It was a blustery, cold night in the mid 1980s, sometime near Christmas, when I had my first taste of tear gas. It wasn’t pretty. Not at all.
A man who was zonked-out-of-his-mind-high and terrifically “wired”after days of binging on crack cocaine, decided to pull a 9mm handgun on his mother, threatening to kill her. The frantic and extremely frightened elderly woman somehow managed to escape her home unharmed and then call 911 from the home of a nearby neighbor.
I was in plainclothes that night and was riding with a sheriff’s captain. We’d taken a dinner break and stopped by a holiday gathering of his family members. He was driving his marked police car and parked it at the curb in case we needed to make a hasty departure.
The house was small—kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, and a hall bath. It was quite warm and cozy inside. Cedar logs crackled in a brick fireplace sending their pleasant scent wafting throughout. People were wall to wall in both the living room and kitchen. A couple of men stepped out on the small front concrete porch to smoke cigars. The partying family members were not lacking in smiles and laughter. Not one frown to be seen.
We’d filled a couple of paper plates with homemade goodies—country ham biscuits, candies, pecan pie, cookies, and the like. We’d also filled a couple of small plastic cups with homemade eggnog (no booze).
The captain and I had just sat down to enjoy our treats when the call came in. Shots fired. Officers were under fire and requested our assistance.
When we pulled up at the scene chaos was already in high gear. The two responding officers had taken a position of cover in the driveway behind their patrol cars. Backup officers were on the scene with more on the way. Each were crouched behind some portion of a police vehicle. The shooter had broken out glasses in two large front windows and was taking wild shots toward the officers. We later learned that he had plenty of extra ammunition and magazines.
The captain took charge and assigned several officers to posts around the perimeter, including at rear and side entrances. Water and electricity were cut to the home. The plan was to fire a tear gas canister into the house, hoping to flush him out. The captain carried a 37mm tear gas gun in the trunk of his car.
Fire and rescue were called to the scene and were staged a safe distance away. Sometimes tear gas canisters ignite materials inside a home, thus the need for the fire crew. Obviously, the barricaded suspect, or a wounded officer, might need medical attention.
Tear Gas = ortho-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS gas)
Once everyone was in place the command was given for the subject to come out of the house or tear gas would be launched. The order was given three times with enough time in between to allow the man to come outside. After the third announcement followed by a bit longer wait time, hoping he’d surrender, the captain fired a Type Il-Single-Thickness Penetrator round through a large front window, shattering the remaining glass and parting the curtains in its wake.
Type Il-Single-Thickness Penetrator rounds are designed to penetrate materials such as single-glazed windows, plywood sheathing, or drywall.
We again sounded the command to come out, but nothing. After waiting for a rather long time, another round was fired. Still nothing. Moving to the rear yard, the captain fired rounds through more window, including basement windows.
Finally, a team of three officers donned protective gear, a shield, and masks, and then entered the home. They searched for long time but came out empty-handed. They said he’d somehow escaped.
Well, we on the outside knew there was no way. But they were adamant, saying they’d searched every single nook and cranny, from attic to basement.
The captain gave me one of his “looks” and told me to follow him. We were going to have a look for ourselves. So in we went. No protective gear (I wasn’t even wearing a vest), and no masks. I was armed with a Chief’s Special 5-shot revolver and the captain a .357 revolver.
We searched the home, coughing and crying all the way down to the basement, clearing one room at a time. Eventually the captain opened a closest door and saw a large pile of clothing. He poked it with his Maglite and the man leapt up like a clown in a Jack-in-a-Box.
The next sound I heard was a loud “Ding,” sounding like a baseball being slammed by an aluminum bat. The Captain nailed the guy dead center between the eyes and he went out like a light.
Together, with tears rolling like those of bawling babies, we carried the limp man outside and handed him over to EMTs.
The man used the time between warnings to wet several bath towels in the water inside the toilet tanks. Then he used them and the clothing pile to shied himself from the CS fumes.
Since EMS was busy with their newly handcuffed patient and had no time for either the captain or me, we spent the next several minutes flushing my eyes and skin using a water hose in a neighbor’s yard.
CS Gas – irritate the eye, mucous areas, the skin and airways. It causes immediate “crying” and convulsive eyelid closing. It slightly burns the skin and even causes sneezing, cough, a severe runny nose, and sometimes nausea. As I stated above, it’s not nice.