Along with the rest of the nation, I too watched the video in Minneapolis last week, but I watched with sadness and frustration, as I watched America run to Facebook to post how those “racist” cops need to rot in jail. Maybe, like the myriad of cops out there, who were called by friends and associates to weigh in on the incident, I was asked about my thoughts. However, most were shocked and even accusatory that I wasn’t passing the ultimate judgement on those officers.
First, it seems offbeat that fellow police officers feel the need to rush to judgment within minutes of viewing the video of an incident that they weren’t part of or know anything about, and then proclaim, “all cops aren’t bad.”
I get it. We live in a society where we make quick judgments, as a diversion tactic out of fear that we will be included to share the blame for what those cops did, or as a way of elevating ourselves that we are “better than” or wiser than they were. And, we do it to our own, as well as those officers many miles away.
We should be better than that.
Maybe I would have been one of those “Monday morning quarterbacks,” saying what I would have done, or should have done, or wouldn’t have done. But, I’ve walked in those hard boots myself. My “6-seconds” decision also came under fire.
Up until the night of March 2, 2010, I was at the top of my law enforcement profession, rising through the ranks as a 17 year veteran – and Lieutenant – at the University of Florida Police Department, with an impeccable and stellar career.
I was traveling with the football team to the national championships and even a White House visit, and I was speaking to other groups of athletes at the University. I was teaching and speaking on various subjects around the country, as well as my day to day duties with my agency. And, on that fateful day in March, I was the Lieutenant over a basketball game, when I overheard the call and responded as the scene commander to a disturbance at married housing on campus.
When I arrived, we were dealing with a subject who was threatening to kill the police, and two female students of his were upstairs and growing concerned, so they called the police. After about 90 minutes of trying to negotiate with him to come out, along side his mentor, professor and Department Chairman, the subject stopped communicating with us. I called EMS to be on stand by, and they would not come. According to department policy, and what we all had always done, I led a team inside his apartment, thinking he might be harming himself or had already harmed himself.
The subject, a foreign exchange student from Ghana, had been sitting in the corner on the ground with a smile on his face, and a Bible. The subject stood up with a metal rod in his hand. Two tasers deployed, but were ineffective. I jumped on the couch/bed, with my handcuffs ready to subdue him, when he kept coming at me. Four bean bag rounds, which were also ineffective, then I heard, “Knife!” The officer saw what I could not see, which was a butcher knife, with a 10-inch blade in the subject’s left hand. Two frangible rounds fired: one hit him in the mouth, and the other in the hand holding the pipe. Fortunately, he did not die, so toxicology reports were kept private.
While the incident, occurring on a college campus, could have grabbed national attention, it didn’t because it followed the textbook according to the previous policies, procedures and guidelines at the agency – initially. There was comfort in the fact that we used two different forms of less lethal means to end the situation. The subject made threats and had weapons on every window sill. And, we had an eye witness there throughout the entire incident, who was the head of his department, and he thanked us for our compassion and professionalism in how we dealt with his student in an email the next morning, as he mentioned that we did all we could to help the student prior to having to use deadly force. He stated that it was the most effort anyone at the University had given this situation. A situation and information that none of us was given prior to that night.
The suspect plead guilty to his crime, and was required to meet stipulations of seeking help and finishing his degree, without incident to be cleared of his record. His surgeries and medical bills were handled by the university, and he received his doctorate degree and letters of accommodation from the University of Florida. He went back to his country, and his life has moved on for the better
My life, however, has never been the same. It will never be the same. And, only because of our faith in God, will we continue to strive to look ahead knowing He can make our lives better, but it is still a struggle at times to keep our heads up.
I did not fire the gun that night. But, I was the commander, and I placed that team of officers in that residence. What we did was found to be in policy. The shooting was investigated by the State Attorney’s office, by the Department of Justice, and by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. We were cleared by each one of them, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
Protests erupted on campus. This legal, justified shooting was proclaimed to be “racist” actions by five white cops. We had our lives scrutinized and filet open to be judged by the world and vilified by the media. The subject, who instilled fear in his students, placed knives all over his house, had open alcohol containers and drug prescriptions that the University was pumping him with all over the house, which is why he was being closely monitored for over a year by the University, unbeknownst to the team that showed up that fateful night. That subject was glorified, honored, praised and the ones protesting were there to give him a voice!I dedicated my life to that department and town, so did the others. When my son was in the hospital for a month as a newborn, I worked football season overtime as my first priority. The town, where my wife and I taught Sunday school. The town, where I met my wife, where we married, and the University where she graduated from. Our children born at that same hospital. Our roots went deep, and this town was our “home.” We didn’t have anywhere else to go or place to call home.
Within days of the incident, the chief came to me and told me that she intended and the University needed someone to blame. They wanted to go after the officer that fired that fateful shot, the officer who probably saved my life. She wanted my support because someone was going to take the fall, and it wasn’t going to be her. Those were her words. I could not stop thinking about the officer: he hadn’t done anything wrong, he was just starting out in his career, and he would not have been in that apartment unless I put him there. Having been in the Navy, the captain of the ship is the one ultimately responsible. If you’re a courageous leader, you take responsibility, so I did.
It’s called the “The Art of Self Preservation.” My wife and I had seen it before, but we had not felt the ripple effects of this magnitude and that were this life altering. But, in the end, we all have a choice, and we all have to live the rest of our lives with that choice. I never really thought twice about it, but I verbalized to my chief that I would not support her in trying to fire him, so my contract was “non renewed.” Even after the State Attorney praised our actions, and mentioned how horrible the outcome could have been had we not taken the actions we did that night… my contract, a contract that no longer exists, was “non renewed.”
I felt like I was a criminal on display on the front steps of the University, the same steps the protestors had voiced their demands to be met. The University displayed their token to media: “they got their man… the man that was responsible for all that went wrong.” They “fired” me, and it was the first “non renewal” exposed and explained all over the media. The words that stuck with the world, was that I was “fired.” That’s all they will ever remember.
All the dedication and hard work was gone. Seventeen years worth of my life, and what I had put so much effort and passion into building and caring about was wiped clean, as though it had never happened. And, worse, now I was remembered as “that guy that ran with Urban Meyer, yeah, that guy, he was fired.”
The protests were gone just as fast.
They got what they wanted.
My name, the only one like it in the world, was blasted across the country as a racist cop and “fired.” In a world where applications are submitted online, no one ever called me back. Over 100 applications submitted, with a resumé that I was very proud of, and the job I finally got was working at a marina where I was shown how to clean bird poop off the docks. The man who hired me told me he was taking a chance on me because of my history!
So, you might understand why I didn’t play judge and executioner after watching a video clip of an incident, where we didn’t have the entire picture. Yes, the stories of those officers and my story are different. Those officers have yet to be adjudicated, and there is much left to find out, but my life and 17 year career was taken away from me for doing nothing wrong. It’s a nightmare I will never wake up from, so I get it.
Next, what these officers will experience, what we have already done to them, what I experienced after my career was taken from me, and what you have to wonder if this might happen to you too. Reality check. Those “friends” that I thought “had my back,” those fellow officers I broke bread with, played softball with, re-roofed their houses with, drove them home after their night of drinking and saved their careers, those “friends,” they abandoned me. There were a few calls and time grew longer in between. Then, there were those that knew me, but only read what was on the internet, and asking to hear my story, my version, didn’t matter, the internet became their gospel.
And now, all of law enforcement has condemned these officers and they don’t even know that they could be next.
Think about that. What if this happened to you? We must think about these things especially in these times.
These critical incidents are happening closer and closer together! We do a job where we have a split second to make a decision. The heart races. The decision made. The worst environment on the planet. Your family back home. You ARE the front line.
We are the brotherhood and sisterhood, the soldiers in this daily battle. Even the courts understand this battle by discussing items such as “totality of circumstance” and “reasonableness”and “the facts that we know at the time,” and cops around the world take an 8-minute video and throw all that other intelligent stuff out the window. But, what if this was you?
How do you know that on your next call we won’t be calling you a murderous racist? Those two brand new officers in this incident in Minnesota, who are now ex-cops… were they warned in the academy or in training that they too could be next?
You too could be only one call from unemployment or indictment!
You see, I too thought that at one time, that these things happen to other cops. I too thought, “I’m a good cop” not a “bad cop,” so I will be ok.
Let me tell you something, I wore this uniform with pride for 17 years. I was a hero wearing a “badge” in my children’s eyes. I followed my moral compass of doing everything right, treating people with respect, feeding a black guy I was taking to jail in handcuffs a hamburger – I bought – through to the back seat because dinner had already been served in jail. I did it with love because that’s what I was taught to do, to treat people like I would want to be treated. With every ounce of my being I honored this profession, and it was all stripped away because of one cowardly leader.
In fact, several years later, after being given an opportunity to come back to law enforcement, I was still in hiding. A bold and courageous sheriff hired me, but our family had to leave everything behind because we still had to deal with the looks of disgust in the public of that town. Editorials were still being written negatively about us and police brutality in our hometown newspaper. My family was shamed because I did my job according to the law, my training, and my policies. So, we left.
I will never achieve the level in my career I once had. Imagine that hopeless feeling, of not being responsible for why your career was taken from you, just maybe you wouldn’t be so quick to judge.
Approximately six years after losing my job, I met Travis Yates. A national trainer, and a good one, I might add. He came to my agency to teach defensive driving because I had a minor, very minor, fender bender. I sat and listened, and I thought to myself, “he was doing what I used to do,” and I wondered how different life could have been had I not gone to that fateful call that night, and I wondered where my life could have been had I been allowed to continue my law enforcement career unhindered.
Thoughts of losing the house, the wedding rings sold, no retirement money or years to show for all my years of service. It was all gone. We would just plug along with life starting out from scratch with nothing. It was hard looking at Travis, while I thought of what I lost.
I walked up to Travis on a break, and I introduced myself. He had not been invited to lunch yet, so I did.
I sat across from Travis, and I told him my story. It was the same story I tried to tell anyone that would listen. I was expecting him to listen but not care, to listen, but never research the truth for himself. I always felt as though people would look up my name, but they would stop at “racist” and “fired,” and I would leave feeling their judgement and scorn. I sensed the suspicion in Travis’ eyes, and I figured he would be just like all the other people. But, he said something that I was still too shell-shocked to believe.
He asked me if had l been given the opportunity to tell my story in the six years since the incident. He was persistent. He wanted to know, “Who told the story from my perspective?” The side that the media doesn’t tell. The side that all those that cast judgment never hear. That was the first time anyone ever cared to ask me that.
There is always another side to the story.
I told Travis that I had never been given that opportunity. He told me he was going to have someone write an article about my story for his Law Officer Magazine. Truth be known, I didn’t believe him. I knew not to give hope too much room because we had been let down so much during all this time.
A month went by, and I got the call from Vicki Newman. She was asked by Travis to call me. My wife and I were still in disbelief. I told my story, and we waited again without much hope or belief. Several months later, I received a email asking to proofread what had been written. Soon after, Travis published the article, and life took on a new direction.
There was hope.
The initial article written by Vicki Newman, was found by someone at WatchGuard reading it, and they asked me to do some speaking and teaching opportunities and a mini-documentary followed, which led to some more teaching and speaking opportunities and even marriage conferences with Travis and his wife, Traci.
In fact, Travis & I developed the “Courageous Police Leadership” Seminar and we have taught thousands of police officers. But after seeing all the judgement and scorn this week, it is obvious we haven’t reached enough of our police family.
In order to get the important message out that law enforcement needs courageous leaders in a time such as this, Travis wrote a book called “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide For Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” I had the honor and the opportunity to write the forward for his book.
And, here we are, just a week out of that worldwide judgment against those Minneapolis Police Officers, and that public execution isn’t looking so solid.
The autopsy report showed that the suspect, with a long criminal wrap sheet, did not die from strangulation. He did not die from asphyxiation.
In fact, the autopsy report showed no sign of trauma whatsoever. Not even a bruise. The neck restraint that was used by the officers in Minnesota, the one that was shown all over the media and sent evil people to go burn down the cities of innocent people, that restraint was in their policy manual as an approved “non-lethal” use of force.
The autopsy report showed a deadly combination of fentanyl and methamphetamine in his body, and now we know, that the officers were concerned about excited delirium, a deadly medical condition brought on by the very drugs George Floyd put in his body combined with exertion.
That exertion and fight with the officers was occurring from the beginning of the encounter until the end when they placed the suspect in the police car. We also know that the only way you can save someone’s life with this deadly condition is to subdue them, preventing them from continuing to exert themselves and call the paramedics, which they did.
Of course, all of this will become crystal clear when the body camera footage is released, but so far, it has been hidden away, even from the attorneys representing those officers.
And so, as the world, including those in the law enforcement family, sits in judgment on an incident that we still don’t have all the facts about, we know this…..
You can do everything tactically wrong – even to the point of recklessness. And, if you die, we will call you a hero. There will be hundreds of police officers you don’t know attend your funeral. Your family will be given hundreds of thousands of dollars, and every May, we will honor and remember you for the hero you were.
But, if you do everything tactically right, including what your policy and training says to do, and if the incident is race related, you will be destroyed.
Your character will be destroyed.
Your finances will be destroyed.
Your reputation will be destroyed.
Your family will be destroyed.
And, your career will be destroyed forever.
That destruction may even include imprisonment. If it doesn’t, it will give you the gift of depression, alcohol abuse, divorce, and even suicide or thoughts of it.
Trust me, death wouldn’t have sucked for me. But, what was done to me by those I called friends and those I trusted, has changed me forever.
Remember, you are only one call away from being unemployed or indicted.
You are one call away from being just like me.
Editor’s Note: Major Travis Yates is is a fight for his life. Similar to Stacy, the media is on a mission to destroy him. Please read here and find out how you can help.
- A Message For Law Enforcement: ‘Why I Have Not Judged’ - June 11, 2020