Officer Down: The Ben Kelly Incident - Training -

Officer Down: The Ben Kelly Incident

Decisive action, justice served



Brian McKenna | From the May 2012 Issue Friday, May 4, 2012

Officer Down! Lessons from the Streets


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Officer Down: The Ben Kelly Incident

Although most officer safety training is devoted to developing tactical and physical skills, we must also focus on improving observation and decision-making skills.
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“What’s he up to?” Officer Ben Kelly wondered as he spotted the chunky figure sauntering down the sidewalk. The man—wearing a dark sweatshirt with its hood up—was shuffling along, head down, with that peculiar walk typical of dirtbags.

This neighborhood was relatively quiet this time of night. But it was in one of the city’s busier precincts with more than its share of gangbangers, and it was after 2:30 a.m., far past the time when most law-abiding citizens had gone to bed. Kelly suspected the man was up to no good but had no articulable reason to stop him. He filed the location and man’s description away in the back of his mind, cruised past him and kept going. Kelly hadn’t been able to get a good look at him because he had approached him from behind and the raised hood had obstructed his face when he drove by.

It had been a quiet shift so far. Three cars had been reported stolen from Sam sector within an hour of one another, which was unusual for the midnight shift but not very interesting. Nevertheless, it had given 39-year-old Kelly, a 4-year veteran of the department, something to do as he kept an eye out for them—one of which was a silver Acura.

About a block and a half after passing the hooded man he spotted a silver Acura parked next to the curb with its hood up. Pale exhaust chugged into the crisp night air from its tailpipe, but it didn’t look occupied. Kelly rolled past it before coming to a full stop—and then backed up. Stopping next to it, he checked it with his right alley light to make sure no one was inside, and then maneuvered in behind it.

After quickly noting that the plate matched the one on the stolen vehicle, Kelly called in the recovery and his location. He had barely hung up his mic when he glanced in his mirror and saw the hooded man coming up behind him on the sidewalk. At first, the man stayed on the sidewalk, but then he stepped off the curb into the roadway.

It was a rather unusual move that hinted he might be planning to walk up to Kelly’s driver’s door. Thinking that it was more likely the man was crossing over to the opposite side of the street, Kelly suspected that the subject might be wanted and trying to avoid contact. But before he could give the idea much thought, he realized that the cloaked figure, his head still down, was coming straight down the center of the street.

It wasn’t particularly unusual for someone to approach Kelly on the street, but something didn’t seem right. He didn’t know what to make of this guy. The idea that he might be the car thief crossed his mind, but he could also be a harmless citizen with a question. Not yet alarmed but growing increasingly uneasy, Kelly decided it would be better to get out and meet the ambiguous man outside. He opened his door, slipped out from behind the wheel and started for the back of the cruiser. But the man reached the back fender at about the same time, and there was something oddly purposeful in his gait. Without raising his cloaked head or saying a word, he continued forward.

Reflexively, Kelly thrust his left hand forward to maintain his distance and ward off any possible attack, prompting the man to raise his head. As the light from nearby streetlights swept over the man’s face, Kelly noticed that his features were conspicuously absent any emotion. That was odd—not necessarily threatening, but odd. Most people who take the trouble to approach an officer in the middle of the night have something important on their minds, and emotions are usually attached to things of importance. But the idea had barely entered Kelly’s mind when he spotted the mole!

At roll call, his shift had been thoroughly briefed on the man coming toward him. It was Maurice Clemmons, the blood-crazed madman who had killed four Lakewood officers 42 hours earlier in a coffee shop just 35 miles away. An officer had spotted Clemmons the night before in another precinct, leading to an all-night SWAT callout, but the killer had managed to slip through the perimeter before it could be fully secured. It had been a depressing end to another frustrating chapter in the biggest manhunt in the state’s history, but one of the sergeants in Kelly’s precinct had been at the scene.

While there, he had picked up a lot of intelligence that he had disseminated during the briefing. Two things of particular importance had stood out. First, Clemmons had told family members he wouldn’t be taken alive but would shoot any officer he saw. Second, he was believed to be armed with one of the slain Lakewood officer’s guns. Having just come back from his days off, Kelly had known very little about Clemmons before then, but he had seen his photo on the news. What had stood out most in that photo was the large mole on Clemmons’ left cheekbone. There it was.

“Holy shit!” thought Kelly.

He went for his gun—a Glock 22 loaded with 180 grain, .40 caliber Gold Dots—but even before his hand reached it, he saw Clemmons’ blank indifference flip over into desperate alarm. The cop-killer knew he’d been made. Kelly could see Clemmons’ hands down at his sides and both looked empty, but he wanted to make sure. “Show me your hands!” he demanded as he drew the Glock.

Clemmons ignored the command and kept coming. Surprisingly, he didn’t make a direct frontal attack. Instead, he broke into a fast-paced walk and swerved over to his left in an attempt to skirt around Kelly. His right hand was reaching for his waist as if to draw a gun, but for some reason he was having trouble reaching it.


Officer Down: The Ben Kelly Incident

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Brian McKennaBrian McKenna, a 32-year police veteran, is a retired lieutenant from the Hazelwood (Mo.) Police Department and Law Officer's Officer Down columnist.


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