Final Tour: May 2015

An overview of line-of-duty deaths and what can be done

By Dale Stockton  |   Jun 1, 2015

May has proven to be a very deadly month for police officers over the last three years. It was the deadliest month in both 2013 and 2014 and this past month saw 16 line-of-duty deaths, equaled only by March of this year.

So far in 2015, 54 officers have been lost. While that’s 16% below this same time last year, it’s still far too many who never made it home to their families. Now five months into 2015, here’s what we know about our LODDs thus far:

Gunfire: Although three months of this year (January, February and April) went without a single death by assailant gunfire, that changed dramatically in May with eight officers dying from gunshots. Could this be indicative of heightened violence directed towards police as a result of recent events? Only time will tell but it bears watching and is a grim reminder of the importance of wearing body armor. Despite recent losses, gunfire deaths are down 24% compared to the same time last year.

Crashes: Deaths associated with vehicles, although down compared to the same time last year, continue to claim many more lives than assailant gunfire. Twenty-four have died in vehicle-related incidents compared to the 14 who have been shot and killed by suspects.

Heart attack: Eleven officers have succumbed to line-of-duty heart attacks. The youngest was 23 and seven of the officers were in their 40s. The oldest was 55.

Accidental gunfire: Two officers died as the result of accidental gunfire; both in training environments and the rounds were fired by other officers. These deaths are particularly tragic because they are so preventable and the devastation extends far beyond the victims’ families.

Other: Two officers died as the result of 9/11-related illnesses and one officer passed away as the result of injuries suffered ten years prior while trying to break up a large fight.

A Look at Last Month’s Losses
Of the 16 officers lost during the month of May, eight officers died as the result of assailant gunfire. Seven died in vehicle related incidents, two of which were related to deploying tire deflation devices. One officer succumbed to a heart attack. Listed in order of occurrence, here are summaries of those who served their final tour during this past month:

Officer Brian Moore, 25, New York PD, died two days after being shot as he and his partner stopped to question a suspicious person in Queens. The officers were assigned to the Anti-Crime Unit and on patrol in an unmarked car when they observed a male adjusting an object in his waistband. The officers pulled alongside and asked what he was carrying. The subject pulled out a handgun and fired into the vehicle, striking Moore in the face. The suspect was identified by witnesses and was subsequently arrested at his home.

Lt. Eric Eslary, 40, Ligonier Township (Pa.) PD, was killed in a vehicle collision at approximately 2:00 a.m. His patrol SUV was struck head-on by a van driving the wrong way on the divided highway. His canine partner, Blek, suffered serious injuries and underwent surgery at an emergency animal hospital. Blek is expected to fully recover but will probably be retired. The two occupants of the van were critically injured. The driver is believed to have been under the influence of alcohol. Eslary leaves behind a wife and six children.

Sgt. Greg Moore, 43, Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) PD, was shot and killed after stopping a suspicious male at approximately 1:30 a.m. Moore was checking an area that had experienced several car break-ins and notified dispatch he was going out on the subject. A citizen heard gunshots, saw Moore lying in the street and called the police. The suspect stole Moore’s service weapon and fled in his patrol car. An officer in neighboring Post Falls spotted the stolen patrol unit and a high-speed pursuit ensued. The suspect subsequently bailed from the vehicle and fled on foot. He was taken into custody after a police dog found him hiding under a truck. Moore is survived by his wife and two children.

Det. Paul Koropal, 47, Allegheny County (Pa.) District Attorney’s Office, Investigative Division, suffered a fatal heart attack while participating in the service of several search warrants in Fayette County. Koropal was working with a federal narcotics task force and told his partner he wasn’t feeling well. He was taken to a local hospital where he suffered a fatal heart attack at approximately 2:30 p.m. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Officers Liqori Tate, 25 and Benjamin Deen, 34, Hattiesburg (Miss.) PD, were both shot and killed during the nighttime traffic stop of a vehicle occupied by three subjects. One of the subjects fled in one of the officers’ patrol cars but abandoned it a short time later. After an extensive investigation, five subjects, including one female have been arrested and charged in the incident. Two of the subjects are charged with capital murder. One subject has been charged with accessory after the fact to capital murder and two other subjects have been charged with obstruction of justice. Tate had been an officer for eleven months. Deen was a six-year veteran and former officer of the year. Deen leaves behind a wife and two children.

Reserve Deputy Sonny Smith, 42, Johnson County (Ark.) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed as he and other deputies searched for a burglary suspect at approximately 2:30 a.m. Smith located the subject hiding in a wooded area and chased him. During the foot pursuit the man opened fire with a handgun, striking Smith in the neck. Smith was able to return fire and the suspect was subsequently taken into custody. Smith was transported to a local hospital but succumbed to his wounds. He is survived by his wife and four children.

Officer Richard Martin, 47, Houston PD, was struck and killed while trying to deploy a tire deflation device to stop a fleeing carjacking suspect. The suspect had been driving a stolen U-Haul van at high speed when he was initially spotted by officers who tried to pull him over. He fired a weapon during the chase and subsequently carjacked a female and fled in her vehicle. Martin was trying to deploy the TDD when the fleeing suspect reportedly intentionally struck him. The suspect later pulled over and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Martin leaves behind a daughter and son.

Det. Kerrie Orozco, 29, Omaha (Neb.) Police Dep’t, was shot and killed as she and other members of a fugitive task force tried to serve a warrant on a man wanted for a shooting. As the officers approached a house, the suspect opened fire, striking Orozco. Other officers returned fire, killing the suspect. Orozco had recently given birth to a premature baby and was due to go on delayed maternity leave the following day because her daughter was being released from the hospital.

Inspector Robert James Bowling, 50, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Bureau, was killed in a vehicle crash in Mebane at approximately 11:30 a.m. His vehicle crossed into the oncoming lane and struck a cement mixer head-on. Bowling’s vehicle became engulfed in flames and he died at the scene. He is survived by his wife.

Trooper Taylor Thyfault, 21, Colorado State Patrol, was struck and killed while trying to deploy a tire deflation device with another officer. Thyfault was an academy cadet and riding along with Trooper Clinton Rushing as part of required training. The two officers were at the scene of an unrelated vehicle crash when a vehicle pursuit approached their location. Both officers were struck by the fleeing vehicle when it sped through their accident scene. Thyfault was killed and Rushing was seriously injured. Thyfault was able to tell a tow truck driver to get out of the way before being struck. Thyfault was posthumously promoted to the rank of state trooper.

Officer James Bennett, Jr., 45, Housing Authority of New Orleans, was shot and killed in an apparent ambush. Bennett was working an overtime detail and patrolling a housing construction site in Central City when an unknown suspect shot him. His crashed vehicle was found at approximately 7:00 am by other officers. Bennett had been with HANO for two years and had previously served as a Jefferson Parish reserve deputy for thirteen years. No arrests have been made.

Officer Nigel Benner, 49, Rio Rancho (N.M.) PD, was shot and killed during a traffic stop at approximately 8:15 p.m., shortly after he was scheduled to end his shift. The female driver provided identification and a male passenger falsely identified himself. After conducting a computer check, Benner returned to the vehicle but it drove off. A short pursuit followed and when Benner again approached, the male passenger fired several times at Benner. The suspect, who had an extensive and violent criminal record, was arrested a short time later after committing an armed robbery. Benner leaves behind a wife and five children.

Sgt. Iris Smith, 53, Mississippi Dept. of Corrections, was killed in a vehicle collision at approximately 3:15 p.m. in Hattiesburg. The prisoner transport van she was driving collided with the back of a tractor trailer rig. She had been following an ambulance that was transporting an inmate to a local hospital when the crash occurred.

Det. Toure Heywood, East Point (Ga.) PD, died during organ-transplant surgery that was being done as the result of injuries sustained when he was run over by suspects 12 years prior while working as an officer at Georgia State University. In spite of serious injuries, he continued his police career and was a member of the East Point SWAT team. The transplant effort was going to replace his stomach, liver, pancreas, upper bowel and lower bowel but he died on the operating table. He is survived by his wife and son.

Trooper Anthony Raspa, 25, New Jersey State Police, was killed in a vehicle crash in Monmouth County at approximately 12:48 a.m. The patrol car he was driving struck a deer, left the roadway and struck a tree. He and his partner were both transported to a hospital where Raspa succumbed to his injuries. The other trooper is expected to recover from lacerations and a neck injury.

Deployment of TDDs Can Be Deadly
The deployment of tire deflation devices claimed two lives this month and another officer was seriously injured. At least 30 officers have now died while directly involved in deploying TDDs. Hundreds more have sustained career ending serious injuries. Many agencies have discontinued the use of TDDs because of the risk associated with the deployment.

TDDs can be a useful tool but there is a significant level of training and planning that agencies should undertake before they are ever placed in the trunk of a patrol car. Simply watching a DVD or practicing in a church parking lot is not sufficient. The best approach is to have predesignated deployment areas which have sufficient cover (lots of concrete) and do not require officers to be on the roadway or within striking range of high speed vehicles.

Make sure that officers understand that their vehicles are not adequate cover when deploying TDDs. This is important because officers default to the vehicle for cover in most situations. It just doesn’t work when you’re dealing with a 4,000-lb. bullet. Emphasis should be placed on line-of-sight visibility and how quickly distances can be closed by a 100+ mph vehicle.

Nighttime deployments are particularly dangerous because depth perception and closure determination are extremely limited.

Although not a factor in this month’s losses, it’s important to note that one-third of officer fatalities related to TDD deployment have been the result of officers being struck by other patrol vehicles. This is definitely an area where we can improve officer safety but it takes commitment and leadership.

Bottom line: If your agency is at risk because of inadequate planning or training, speak up now before it’s too late.

The Vehicle Factor

Vehicles continue to prove the most deadly aspect of our job. Far more officers die in vehicle- related incidents than by assailant gunfire. In general, we control the way we drive and we have little control over those who are shooting at us. Although not all vehicle-related deaths are the fault of the officer, the heartbreaking truth is that a great number of them are single vehicle, in which the driver lost control, and many result in the ejection of an officer who was not wearing his or her seatbelt.

More than 150 officers have been ejected from vehicles since 1980. The price for not wearing a seatbelt is often death. It’s the most basic and effective piece of safety equipment we have. It works, but only when it’s used.

Heart Attacks Are Up

Heart attacks of officers continue to take a toll. Your health matters. Until the spike in gunfire deaths this past month, losses from heart attacks far outnumbered deaths from gunfire.

And this is not an “old guy” problem—we’ve lost many officers in their twenties and thirties. If you’re in good health you are better prepared to respond to whatever befalls you on the street—including a gunfight. No one has more control over your health than you. At a minimum, know your blood pressure, cholesterol level, body mass index and family history. Now do something about it!

Conclusion
The loss of an officer is always devastating to the family, friends and agency but the grief is compounded when the loss could have been prevented. For far too long we have simply blamed our losses on the “bad guys.” However, it is clear that our own actions play a much more significant role and we can dramatically improve officer safety by simply exercising common sense.

None of the officers who lost their lives in May went to work thinking that would be their last day. For some, the loss could have been very easily prevented. We must honor the fallen by training the living and this means having the courage to use examples of lives lost to point out that these tragedies really do happen. We must continually challenge ourselves to learn from our losses and prevent future tragedies. And we must have the courage to speak up and confront other officers when their actions are putting themselves or others at risk.

Please, for the sake of your family, your department and your own life, remember the tenets of Below 100:

  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear your vest.
  • Watch your speed.
  • WIN – What’s Important Now?
  • Remember: Complacency Kills!

Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page (LINK) for their assistance. For more information on Below 100, check out www.Below100.org.

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Dale Stockton
Dale Stockton is the former editor in chief of Law Officer magazine, and a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the California Supervisory Leadership Institute, the FBI Southwest Command College and holds a graduate degree from the University of California School of Criminology, Law and Society. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards. Stockton has been nationally recognized as the most widely published public safety photographer and writer in the country and taught college level criminal justice classes for 20 years. He has presented nationally at conferences in partnership with the National Institute of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Stockton is a founder, core instructor and current board member of Below 100. You can follow him on Twitter @DaleStockton.
Dale Stockton

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