Surviving PTSD - An officer's true story
by J. Valladarez
The first badge I pinned on my chest stated "Military Police--U.S. Army" and I was 17 years old and reported to my reserve unit in Ft. Worth Tx. I enlisted under the split option program where I did my basic training during the summer between my junior and senior year in high school. That was in 1981. In January of 1984 I joined the sheriff's department as a detention officer. I was promoted to deputy sheriff in February of 1987. In Dec of 1988 I left the sheriff's department and joined the Mesquite Police Department. Up until that time I experienced only one "tragic" event and that was in the military involving a motor vehicle accident resulting in two fatalities.
On Dec 29 1988, Deputy Suzanne Kaye graduated from the Dallas Sheriff's Department Academy and was assigned to the jail information/intake/release section. She was assigned the position I vacated to join the Mesquite Police Department. On Jan 3, 1989 Deputy Kaye was shot and killed while fighting a mentally disturbed subject that was just released from the jail. This shooting occurred in the front lobby area of the Jail (Lew Sterrett Jail). I was in training the night Suzanne was killed. She was a co-worker with me in the classification section of the sheriff's department before I was promoted. It was 2:00 AM when I heard about her death. I was stunned into disbelief. My training officer told me "Get over it, she won't be the last one to die." Now I was in shock at his statement and the over-all disregard for my feelings. I had to "suck it up" to finish the night before I was even able to think about mourning my friend. My feeling at the time were so hard to deal with. I felt guilty for leaving the sheriff's department to join a city police force and placing Suzanne in that position. There are times when I still feel that guilt now. If I would have stayed at the sheriff's department, she would not have been killed. And I could not mourn her like I needed to because I was just in my third week of 30 weeks of training.
In October of 1990 my wife and I separated. She could not accept my job and the hours that went with it. (I was working 10 PM to 6 AM). On Christmas Eve my wife would not let me see my kids and I was in a deep emotional state when my mother called to remind me of our Christmas Eve tradition. She teasingly stated as she hung up the phone "Don't show up without the kids". Not knowing that she put me in a deep hole, I attempted my first suicide attempt that night. I actually got a shot off, but it was after I moved the gun from my head. (I didn't go to my mom's that Christmas Eve.) In July 7, 1991 my divorce became final. And on July 8th I attempted another suicide. The girl I was dating at the time was a dispatcher and we got into a argument that escalated into a wrestling match over my gun. But she had called 911 before the wrestling match and my fellow officer arrived the scene and calmed me down. I checked into a hospital for a week and had outpatient therapy for a month but I could come back to work. Shortly after coming back to work I received a call to assist a fellow officer at an injured person call. When I arrived, I learned that a brick wall had fallen on two little boys -ages 6 and 9. I held the 6 yr old boy in my arms while the rescue crew and other officers moved bricks off of him. I remember him looking up at me and me telling him that it "will be okay". The little boy knotted his head and passed away. My boy was also 6 at the time. After the call, I went back to the station and cried in the locker room for a little while before going back out to the streets.
From 1992 to the middle of 1995 everything seemed to be going smoothly. On July 16, 1995, I advised to call back up an off duty officer that was attempting to locate a felony hit and run driver. As I approached the scene the off-duty officer advised that the suspect was crossing the highway (8 lanes divided). I could see the suspect cross the north bound lanes and stop at the concrete divider in the median. As I brought my squad car to a stop -- the suspect jumped over the divider and attempted to cross the southbound lanes. I was watching as the suspect was hit by a pickup truck doing about 70mph. The impact threw the suspect about 15 ft in the air. As I was advising dispatch of the accident the suspect was hit again by another vehicle. Again I witnessed this second accident. Why did he run? We can only guess, but he did not have insurance and he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest (for tickets). He died over a class c misdemeanor.
On August 5, 1995, my friend, Officer James Robert Allman, was killed in a motor vehicle accident while enroute to a call. My wife remembers me answering the phone from our dispatchers telling me of his death. (My exwife was also a good friend of James and his wife. I called her that night too.) That was the first time my wife Tish saw me cry. She realized that night that we as police officers hide alot of our emotions.
On Feb 25, 1996 I was dispatched to an apartment to take a report of a threatening phone call that the complainant was receiving from her ex-boyfriend. I disregarded my cover -- this was only a report and he(the suspect) was calling from somewhere in Dallas. I parked my squad round the back of the building and made contact with the complainant's son. As he was relating the events to me, the rest of the family came running out of the apartment shouting "he's here! he's here!" I called for a cover element and ran around the building to the front. I confronted the suspect at the front door. He kept yelling over and over for me to shot him. He finally ran inside the apartment and into a bedroom. I followed him inside thinking that some of the family was still inside. Once in the bedroom he turned to me and stated "I'm going to take your gun and fuckin kill you with it". Before I could react, we were fighting for my duty weapon. He had the up hand as far being in better shape than me and me having to react to his action. After pinning me against a bed, he was able to get my gun away from me. But as I was losing my weapon I was able to make my weapon "safe" by hitting the decock lever. The suspect then placed the weapon over my left eye and stated "I told you I was going to kill you m-----f----r!!!"
He pulled the trigger three times. The weapon did not fire. I was able to wiggle out from underneath him and pull out my back up weapon. Just before I shot him -- I thought he was able to get my weapon to fire because I thought he had shot me in the back of the head. He was beating me with my pistol across my head. I shot him three times with my .38 and he died at the scene. I was off work for about 3 months. It was a year later that I was having trouble with this shooting. I began to see his face on traffic stops and on calls. I went to a doctor who talked to me about PTSD. He helped me understand that what I was experiencing was normal and that I needed to involve my family in my "world" so that they can help me.
I have found that once I began to open up to my family and my close circle of friends, I was having less stress at work and at home because I was not holding everything in. I began to talk about the incident and other incidents and not hold them up inside of me. I believe that because of this I was able to meet the challenges of my last shooting incident that occurred earlier this year. On March 9th of this year -- I, a police officer with over 17 yrs of police experience, accidentally shot myself in the right hand with a glock .40 caliber handgun. I found myself extremely angry over being so stupid. If my family had not stepped up and supported me through this, I would have been back on that depression wagon. I am still off work but plan to return sometime in the next three months.Officer Valladarez ©1999