call. Times when you have to wait for backup, develop a well-coordinated game plan, and arrange for logistical and tactical support before you take action.
But when a nine-year-old calls 911 and says that his daddy has just shot and killed his mommy and is coming for him, that isn't one of them.
Such was the situation that faced Capt. Tom Pozza of the Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Police Department early on the evening of June 11, 2004.
Where is the Gun?
Pozza was off duty and working overtime as security for a housing complex that was just around the corner from the Tenth Street location of the shooting when the call went out. The only information that his desk could pass on was sketchy at best: no suspect description and no definite location of the child.
Arriving on scene, Pozza pulled up well short of the location, exited his patrol car, and approached the driveway of the residence with his gun drawn. As he neared the driveway's apron, he spotted a man walking down the driveway toward him. For reasons Pozza's not sure of to this day, the first words that came out of his mouth were, "Where is the gun?"
"I have it," came the man's reply as he raised the gun by its butt for Pozza to see.
The palpitations in Pozza's chest grew stronger. Never before had he so quickly received a response to a question. And never before had he desired something so simple as a suspect description.
Pozza stared at the wiry man with dark curly hair. Could this be another family member who had gotten the better of the suspect? A neighbor who, in response to the sounds of shots being fired, had investigated during the suspect's momentary absence and retrieved the firearm from the scene?
Or was it the suspect himself?
These thoughts coursed through Pozza's mind in a split second, eclipsed by one overriding objective: To take control of the situation.
Pozza immediately aimed his sidearm at the man and ordered him to drop the weapon.
"Don't shoot me!" the man cried out.
"I'm not going to." Pozza's voice was calm, but assertive. "Just put the gun down and step away from it."
As far as Pozza was concerned, there had been more than enough shooting. Somewhere in this sad scenario were people whose welfare had to be determined, and the sooner that Pozza got a line on the players involved, the sooner he'd be able to get rescue on scene to render assistance for whoever might need it.
But for someone who said he didn't want to get shot, the curly-haired man did not exhibit the requisite degree of compliance: He wouldn't put the weapon down.
Just then Officer Brad Reynolds—Pozza's assisting unit—arrived on scene. Pozza's sense of relief upon seeing Reynolds was profound; he was becoming increasingly aware of just how vulnerable he was at that moment.
Pozza had become aware of the suspect's presence only after he'd progressed beyond any available cover and concealment in front of the property. The two men might as well have been offset from one another at 20 paces at high noon. Pozza was stuck in no-man's land.
"Put the Gun Down!"
Keeping his gun pointed at the man, Pozza motioned toward Reynolds, who had just exited his patrol car.
"Put the gun down and walk toward that officer!" he ordered.
Instead, the man sat down on the front porch and laid the gun down next to him. Pozza might have taken this as a good sign, but he couldn't help but wonder if the man was buying time.
Suddenly, the man reached across his body with his right hand, seized the gun, and backed off the porch. Then in one fluid motion, he spun around and fired two rounds at Pozza.
Pozza, a mere 25 feet away, darted for cover behind a pickup truck that was parked in the driveway.
Four more shots rang out. Officer Reynolds was returning fire.
Seeing his captain holding a possible suspect at gunpoint, Reynolds had begun to approach the man from an angle that gave him a clear shot at the suspect while minimizing any prospects for crossfire with his captain. The three formed a perfect triangle.
At the sight of the man firing at his captain, Reynolds felt a rush of controlled adrenaline and anger. This son-of-a-bitch is shooting at my captain! he thought.
Reynolds' response was to immediately fire four 115-grain hollow point rounds from his position of cover behind a wooden telephone pole. His primary intention was to suppress the bad guy's fire, but one round was on target, striking the suspect's upper shoulder.
Reynolds succeeded in getting the suspect to momentarily cease his attack on Pozza. Unfortunately, the suspect now had someone else on his mind and in his sights: Reynolds.
The suspect's next round whizzed by Reynolds' head. Reynolds lined up the sights of his SIG P226 for a quick double-tap at the suspect. A second round from Reynolds' sidearm found its mark, also in the suspect's upper right shoulder, knocking him off balance.
But that didn't mean the suspect was through.
"I've Had Enough!"
Pozza popped up over the rear of the pickup. Seeing the wounded man still in possession of the firearm, Pozza fired. His round nailed the suspect, traversing through his upper right thigh before embedding itself in his upper left leg.
The incapacitated suspect suddenly experienced an epiphany: Shooting at cops can get you shot.
"OK, I've had enough! I give up!" the man yelled, tossing the gun into a nearby flowerbed, seven bullet holes too late.
The firearm was now well out of the man's reach, so both officers made a cautious approach and secured the man pending the arrival of paramedics.
With the suspect incapacitated and in custody, Pozza and Reynolds were finally able to make entry into the house.
The news was not good.
In the living room they found the body of 42-year-old Katherine L. Kube. The body of Karen Mallory, 45, was found in an attached garage. Both women had been shot multiple times in the head.
Subsequent investigation revealed that the man with whom Pozza and Reynolds exchanged gunfire, Joel Rhoten, had killed both women, one of whom was his estranged girlfriend.
Fortunately, the boy's life had been spared thanks to the officers' intervention and 911 desk personnel's instructions directing him to a safe haven.
For his crimes, Rhoten received consecutive life sentences plus enhancements for using a gun in the commission of a crime.
Looking back, Reynolds says he experienced auditory exclusion. He doesn't recall hearing a single round he fired, but his other senses compensated. The flash of smoke, flame from the muzzle, and the kick of each recoil let him know that his SIG was doing its job.
Pozza experienced many of the sensations that he'd come to associate with such incidents. There was a psychological schism that made him feel as though he was experiencing the incident from a distance; the muting of the gunfire rendered the blasts to mere pops; a visual deceleration of the action unfolding around him, seemingly allowing him to process information and respond at an inordinately fast clip. He also noticed that the muzzle flash had a decidedly different aura when viewed from the receiving end.
Pozza notes that he would have preferred engaging the suspect with a shotgun: The distance between them would have been optimal for accuracy and some .00 buck impact. But he didn't have one available at the time, and he still hasn't gotten back into the habit of deploying a shotgun.
The first thought that went through Pozza's mind with the suspect's initial round wasn't even to return fire, but to get to cover. He knew that this would not only offer personal protection, but would also establish a clear tactical advantage over the suspect who'd marooned himself on the porch without cover.
The pickup in the driveway afforded Pozza a means of cover, a metal barrier that would absorb incoming rounds and provide concealment. Also, darting for it meant that Rhoten would have to fire at a moving target, a difficult shot even for a more accomplished marksmen, especially when under fire.
While Pozza knew that Reynolds had returned fire, in the instance when he'd ducked down and momentarily lost sight of the suspect, he considered the possibility that the suspect might try to move around the pickup truck to take another shot at him. Pozza was immediately relieved that Reynolds had pinned the man down on the porch.
Pozza says that after Reynolds had engaged the suspect and he looked back over the rear of the pickup truck, he immediately recognized three things: The suspect was still alive; he still hadn't dropped the gun; and he wasn't giving up. Pozza's logical thought progression dictated one survival response: Continue to engage.
Once Pozza saw that the man was still in possession of the weapon and therefore still a candidate to suddenly resume his assault, he was not about to give him a second chance to shoot at the officers. He'd take the fight to the suspect until he took the fight out of him.
For Pozza, these are more than good words to remember; they form a philosophy to live by.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Consider the situation that faced Capt. Tom Pozza and Officer Brad Reynolds of the Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Police Department and ask yourself these questions:
″ How aggressive an approach to the location would you have taken?
″ Capt. Pozza said that he had only recently returned to the field and was not in the habit of carrying a shotgun with him. Do you routinely have one accessible to you while on patrol? If so, what kind? What kind of ammunition to you carry and why?
″ What is the most important information that you need relayed to you during crimes in progress? How successful are your dispatchers generally in getting such information to you in a timely manner? What are the biggest obstacles to getting such information?