If I Lose, I Die (Part II)

Police BatonI heard my partner yelling into his radio for additional units when my arm was struck a second time. It felt like a blow from a sledgehammer. If I could have pulled my arm out, I would have gladly retreated, but my arm wouldn’t budge. A third blow slammed my arm. I screamed again.

My partner stopped pushing on the door, and the pressure on my arm felt as if it were in a vice and someone cranked the handle another turn. He reached around me, stuck his Chemical Mace canister through the crack in the door, and unleashed a stream of CN tear gas into the room.

A deep snort, like from an angry horse, came from the other side of the door, and I felt the pressure on my arm lessen. “Now!” I yelled.

My partner and I dug our boots into the carpet and shoved with all our might. The door flung open, and I fell into the room on top of the man, with my partner on top of me. A double bed was crammed against one wall of the small room, with an old wooden dresser across from it. The three of us tumbled into a mountain of dirty laundry, each of us struggling to climb to the top of the heap.

The sharp tear gas residue permeated the man’s clothing and skin. I choked and coughed and my vision blurred as tears filled my eyes, but I fought through the discomfort, knowing we couldn’t relax until we got the man on the floor, pulled his hands behind his back, and snapped on the handcuffs. He fought to rise to his hands and knees. I grabbed his forearm to pull his hand out from under him, but his entire body was covered in sweat and I couldn’t get a grip on his slick, thick arm. Meanwhile my partner was trying to control the man’s other arm through his own choking and wheezing with no more success.

I grabbed a wrist with my right hand and tried to double the hold with my left when I discovered my fingers would hardly move. My arm was numb from the elbow down. A golf ball-sized swelling protruded from my elbow. I pulled one of the man’s hands off the floor and threw my entire weight on his back. I glanced to my left, expecting my partner to be doing the same. Instead, I saw him crawling toward the corner of the room with tears flooding his eyes and mucus running freely from both nostrils.

My partner was out of the fight.

One-on-one, I was no match for this man. He rose to his feet with me still clinging to hisGunbelt back. I circled my left arm around his neck to attempt a carotid restraint, the so called “sleeper hold,” but my arm wouldn’t bend. I kicked the back of his knee, and when his leg collapsed, I pushed him face-first onto the bed.

I had fallen onto the bed next to him. I tried to roll away—escape now being my only thought—but he rolled me off the bed, and we crashed to the floor into the narrow space between the bed and the wall. I was half-siting and half-lying with my back pinned against the wall. I tried to get to my feet, but the man was on top of me. My breathing was labored from the effects of the tear gas and the fight. I felt as if I had just sprinted a mile, and my muscles were so fatigued I was ready to collapse. If he had decided to get off me and walk out the door, I wouldn’t have stopped him. But he didn’t.

He punched me once, then again in the chest. My Kevlar vest cushioned the blows which otherwise would have incapacitated me. One of his hands dug into the muscle on the inside of my thigh and squeezed. I yelped in pain and grabbed his hand to try to release its hold. I pried his little finger back, quite willing to snap it. He let go. He then reached for my gun, a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum revolver worn on my right hip in the department-issue clamshell holster.

I have heard other officers say they heard the words of a training officer or recall precise procedural steps when engaged in deadly encounters, but all I thought about was Poster-Work Outsurvival. I had been trained at one of the top police academies in the country, where instructors drummed the details of officer killings into our heads. Three Oakland officers who were killed with their own guns always stuck in my mind. Officer Robert Blan had stopped a man for a routine traffic violation and was shot and killed with his own revolver during a struggle. Officers Marks and Branhan were dispatched to a school for a disorderly subject who wrestled Marks’s gun from him and killed both officers. Our defensive tactics instructors ingrained in us one principle—never give up. In sports and games you can win or lose, but not in a fight with a suspect. If you lose you die.

None of those incidents or inspirational words needed to rush through my mind as I lay there fighting for my life. They were part of every fiber of my being. I clamped my right elbow to my side, protecting my gun the best I could. I tried to push his hands away, but my left hand was useless. My long baton, twenty-six-inches of second-growth hickory, was still in its baton ring on my left side, but twisted under my body. Even if I could’ve gotten it out, a long baton was useless with the subject so close. Using my mace wasn’t an option. My partner had emptied his canister into the man’s face with greater effect on us than him.

My last resort was to draw my gun, thrust the barrel into the man’s torso and pull the trigger before he could rip it from my hands. The man’s face was inches from mine. His red eyes glared rage. I felt his hot breath on my face. I twisted my body to put my gun side on the floor and pulled my short baton, a twelve-inch, fat, wood club, from the sap pocket of my uniform pants. Although we’d been given countless hours of training with the long baton—how to hit, where to hit—the short baton was a last ditch weapon, an extension of one’s fist, and required no special training.

Later, I remembered our baton tactics instructors cautioning us against hitting a subject in the head since a blow to the head could kill someone. But at that moment, all I thought about was survival. With my last bit of energy, I shoved my left shoulder against the man to get a few extra inches of space between us, and with all my might, swung the baton down on his head.



18 thoughts on “If I Lose, I Die (Part II)

  1. Hi Brian,

    Fantastic writing! The details and the fear come right through. If this were fiction, I’d call it exciting, but since it’s true, it’s a scary story, even through I obviously know you survived. I’m anxious to hear what happened to your arm, though.

    This would make an excellent piece for a magazine or newspaper or online story for something like Slate.com, and I’d love it you changed your mind about publishing it and got it out for everyone to read. It’s a great story, and people need to know more about officer safety and risks.

    Keep up the great work, and I can’t wait to get my hands on your book!

    • Hey Marie,

      Thanks so much for reading this and your thoughtful comments. If you’re a reader of Slate, you have literary tastes well beyond…or at least quite different from…most at OPD. And thanks for the encouragement to submit this. Although I’m not there (need to focus on my novels, it’s too much work to submit short stories to scores of places and track the rejections, and most publications won’t touch material that doesn’t fit with their readers’ taste and political leanings, which this doesn’t), I appreciate your encouragement. With sufficient small nudges in that direction, I may get there someday.

      I enjoyed working with you in Special Operations Division eons ago and appreciate the dedication and support you provided. Keep in touch and tell me what you’re up to these days.


  2. Wow!!! Brian you describe a picture so well it’s like I’m there with you. I’m wanting you to whip his butt but good. I got all fired up just reading this story. Put it in a book and I would buy it. That is a great piece of writing. It must be cathartic to get this on paper. Can’t wait to read the rat of the story.

    • Thanks, Jim. I have no other plans for nonfiction stories such as these that I blog, but I try to write my novels with the same level of authenticity and compelling action. RED LINE is due to be released Fall 2015.

  3. Brian,
    Excellent writing. You put the reader in the thick of the action. Your details create a mental picture and you communicate the emotions in a way that adds to the story.
    Richard Bowser 6881P retired

  4. Extremely well depicted, chillingly so. This is real, not embellished one little bit. Folks who want to come as close as possible to feeling what’s like to be a cop in survival-mode, this story is as real as you can get.

    Not to even try to upstage Brian, but one instance I had was a one-on-one battle to the death. I was at that point of complete exhaustion. I told the suspect while still having some ability to speak, “You either give up, or I’ll shoot you!” He gave up, otherwise my life would have changed totally, and his would have ended.

    Another word of wisdom from another self-defense instructor, “In a all-out street fight, the rules are: There are no rules, only survival.”

    • Thanks, Phil. I’m certain that most cops, especially those in major cities such as Oakland, have stories similar to yours and mine. Through luck, skill, the grace of God, or who knows what, we survived many such encounters and didn’t need to kill our attackers. Therefore, the incidents were simply documented in a vague–just the facts–crime crime report that never drew any attention. This is the first time I discussed this incident from 30 years ago, and the first time I admitted I was scared to death of dying that day.

  5. Brian, your head shot is totally justified under the circumstances. I too used my short wood to the head when a suspect was trying to take my gun from my holster. Looking forward to part 3. Gary

    • Thanks, Gary. People like you and me who’ve been in those situations know how close we can be to losing our gun and having it used against us. Back in that era, the only “investigation” was my sergeant adding a supplemental report to the original crime report. Today, this incident would’ve had half the watch involved.

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