Editor’s Note: This is an expanded version of the article that appeared in the June 2008 issue of Law Officer magazine, adding Brian McKenna’s analysis of the incident.
The first thing Sergeant Marcus Young noticed about the man coming toward him was the intensity of his features, but then he saw the man’s hands shoved into his jacket pockets. Young, 40 years old and an 18-year veteran of the police department, quickly sat his prisoner down into the back seat of his patrol car and closed the door as he turned to give the fast-approaching man a closer look. Believing the man to be high on drugs, he planned to arrest him. But instead, he was just moments away from the fight of his life, with the lives of several others hanging in the balance.
The incident had started with a call for a shoplifter at a discount store. Young, who had a 17-year-old cadet named Julian Covella riding with him, took the call. Young was enthusiastic about helping the cadets learn as much as possible, and he knew a shoplifting arrest would give Covella some easy exposure to the arrest process.
After contacting Security Officer Tony Unger, 27, in the loss-prevention office, Young learned that Unger had taken an 18-year-old shoplifter named Monica Winnie into custody after she tried to use a forged receipt to obtain a refund. Unger also mentioned that Winnie s boyfriend had been in the store earlier, but had left shortly after her arrest. He mentioned that the boyfriend had what looked like jailhouse tattoos on his neck, leading Young to suspect that he was a parolee, and probably a doper as well.
Winnie seemed rather hostile, but offered no resistance as Young cuffed her and escorted her outside, accompanied by Covella and Unger. As they walked, Young, who was not one to go blindly into any situation, asked Winnie, Does your boyfriend have any weapons?
No, she answered.
Do I have to be concerned for my safety?
Again, Winnie said no, but her voice hinted of insincerity. Young kept his senses on alert as they stepped out into the chilly night air.
Although unseen, Winnie s boyfriend, a 35-year-old ex-con named Neal Beckman, was waiting outside on the dimly lit parking lot. He waited in the shadows until he saw the group moving toward Young s patrol car, and then headed toward them. A member of a violent white supremecist gang who had spent most of his adult life in prison, Beckman already had two strikes against him and had bragged that he would never go back to prison. He had already murdered once when, as a teenager, he had brutally stabbed an elderly man to death during a robbery. Now on parole, he was also wanted for home invasion and was probably about to commit another robbery, or worse in his car parked nearby were five homemade bombs.
Note: The incident recounted here is true, but some of the names were changed to ensure the privacy of those personally involved. Likewise, in order to preserve confidentiality and clarity, some facts have been altered slightly, but the essential elements of the story remain unchanged.
Young knew none of this, of course, but his instincts told him he would have his hands full. He moved off to his right, away from the others, and immediately addressed his greatest concern.
Take your hands out of your pockets! he commanded.
Beckman ignored him and kept coming, Why is she in there? he demanded as he glanced toward Winnie in the back seat.
I said, Take your hands out of your pockets! Young repeated.
Why? Beckman snapped.
Because I m concerned for my safety. What do you have in your pockets?
I have a knife.
The man was now just two or three steps away, his forward advance accented by an alarming movement of his left hand. Young saw no weapon, but it was clear Beckman was drawing something from his pocket.
Young, his reactions fine-tuned from years of martial arts and defensive-tactics training, sprang forward. He grabbed Beckman s left wrist and trapped it inside the pocket, but only briefly. Beckman was fighting hard to complete the draw, and Young knew he had to control him soon. He pulled hard as he stepped to his right, cranked the arm straight out at a right angle away from Beckman s body, and twisted hard until he felt the crunch and snap of cracking bone and tearing tendons.
This should have done the trick, but Beckman was uncontrollable. A glint of bright metal flashed across his chest. It was a snub-nose .38, coming straight for Young s face. Then, before the startled sergeant could do more than flinch, there was a flash and scorching lead tore into his left cheek.
Stunned by the blow but not one to surrender, Young held on and slammed Beckman into the hood of a parked car. The next moments were a blur of vicious hand-to-hand combat. More shots rang out and the valiant officer felt more bullets smash into his body. The exact sequence of shots was never determined, but two of them punched into Young s body armor, where, had it not been for the Kevlar, they might well have inflicted mortal wounds. But the other two hollow points struck hard, one drilling through Young s right arm and the other slamming into his left side.
Meanwhile, the two combatants had rolled to the ground, where Young continued his desperate fight despite the grueling punishment from Beckman s gun. But then help arrived from an unexpected source. Security Officer Unger, though unarmed, had seen enough. Imbued with a sense of duty that transcended his instinct for survival, he slammed into Beckman from behind, and hammered his fist into the side of the man s head. Reaching down, he grabbed the gun, wrenched it free, and pressed the muzzle against the side of Beckman s head. He pulled the trigger, but the hammer landed with an impotent click. He tried again with the same results. Now realizing that the gun was empty, he chucked it into a bush and started punching Beckman again.
But Beckman still had the knife, a fixed-blade hunting knife. Switching the weapon to his right hand, he turned it on Unger as Young sprang back into the fight. Before Young could stop him, he drove the blade into Unger s left chest, ripping open a gaping hole that exposed the lung. Unger, now bleeding freely from the fearsome knife wound, crawled away as Young continued the fight.
I ve got to stop this now, Young thought. A head shot was his best bet, and he sent the draw command to his right hand. Nothing happened.
Suddenly, Beckman broke free and headed for the patrol car. He jumped into the front seat, closed the door behind him and began reaching around inside. Oddly, he made no effort to free his girlfriend or drive away. Then it became clear he knew exactly what he was doing. There was a Remington 870 in the trunk, and a full auto HK33 assault rifle in a rack above the prisoner cage. Both were accessible by means of hidden switches on the dashboard, and both could do incalculable damage.
The parking lot was full of shoppers, Unger had crawled between two parked cars, bleeding so profusely it appeared he would soon die, and Covella was still somewhere nearby. With so many citizens in grave danger, Young knew he must act. Again he commanded his right hand to draw the .40-caliber Beretta 96G at his side, and again the hand refused to budge.
Glancing down, Young saw the unresponsive limb hanging at his side, twisted into an ugly angle and pumping blood. He reached for his holstered pistol with his left hand, but that hand wouldn t work either. A quick look told him why: There was a wicked, 2″ tear between his middle finger and forefinger. He had suffered a wound that threatened to doom his chances of stopping Beckman s murderous rampage.
Young believed he was dying and nothing seemed to be going right, but he would allow nothing to keep him from doing his duty. His keen mind, unhampered by fear or frustration, flashed through his options. Then he thought of the young cadet.
Covella knew not to get involved if an officer was attacked, but he had refused to stand by doing nothing. After taking cover behind a car, he had remained there and waited for an opportunity to help. Young didn t know Covella s exact location, but he knew he hadn t gone far. Julian, he shouted, Come here!
Covella emerged from the dark and stood behind Young, who was now kneeling on both knees. Young glanced back at him and gasped, Take my gun out and put it in my left hand!
Covella knew the gun was secured inside its Level I security holster with a top snap, but he felt rushed and anxious. After releasing the snap, he discovered he couldn t draw the gun as easily as he had hoped. Nevertheless, he persisted. After a few seconds that seemed to drag on for minutes, the gun slid from its holster. Covella placed it into Young s left hand and stepped back.
Although his wounded hand had prevented him from drawing the pistol, Young was able to hold it firmly enough to get on target and pull the trigger. Beckman s center mass was solidly behind the closed passenger door, but Young knew modern handgun ammunition would probably penetrate a car door. Raising the pistol to eye level, he pointed it at a spot on the door directly in line with Beckman s body and fired twice. Both shots hit where aimed, but to no effect except to cause Beckman to turn toward the sound. A startled look crossed his face, as he stared down the dark muzzle of the Beretta.
So much for shooting through the door, Young thought. He raised the gun higher and pulled the trigger. Glass exploded from the window frame as Beckman s head jerked back violently, and Young fired again. Beckman went limp and slumped down into the front seat.
The gunfight was over, but there were still things to be done. Young had to get help for Unger, himself and anyone else who may have been hurt. He told Covella to call for assistance and tell the dispatcher several people were down.
Young knew he was badly wounded and losing blood fast. Fearing he would soon bleed out, he focused on deep breathing to calm himself down and lower his blood pressure while he waited for help to arrive.
Young had been shot three times besides the two rounds in his vest. One round had struck him in the left cheek and exited the back of his neck near the base of the skull, mercifully missing the spine by a hairsbreadth. Another had shattered his right arm, and the third had hit him in the back of his left side, just above the side panel of his vest and in front of the scapula, zipped horizontally across his back and exited near the spine. Unfortunately, Young s wounds eventually forced him to retire, but he made the most of it. He went on to earn his Master s degree and now teaches police science at a local college. He also lectures about the shooting so other officers can learn from his experience.
Tony Unger recovered completely, but later left his security job to move out of state with his family. He, Julian Covella, and Young all received numerous local and state awards for their actions, and Young was also awarded several national awards, including the Presidential Medal of Valor.
Neal Beckman was struck in the forehead by Young s third shot, but the bullet had hit at an angle and skirted his skull, causing only a flesh wound. Still, the impact caused him to slip down into the front seat so that his buttocks protruded above the lower edge of the window frame. Young s final round hit him in the right buttock and torn its way up the entire length of his torso, causing extensive internal bleeding before stopping in his neck. He was dead on arrival at the hospital.
Discussion & Analysis
Beckman was one of those rare individuals with the instincts of a predator and the soul of a killer. Fortunately for everyone else on the parking lot that night, he was met by a man who possessed the instincts of a winner and the soul of a warrior. Young was up to the challenge and, with the help of two other like-minded warriors Unger and Covella he held his ground and stopped the rampage.
This incident included many factors that offer important opportunities for learning. These life-saving lessons were purchased with Young s blood, and we owe it to him to learn as much as we can from them. An in-depth analysis of this case reveals crucial learning points related to our approach to routine calls, the dangers posed by accomplices, Young s verbal commands, Beckman s statements and actions as he approached Young, how to respond to close-range armed attacks, support-hand draws, body armor, training and the winning mindset/warrior spirit.
- FBI. Killed in the Line of Duty: A Study of Selected Felonious Killings of Law Enforcement Officers. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, p. 37. 1992.
- Baganz, M.T. Use-of-Force and the Issue of Less Intrusive Means, The Police Marksman. (November/December 2006) pp. 34-35.
- Williams, G. Real World Contact Shots, The Police Marksman. (January/February 2006) pp. 42-44.
I would like to thank Dr. Alexis Artwohl and Brian Willis for their invaluable assistance in this analysis of Sergeant Young s outstanding performance in this incident.
- When Young saw Beckman s hands in his pocket, he responded by ordering him to show his hands. This response is common practice in police work. Is it really advisable? Would it be safer to order the subject not to move?
- Beckman announced he was armed with a knife when Young ordered him to show his hands. What reason/s might he have had for doing this? How should you respond when someone volunteers such information?
- Young instantly reacted to Beckman s initial attack with a dynamic arm twist. What other things could he have done?
- Beckman s actions just prior to the attack strongly indicated he was armed. Would Young have been justified in using deadly force at this point? Why or why not?
- When deadly force is justified in a close-quarters attack, one option is to grab or block the attacker s weapon while charging hard into him, and then draw and keep firing until the threat is eliminated. This removes the officer from the immediate line of fire and makes it much harder for the assailant to maneuver his weapon into firing position. It also forces the attacker to rethink his plan of attack, and enables the officer to deliver devastating gunfire while knocking the attacker off balance. Do you agree that this is an effective technique? Why or why not? What other options would you suggest?
- How important is situational awareness in preparing officers to defeat close-range attacks? Why?
- In what ways did Young s attitudes and actions exemplify winning mindset and warrior spirit?
- What other factors contribute to a winning mindset?
This case once again proves that there is no such thing as routine in police work. Shopliftings and other minor offenses occur on a routine basis, but that does not necessarily make them routine events. A shoplifter can be anything from a youngster stealing something for kicks to a junky hungry for a fix; from a professional booster to a wanted felon desperate to avoid prison. In this case, Winnie was wanted on a felony stealing charge, which was unlikely to result in serious jail time in our justice system, but she was not alone. Beckman was a dangerous man, whose actions make it clear that he was looking for an excuse to kill a cop. Hardened killers are still a rarity in our society but, because of the nature of the work we do, we cross paths with them far more often than ordinary citizens do. We must be ever vigilant, regardless of the seemingly routine nature of the call, and always ready to deal with the worst of society’s predators.
We tend to focus only on the individual we are dealing with on the street, but this ignores the fact that the danger is likely to come from someone else. A worrisome statistic that dramatically reinforces the seriousness of this threat appeared in the well-known FBI study on officer killings, Killed in the Line of Duty. Fourteen of the 50 cop killers in the study (28%) were accompanied by others at the time of the killing, and of those fourteen offenders, eleven (78%) were “not the target of the officer’s initial approach.” Even though the study drew from a very small sample, this figure is significant enough to make it clear that we must be wary of possible accomplices at all times. It also reinforces the importance of obtaining assistance before making any arrest attempt, no matter how “routine” it may appear, and of using Contact and Cover as soon as backup arrives. This hazard and the proper tactics for dealing with it should be emphasized in training, including range and Reality Based Training, and during mental imagery exercises.
Permission to Move
When Young saw Beckman’s hands in his pockets, he said what every cop does under such circumstances: he ordered him take his hands out of his pockets. We all say it, often without thinking, partly because we have been conditioned to do so, and partly because we intuitively want to know. But is it really a good idea to tell him to move his hands? Doesn’t that just give him an open invitation to draw a weapon in apparent compliance with our command? If that happens, you won’t be ready for it because you have already told yourself to expect his hand movement. And without the benefit of a menacing movement to warn you of the coming attack, you lose the opportunity to counter it before it is too late
Also consider some of the foolish things people do when confronted by police officers. What if he pulls a cell phone or something else that you mistake for a weapon, you shoot him, and he later claims that he was just trying to show you that he it was not a gun? Worse yet, what if unfriendly witnesses say they perceived the shooting in the same way? Those of us in law enforcement understand that deadly force is reasonable under such circumstances, but the liberal media and courts may not be so understanding. In our legal environment in which some police officers have even been charged with murder for questionable shootings, it is best to avoid issuing commands that might be misinterpreted.
The best way to break this dangerous habit is to replace it with something better. Move laterally out of his line of attack, to a position of cover if possible, draw your gun if warranted, and order him not to move. This should stop the action, and if not, you will be better prepared to meet the threat. Once he stops, order him to keep his hands in his pockets and turn away from you. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to call for backup and wait for it to arrive before continuing. The next step is to order him to remove his hands from his pockets one at a time, fingers spread and palms facing you, and then hold them out to his sides.
This is the safest way to see what someone has in his hands, but it requires a drastic shift in the way we have been doing things. Ideally, this shift should start with training. Starting at the academy and continuing during in-service training, instructors should emphasize the proper tactic response in the classroom, and reinforce it with drills and Reality Based Training scenarios. In addition, each of us should make a personal commitment to change our approach to this threat, and then augment it in through mental imagery. Supervisors also have a responsibility to take corrective action any time they discover that an officer has ordered a suspect to show his hands in the traditional manner.
Refusal to Comply with Commands
We must also consider what to do if the suspect refuses to comply. In this case, for example, Beckman refused to obey any of Sgt. Young’s commands, and it is only reasonable to assume that he would also have refused to comply with a command not to move. In such cases, we must assume that he intends to attack and may be armed. The problem is: without further evidence that he is carrying a weapon, deadly force is not justified. Whenever possible, stay where you are or, if you can do so without exposing yourself to greater danger, move to a more advantageous position and continue to order him not to move from there.
With any luck, he will get the message, but he may keep coming, or, like Sgt. Young, you may be too close to take any evasive action. In such cases you will have to go on the offensive. Charge directly into him, preferably while shifting slightly to one side to get out of his line of fire. At the same time, raise your hands to block his weapon in case he draws one. After crashing into him, push past him to a position to one side or behind him. This will catch him off guard and, if you slam into him hard enough, knock him off balance as you move around him and out of his immediate line of fire. From that position, you can apply a takedown and/or disengage and draw your gun.
In Sgt. Young’s case, he had good reason to believe that Beckman was armed, and he was very proficient with control tactics. Consequently, he did as he was trained to do and immediately applied an arm twist lock, which may well have saved his life. Even though Beckman still managed to pull the gun and shoot him in the face, Young had him off balance and partially under control, which probably threw the shot off. Otherwise, there is a good chance that Beckman’s shot would have been fatal.
This last point is very important, because it is always better to do something than to do nothing. It is not always possible to choose an ideal response in a rapidly developing, high stress situation, but our responses do not necessarily have to be perfect. Any action is better than just standing there and taking it, especially the action entails an aggressive counterattack, because it keeps you moving, forces the suspect to rethink his plan of action, and buys you time to initiate further action.
Nevertheless, Sgt. Young points out that he would not use the arm twist technique if he had it all to do over again. In retrospect, he is convinced that it would have been better to sweep Beckman’s feet out from under him or use a cross face takedown. This would have put the man into a very awkward position from which to launch an attack, and would probably have disoriented and/or knocked the wind out of him. Meanwhile, Young would have had time to draw and prepare to fire if necessary.
This is probably the safest, most court defensible way to respond to Beckman’s aggressive refusal to obey Young’s commands. However, in this case Beckman added a perilous new element that dramatically raised the stakes.
Beckman was a man who possessed the capacity to kill with the cunning of a jungle predator. Manipulating his prey for the kill was as natural to him as breathing, and he proved it when he announced that he was armed with a knife. In retrospect, it is clear that this was a distraction technique intended to draw Young’s attention away from the gun in his other hand, but Young could hardly have known it at the time.
Fortunately, hindsight allows us to focus on this ploy and determine better ways to respond to such threats in the future. We must recognize that there is more to the situation than meets the eye; that predators like Beckman don’t volunteer critical information — like the fact that they are armed — without a good reason. We must assume that he is setting us up in some way, and be ready for anything.
It is also important to keep in mind that such a statement raises the risk, and therefore the need for a higher level of force. While it may not, in itself, raise the threat to the point that deadly force is clearly justified, it certainly comes very close. When coupled with an aggressive move, like charging forward while drawing a hand from one pocket, the risk of a lethal threat skyrockets.
Responding to Close-Range Armed Attacks
When a threat reaches the lethal level, an officer who is highly proficient and confident in his ability to disarm suspects may choose to do so. This may be a viable option in some cases, but disarming techniques can fail and, even if successful, they leave one hand free to draw another weapon. Remember, Sgt. Young, who was highly skilled in control tactics, tried to control Beckman’s arm with an arm twist, and he did it with a swiftness and forcefulness indicative of his fighting spirit, but Beckman still had the gun in his other hand and it almost cost Young his life. Controlling one arm is not the same as controlling the entire person, nor do other body mechanics or pain compliance techniques ensure full control. This is not to imply that these techniques are not important officer safety tools, but it is very important to understand their limitations. When applying them, be wary of the fact that they do not provide full control, and be ready to counter any aggressive moves or disengage and shift to another tactic.
In the vast majority of cases, it is far safer to use a more aggressive countermeasure. It is hard to conceive of a situation in which an aggressive individual would announce that he is armed when he is not. In such a rapidly escalating, high-risk encounter, a miscalculation can be fatal and you cannot afford to assume that he is lying. Nevertheless, if, like Sgt. Young, you haven’t seen a weapon yet, there is still a possibility that he may not be armed. Realistically, this fact can lead to reluctance to apply lethal force. Therefore, officers need an effective option for those times when they believe deadly force is not justified. The aforementioned hard takedown is such an option, but it must be done decisively, without hesitation, and with utmost force. And it must be followed up immediately by disengaging and drawing your gun. This takes a high level of proficiency; therefore, it is imperative that officers learn these techniques thoroughly and then practice them on a regular basis.
On the other hand, any kind of unarmed response to a close range armed attack entails grave risk. Things can go wrong, and it is exceedingly unlikely that there will be time to change tactics if they do. In addition, the courts have repeatedly found that police officers are under no obligation to use minimal force. The force need only be reasonable under the circumstances, and it is certainly reasonable to use lethal force against someone who is attacking you with a deadly weapon at close range, or who you reasonably believe is doing so.
Close-Quarters Use of the Handgun
In my opinion, the safest and most reliable way to respond to a close range armed threat is to aggressively counter it with close-quarters use of the handgun. If the attacker survives the encounter, all the better, but the sole goal is to stop him before he kills you. That is our right as individuals and our duty as peace officers.
In this case, for example, there can be little doubt about the carnage Beckman could have inflicted if Sgt. Young had not stopped him when he did. Sgt. Young fulfilled his highest obligation to the public when he fired the bullets that ended the bloodbath. But he came close to losing his life before he could stop Beckman, not because of any fault of his own — his actions were hard-hitting, decisive and courageous — but because, despite very good training, he had not been trained in close-quarters gun fighting.
Because close combat is fast moving, brutal, and fraught with unpredictable variables it is best to break down close-quarters use of the handgun into it four essential core principles:
- Attack The Weapon FIRST! If he is already drawing, you won’t be able to outdraw him. Instead, attack his weapon. Block it, grab it, disarm him, trap his arm against his body; do whatever it takes but keep it away from you!
- Move Inside! He will be expecting you to either freeze up or back away defensively, so crash into him, preferably while shifting slightly to one side to move out of his line of fire. This will catch him off guard and disrupt his plan of attack. It also jams him up, making it a lot harder for him to maneuver his weapon into firing position (in contrast to backing away, which gives him complete freedom of movement and does nothing to move you out of his line of fire). Moving inside is also likely to knock him off balance, and it quickly gets you in close enough to have an excellent chance of drawing and firing before he can react. Finally, it works even in confined spaces. You don’t need much room; just crash into him and then immediately initiate the next step…
- Counterattack! All of us know how to draw our duty guns. Unlike disarming techniques, drawing is not a skill reserved for special situations, but something we have been doing since our first day at the range. The counterattack simply puts this skill to use. As you move inside, draw as rapidly as possible, bring your gun up close to his body, and keep shooting until he ceases to be a threat. It should be mentioned, however, that there is a slim chance that the slide will be pushed out of battery if the muzzle is shoved too hard into his body, which temporarily disables the gun. Although this is highly unlikely,3 be ready to eliminate this problem by backing the muzzle away slightly if the gun fails to fire.
It is important to note that gunfire is not the only option for the counterattack. A disarming technique may be an appropriate alternative in some cases. In others, eye jabs, throat strikes, etc. may disable or stun your attacker to the point that he can be disarmed. Because of the increased range of options provided by these techniques, officers who have made the effort to adequately develop them have a definite advantage in close combat.
- Keep Pressing the Attack! Your assailant will almost certainly back away instinctively as you crash into him, so be ready for it. Keep pressing the attack!
To view an animation of the incident, please click on the video box above.