Officer Down: The Peter Soulis Incident - Below 100 -

Officer Down: The Peter Soulis Incident



Brian McKenna | From the December 2008 Issue Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Officer Peter Soulis was monitoring traffic from a service station parking lot when he spotted a Toyota pull onto the lot with its lights off. The driver drove to a spot directly in Soulis' line of sight, turned the Toyota toward the street and stopped. Ignoring Soulis, he sat eyes straight ahead, focused on the small strip mall across the street. It was almost midnight, and the only business still open in the mall was a sandwich shop.

Soulis decided to investigate. The lot was dimly lit, so he left his headlights off as he pulled forward and stopped behind the Toyota. After angling his car to the left for cover, he logged out on his MDT, grabbed his heavy-duty flashlight, and stepped out into the cool night air. The driver never took his eyes off the strip mall.

Soulis, a safety-conscious, 38-year-old officer with 11 years on the job, worked for a large metropolitan police department in a city with more than its share of violent crime, but the driver didn't look like a trouble-maker and appeared only to be drunk. Still, Soulis knew better than to take anything for granted. Waiting to turn the flashlight on until he got closer, he cautiously moved to a spot about 10 feet behind the Toyota.

Suddenly, the driver lunged to his right and down. Without conscious thought, Soulis drew his gun a .40 caliber Glock 22 as he moved to his left and shined the light into the car. "Show me your hands!" he shouted.

Slowly and without looking at Soulis, the driver sat up and raised his hands. He didn't say a word as he kept his eyes riveted straight ahead.

At Soulis' command, the man slowly exited the car with both hands in full view. Soulis was now standing well off to the left of the Toyota with his flashlight aimed into its front seat. Glancing past the driver, he spotted a beer lying on its side on the floorboard, its contents foaming out onto the carpet. He relaxed a little at the sight of the open beer, but kept his guard up.

Soulis kept his light on the driver as he reholstered and ordered him to come to him. Obediently, the driver stepped forward and handed Soulis his driver's license. After frisking the man for weapons and finding none, Soulis checked the license and identified the driver as Tim Palmer, a 27-year-old from a small town located many miles from there.

"What are you doing on this lot?" Soulis asked.

Palmer started fidgeting as he replied that he was waiting for some friends and had stopped to use the station's pay phone. Soulis knew that was a lie. Palmer had never gone near the pay phone.

He decided to run him for warrants but suspected he might take off on foot. After ordering Palmer to return to his car, he walked backwards to his cruiser, sat down, and tried to run him on his MDT. But NCIC was down, so there wasn't much he could do. He decided to ask for permission to search the Toyota and take it from there.

In the meantime, he noticed Palmer was nervously glancing around in every direction as he sat waiting in the Toyota. Although not particularly alarmed, Soulis didn't like what he saw. Becoming increasingly convinced that Palmer intended to run, he lit up the car with his spotlight, headlights and takedown lights.

At first, Palmer turned away from the blazing light, but then he adjusted his inside mirror and fixed his eyes on Soulis. Now even more distrustful of Palmer, Soulis opened his door to start his approach, only to see Palmer's door also swinging open. Moving quickly to make contact before Palmer could run, Soulis stepped out of his car and started forward.

He'd gone barely 10 feet when the alarm bells went off. No fear or panic, but his senses were crying out for greater caution, and he changed his approach. He circled around the back of his cruiser and moved up to the passenger side of the Toyota.

As he stopped alongside the car's right-rear fender and looked inside, every instinct told him Palmer was armed and waiting for him. The man was sitting behind the wheel, hunched forward with both feet firmly planted on the floorboard, his eyes glued to the mirror and his right hand thrust between his legs. His left arm was locked straight down along his left side, pressed down onto the floor next to the open driver's door as he readied himself to spring into action.

Soulis' first thought was to go back to his car and call Palmer out, but he would have to retreat across open ground to do that. Confident his position gave him a solid tactical advantage, he drew his gun as he shouted, "Show me your hands, and get outta the car!"

Soulis had planned to shoot through the back window if Palmer drew a weapon, but for reasons he still doesn't fully understand, he moved forward and to his right, stopping alongside the passenger door, not more than two feet from the window. Instantly, he realized he'd made a grievous blunder. Grinning with blood lust, Palmer lunged across the seat and shoved a Smith & Wesson Sigma up into firing position. Before Soulis could react, the S&W barked flame, driving a 9mm solidly into the center of his chest. The impact knocked Soulis back slightly, but his vest stopped the bullet.

Palmer was out of the Toyota a split-second later, firing the gun at him over the roof. There was no other cover nearby, so Soulis went down onto one knee behind the front fender to put the Toyota between them. But, at the same instant, two rounds crashed through his left arm, one just above the wrist and the other dead center on the forearm. Another struck him in the left thigh, although he wouldn't become aware of it until later.

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Officer Down: The Peter Soulis 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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