Would You Take a Bullet to Save Your Job?



Officer Ryan Davis tensed. Not enough information yet to make a decision. Then suddenly the subject turned with a revolver pointed directly at him. Davis reached for his service weapon, but a shot rang out before he had his gun halfway out of his holster. He continued the motion and brought his pistol up to the assailant and squeezed off several rounds until the slide locked back indicating an empty magazine. At the same time, the target turned ninety degrees and all he could see was the edge of the paper again.

“Keep your finger out of the trigger guard, hold your empty magazine in your weak hand.  Do not holster your weapon until told to do so,” said the range instructor over the PA system.

Another instructor came by each shooting position, insured that the officer’s slide was locked back with an empty chamber and then gave each of them the word to holster their weapon.  The targets came whirring back on the trolley and stopped in front of each officer.

“Remove your targets and bring them to the desk for scoring. That’s a wrap for today, you’ve got a few extra minutes so don’t be late to your next class.”

Probationary Police Officer Ryan Davis had difficulty holstering his pistol. He peered into the holster in the dim range light and saw a jagged hole in the inside surface of the leather.

“Shit!” he thought. “I blew a hole in my holster.”

He re-holstered the weapon by rocking it around the now ragged inside surface of the holster and he looked around. No one was paying any particular attention to him.

“Good, no one needs know or I’ll blow a hole in my job too.”

Ryan reached for the target and unclipped it from the trolley. Five of six shots in the solid black, the sixth bullet somewhere off the paper. He smiled to himself as he turned toward the scoring desk. It was then that he first felt the searing pain down his thigh.

“This is serious,” he thought. “What a stupid thing to do…I’ll lose my job for sure now.”

They had practiced the move with unloaded weapons, concentrating on making it one smooth move.

“Don’t put your finger in the trigger guard until the barrel of your weapon is on target,” intoned the instructor. “We don’t want anybody shooting their foot off.”

The recruits laughed.

“Besides, you’ve got thirty seconds to figure out whether it’s a lady with a baby or a man with a gun, draw your weapon and squeeze off six rounds. That’s a lot of time. Just don’t shoot the lady with the baby.

The class had laughed again, but now this was as serious as a heart attack. What to do?

Ryan Davis paused for a moment before testing his leg with his body weight. His mind was racing. He put his hand down on the leg of his dark navy blue wool pants. It was wet with his blood, but he could put his full weight on the leg. Nobody was giving him a second look. He limped over to the scoring desk, recorded his score and headed up from the basement range to the gym locker room on the first floor.

He found his locker and slowly began to undress—the trousers being the last item to be very gingerly removed. His pants and right sock were soaked with blood. He was shocked at the angry bloody furrow streaking down his leg.

“Don’t look,” he told himself as he staggered into the shower.

There were three eighteen inch floor to ceiling posts, each with eight shower heads to facilitate rapid showering after gym class. There was no gym class in session at that hour so he had the shower room to himself. He turned on a shower and adjusted the temperature, holding tight to the chest high tray on the post meant to hold soap and shampoo. He glanced down at the floor and saw the bright pink water coursing down the drain and he grasped the post and tray even tighter to steady himself. As of this moment he had no idea what he was going to do. He was in shock and about to pass out.

Gym instructor Officer Vick Dobrich was heading back from the gym to the office, taking a shortcut through the locker room. He heard the shower running, but that was not unusual. Staff members and off-duty officers used the training room at all hours of the day. But as Vick headed down the outer aisle of the locker room the heap of clothing on the locker room bench caught his eye. He glanced in that direction and he saw a trail of blood heading toward the shower room. Vick headed into the shower and discovered Ryan Davis about to go down.

It was then that all hell broke loose. Vick yelled for help. Other gym instructors came running, along with Jesse Resendez, the Physical Skills sergeant. Ryan Davis was prone on the bench now, a clean towel serving as a temporary dressing for his gunshot wound while staff tried to round up more towels to cover him and combat shock. His head was swirling, he was barely conscious, but in his mind, he kissed his job goodbye.

Resendez ran back to the office and called for an ambulance and then he dialed my number. The Physical Skills Section was one of four sections under my command.

“Lieutenant, we have a recruit shot in the locker room…”

“I’m on my way,” I interrupted as I dashed out of my office and headed downstairs. My first thought was either accident or suicide.

In the locker room I observed that Ryan was receiving first aid. Resendez gave me a very brief description of what had happened and assured me that an ambulance was on the way. I headed for the Training Director’s office.

I entered without knocking. The director was on the phone and he glared at me.

“I don’t know, but the Lieutenant just walked in and I’m about to find out. I’ll call you back.”

“Padar!” he bellowed. “What the hell is going on and why don’t I know about it? That was the Deputy’s office and he’s telling me that I have an officer shot in my building!”

“Boss, I just came from the locker room—it’s a recruit that apparently shot himself on the range during an exercise. The fire ambulance is on the way and he looks stable. It’s a nasty graze wound to his thigh.”

“And just when were you going to tell me about it? I’m the Director of fucking training, don’t you think I ought to know?”

“Director, I came straight here from the locker room.”

“No asshole, you come straight here—you don’t detour to the fucking locker room.”

It’s been said that if you “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” Mine would be short…

“…and tell you what? Gee boss I think someone might be shot? Besides, General Orders mandate that I ensure the victim is receiving medical attention.”

“I ought to write you up…”

“Be my guest, it will be one of the more asinine reprimands I have ever received. I’ll have it framed.” I turned and walked out of his office.

It was insubordination of the highest order. The director’s hubris was unmatched on the department and he was the most arrogant and egoistical person I knew. I wouldn’t lose my job, but I was about to lose my position at the Training Academy. I pictured him picking up the phone as I fumed back to the locker room. ‘Telephone transfer’ it was called—I’d probably be on my way to a new assignment before the end of the day.

Probationary Police Officer Ryan Davis was laying on his back on the narrow locker room bench, his leg was tightly wrapped with multiple towels to stem the bleeding. More towels were now heaped on him, not only to cover him, but to keep him warm and combat shock. Fire department paramedics had started an IV and were taking his vital signs and preparing to move him out to the ambulance.

If I thought I was about to be transferred, Davis was certain that he was about to lose his job. As it turned out, neither was the case.

Ryan Davis was the victim of a training accident, a very serious accident to be sure, but nonetheless a bonifide injury on duty not withstanding his own complicity. He would be treated and released from the hospital before day’s end, spend a few weeks on medical leave, and return to full duty. The training staff would type volumes of reports and examine lesson plans and learning objectives with the conclusion that greater emphasis should be placed on ‘Don’t put your finger in the trigger guard until the barrel of your weapon is on target.’ That might not be too difficult now that we had a case study to relate to future classes.

I learned much later that the Director of Training did indeed make that transfer phone call, but cooler heads at headquarters prevailed. The director’s outburst was routine for his style of management, while I had a reputation for having a more measured demeanor. But most important, they thought I had a skillset that they would find difficult if not impossible to replicate. I was not aware of this at the time and it was probably a good thing; it might have encouraged me to cross horns with the director more frequently.

Everybody lived happily ever after…


Showing 15 comments

  • Bill

    Sounds similar to basic military training, to a degree. We had M1 rifles with bayonets and a recruit in my company was retrieving his bayonet when he pulled it from the rifle he cut his nose, could have been much worse.

    • Jim Padar

      M1 rifles! You must be real old. Me too…I could field strip one blindfolded. Thanks for reading Bill.

  • Barry Felcher, NBC5News, retired

    Jim..I enjoyed your latest story. In the late 1950s, a friend found himself sitting next to Gunsmoke actor James Arness aboard an airplane. Arness pulled up his pants leg and showed powder burns from pre-mature gunshot fire while practicing fast draw. Luckily for Arness, he was using blanks.

    • Jim Padar

      Quick draw ain’t as easy as it looks. Thanks for reading, Barry.

  • Tom Rosati

    Great story Jim. Especially when you verbally spanked that Director. Now that I’m retired and working part time at a gun shop, it’s amazing to see the counter tops, ceiling, booths and floors with bullet holes in them. And here, there’s no drawing from holsters. When working Lyons PD as a firearm instructor, I was lucky to never see an officer screw up and get hurt during firearms training. As an IAD investigator for the Cook County Sheriff, I did investigate a few “accidental discharge” reports. Of course, according to the officer, it was always the gun’s fault. NOT! The “finger on the trigger” when it wasn’t supposed to be there, accounted for all of these cases.

    • Jim Padar

      This was the single and most serious injury on our range to the best of my knowledge, except of course for the occasional ricochet fragment that would nick a hapless recruit, usually in the face, always minor.

      Thanks for reading Tom.

  • Kaye Aurigemma

    I’m certainly glad that YOU lived happily ever after. 🙂

    • Jim Padar

      Yes, I did and still are. A blessed life with peaks and valleys, some very deep. But you can’t appreciate the mountaintops unless you’ve been in the valleys.

  • John M. DeCillo

    Outstanding description of a touchy situation all around. As you mentioned ” Cooler Heads prevailed”. Though the trainee learned the trigger hole lesson the hard he was able to recover and retain his job. I’m sure he will always be aware of that safety precaution. No doubt he will be reminded of it by fellow officer many times over the course of his carrier.
    Very happy to read that the hot headed, hard nosed director’s action was usurped.

    • Jim Padar

      Thanks for reading John.

  • Tony

    Great story as usual. I always look forward to the emails saying there is another one for me to read. When I went through the academy most of the automatic target movers, for lack of a better word,were broken. We used the metal stands. All of the range instructors weren’t happy about it but “there wasn’t any money in the budget” to fix them. Fast forward a year and I am now on the fire dept and on a BLS ambulance. We get a call for a bleeding victim at the academy on Jackson. We wheel the stretcher in and I start talking to the patient. He is adamant that he is fine, he is probably thinking the same thing as Officer Davis, crap I just lost my job. I speak to a range instructor asking him what’s going on. He recognizes me and says that this ppo was injured by a ricochet to his arm because of those stupid metal stands. I nod in understanding, bandaging up a minuscule mark on the ppo to the point where he could play a passable mummy in a movie. I stopped by a few weeks later and went down to the range and low and behold the non existent money was found for all new target movers.

    • Jim Padar

      Never seemed to me that the bean-counters grasped the relationship between safety and money. Methinks the range officer was pressing the issue by calling for an ambulance. Good for him. Thank you for doing an “impressive” dressing. The whole thing must have impressed the right people.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Jonathan Goldsmith

    RE: Quick draw. I’ve read that it was quite a fad for awhile for Hollywood actors to take training for this. One of the fastest? Jerry Lewis.

  • Sue

    I just want to put it out there I have been a DV and Sexual Assault Advocate for over 30 years. LE had ALWYAYS had my back and my ass! Thank you! That can NOT be said enough! My clients have brought you into the worst of humanity and you have always kept me safe! Putting your own lives on the line! Thank You! I appreciate all that you do on behalf of myself, my clients and all the children that I have served!

  • Suz

    i am deeply thankful after being a DV and Sexual Assault Advocate for over 30 years Law Enforcement had always had my back!

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