It was a warm August night and I was one of two officers working the graveyard shift in the city. I decided to drive through the local truck stop parking lot while patrolling the city as it was normally a good place to find all sorts of interesting activity (which could be an entire blog post by itself) when I heard on my radio that the fire department was getting sent to a grass fire not too far from me. I made it a habit to always scan the fire and EMS channels because I would often get a head start on vehicle crashes, house fires, and other emergencies. It was fire season, but grass fires at 3:00 in the morning didn’t happen often. Something just didn’t sound right, so I decided to cruise over to the area and check things out.
The fire was in one of the rural sections of my jurisdiction. My headlights lit the rural two-lane road ahead of me and I was several minutes ahead of the first arriving fire engine. There was no other traffic, so I did not turn on any of my emergency lights or siren. As I got closer to the address of the fire, I could begin to see a glow off to my left in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. Several dirt roads left the highway in the general direction of the fire and I picked what I thought was the correct road.
The grass on either side of the dirt road was so tall that I could not see very far in either direction. As I continued down the dirt road it finally opened up in a parking area next to home. Just as I arrived, a female walked out of the house holding a cordless phone and she pointed to my left. As I looked over, I could now see flames and I realized I had paralleled the dirt road that led directly to the location of the fire. All I could see next to the flames was a pair of headlights and now my curiosity was peaked. The woman at the house told me that she had called 9-1-1 after hearing the car drive down the dirt road and seeing flames shortly thereafter. I thanked her and turned my patrol car around to get to the fire scene.
As my headlights panned across the fire I noticed the vehicle next to the fire was also turning around. I started traveling back up the pothole filled dirt road and through the grass I could now see headlights paralleling me and beginning to pass me. I notified dispatch of the situation and began to drive faster, keeping up with the mysterious headlights to my right.
Just as I got to the highway, I saw a large cloud of dust and a car turning onto the roadway in front of me. I turned on my emergency lights and immediately the chase was on. The car pulled away from me like I was standing still. I turned on my siren and pushed my Crown Victoria police car, getting to 90 MPH by the time I was at the driveway the car pulled out of. My mind was racing as fast as my car was as I told dispatch what was going on and that I was in pursuit. What was this person doing? What was on fire? Why are they running? How many people are in the car that I’m chasing?
I finally caught up to the speeding car and radioed my location to dispatch. We were getting into the city limits now, forcing the car to slow down and letting me take advantage of the streetlights. I could now see I was chasing a sedan and it appeared that there was only one occupant. The driver slowed for a stop sign at a “T” intersection and then made a right turn and an immediate left. The driver must have thought he was turning on another street, but unfortunately for him he had turned into a driveway.
I pulled my patrol car directly behind the suspect’s vehicle and got out of my car with my Glock in hand. I conducted a felony car stop, issuing orders to the driver of the vehicle to put his hands up and turn the vehicle off. The driver was unresponsive and suddenly the driver’s door flung open and the driver, a white male adult, jumped out of the car. I now had my gun trained on the suspect in the low-ready position. I continued yelling commands at the driver to get on the ground and he refused.
The driver started walking toward me as he reached into an inner pocket of his jacket. The suspect was yelling at me to shoot and kill him as he continued to get closer to me. What in reality took only seconds seemed to take minutes as my fight-or-flight response took over. My peripheral vision was narrowing and I was solely focused on the suspect’s hands. My training was beginning to flash through my mind as I felt my trigger finger leaving the outside of the trigger guard and moving onto the trigger. This is one of the few times in my career where my finger would be inside the trigger guard.
The suspect’s hand emerged from his jacket and it was empty. He was now to the hood of my car and closing in on me fast, still refusing all of my commands. I decided to holster my Glock and pull out my Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray. I sprayed the suspect with the 10% foam mixture OC directly in his face. The suspect wiped the foam from his face and continued toward my direction. I closed the driver’s door of my patrol car and ran around behind my car to the passenger’s door. I reached inside of my car and grabbed a M-26 Taser from my patrol bag (this was before the days of Taser’s being small enough to wear on an officer’s belt). The suspect was blinded by the OC, but had not yet stopped.
As the suspect began to run into the street, I continued ordering him to stop. He refused, forcing me to use the Taser, stopping him from blindly running into a four-lane highway. The suspect fell to the ground as the five-second Taser shot continued. I radioed to dispatch letting them know of what was going and waited for the backup officer to arrive before taking the suspect in custody. As the fire engines passed us responding to the grass fire, the suspect began trying to get up. I had to pull the Taser trigger a total of three times keeping the suspect down until my backup arrived.
As soon as my cover officer arrived, we placed the suspect into custody and he began having a life threatening reaction to the OC spray. I grabbed the garden hose from the house we were in front of and began rinsing his face as I requested an ambulance respond to our scene. The suspect was transported to the hospital and eventually lodged in jail later in the afternoon.
The subsequent investigation revealed that the suspect had recently been released from jail. As the suspect walked from the jail he stole a truck from a local car dealership. He drove the stolen truck to a field near his house, walked home and got another car from his house and drove that to the field as well, driving it into a large ditch. He then stole another car from the area and drove that back to the field. He then lit the stolen truck on fire, left his other car in the ditch and was preparing to leave when I arrived. The suspect was ultimately convicted of his crimes.
Below is a link to the dispatch audio of this incident. My radio identifier was 6-paul-11, and you can hear me in a short vehicle and foot pursuit. The yelling in the background of one of my radio calls is the suspect being tased during the foot chase.
The local newspaper editor wrote an opinion piece about this case and how the outcome was much different than many suicide-by-cop cases.
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Josh Moulin is a cyber security and digital forensics expert who leads a team of defense contractors that protect some of the nation’s most critical national security programs for a United States federal agency. Josh has a Master’s of Science in Information Security and Assurance and holds multiple digital forensics, cyber security, and law enforcement certifications. Prior to working with the federal government, Josh spent 11 years in law enforcement with his last assignment as a lieutenant and commander of a FBI cyber crimes task force.