" LETTER FROM A CAPTAIN "
In 1997 I totally loved my job. I had been on the job 16 years and was a Captain in charge of my department's Special Response Team and Street Crimes Unit. However, my love for the job and the stress it caused had taken a toll on my marriage. I was separated from my wife and began seeing a female officer. This outraged the chief enough though there was no policy against it. He started what turned out to be a 9 month internal investigation. The result of the investigation was that I was reassigned to a night shift and the female officer lost her job.
In November of 1998 I finally was placed back in charge of the Special Response Team and I thought my life would get back on track. On November 1998 I responded to a barricaded incident involving the county SWAT Team. I was there so I would be current with the situation in case our team also had to be activated. I was told by the chief to use as few of our people as possible to avoid overtime. As the barricade progressed the suspect told us to watch what he would do when it got dark. This was a large apartment complex and we were having a difficult time controlling the perimeter. We were unable to gain any solid intelligence as to whether the suspect was actually armed. So, after conferring with the county commander, the decision was made that one of his deputies and I would enter the apartment through a trap door in a back bedroom and use a fiber scope to try and determine if the suspect was armed. If he was we would use gas before it got dark. I made it into the apartment and covered the door as the deputy came down behind me. As he was descending the ladder his flashlight slipped from his pocket and turned on when he grabbed it. The suspect began yelling that he knew we were in the apartment. We had two choices try and get back up the ladder or confront the suspect. I chose the first option and opened the door. I could see the suspect sitting on the couch in the dark living room holding a pop in one hand and a magazine in the other. I ordered him to get on the ground several times but he did not respond. I began to move down the hallway when my right knee buckled and I lost my balance. When I regained my balance I trained my gun and flashlight back on the couch but the suspect was not there. Suddenly I saw a bright flash and heard a loud report. I felt an impact on my face like I had been hit by a bat. The suspect had moved to my right and shot me with a 12 gauge shotgun. I spun around and fell unable to defend myself. Luck for me the entry team made entry right after the shot and the suspect surrendered.
I lay on my stomach looking at my blood, teeth, and shattered thumb. The paramedics worked on me I as I swallowed blood to keep breathing. I remember feeling warm and thinking with all the crap I'd been through over the past year I could now give up, but thoughts of my children kept popping into my mind and willed me to survive. I made to the hospital and eventually surgery. I remember waking up in intensive care thinking I was drowning, due to the discharge from the wounds in my moth and throat. Several days later I was moved to a normal room and could have visitors. However, I couldn't see out of either eye due to swelling and had a tracheotomy and couldn't talk. Officers would come in a speak freely thinking I was asleep. I heard them ask each other why I didn't shoot. Then I heard someone say that the chief was again investigating me. He apparently was saying that he ordered me not to go into the apartment building. I had intense nightmares that made me afraid to go to sleep. Finally, the trac came out and I could talk. I could now explain what happened, which for a while helped my dreams. I was in the hospital for a little over two weeks and off work for three months. During my time off, I was able to get the investigation dropped. Thank God for witnesses. I returned to work half days but was not allowed to carrying a firearm until I could qualify with my injured hand. About a month after I returned to work I went to the range and painfully but successfully qualify only to later be reprimanded for going the range without permission. Then came another blow. I was informed that the department was attempting to force me out on a medical disability, because of the loss of my eye. Another battle that I fought and successfully won.
Even though I saved my job the stress I had endured had caught up with me. The nightmares returned and when I could sleep it wasn't sound. I became irritable and withdrawn. I began thinking that suicide was a way out and would sit at home with a gun in my hand trying to get up enough courage to do it. The female officer had stayed with me through recovery but could no longer take this new me and left. I feel into a bottomless black hole and began using sick time when I couldn't sleep. This eventually got me into trouble at work and I new I needed help. I saw a counselor and then a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD.
Unfortunately, my department is not keen on the idea that recovery might take time or never come. I am doing better except for sleeping. I haven't had suicidal thoughts now for almost a year. I still ask myself that if I was just shot and didn't have to deal with everything else would I still have PTSD. A question I will never have the answer to, but I will do everything in my power to insure no other officer I know goes through what I have. I am now a strong advocate of seeking immediate help after a traumatic incident. Cops have to realize they are human not machines.
Capt. Phil Peters