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Incident analysis: Bodycam video shows how heroic North Dakota officer stopped ambush

This incident shows good tactics to end an ambush and offers a display of great courage. This is how it is done

Police Shooting North Dakota

This photo released by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation shows the car driven by a man who opened fire on Fargo, N.D., police officers on Friday, July 14.

North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation via AP

Over the past five years, he had searched online for “mass shooting events,” “kill fast” and “explosive ammo.” On July 14, he came prepared with 1,800 rounds of ammunition, three semiautomatic rifles and four pistols, gallons of gasoline and propane, and a homemade grenade.

He apparently was headed to at least one of two large gatherings in the area for a killing spree. There had been a minor fender bender and police and fire departments had responded to the scene. He saw that, and his plans changed.

He watched the officers at the scene, moving to different locations to observe and plan. He parked in a lot right across from the accident with only a sidewalk and a thin strip of grass between them.

There were four Fargo Police Department officers on scene − Jake Wallin and Tyler Hawkes, both in field training − and their trainers, Andrew Dotas and Zach Robinson. Robinson was in the street by the crashed vehicle. The other officers were in the grass 15 feet to the left of the suspect’s vehicle when he opened fire with his rifle out of the window. The rifle with a binary trigger sounded like full auto fire.

Dotas and Hawkes fall immediately, Wallin was able to draw his pistol and fire one round before being killed. The female driver of one of the cars is also hit.

Robinson is now alone, seriously outgunned, with at least four people down from gunshots, and in the immediate area of firefighters on a busy street with passing traffic.

How do you stop this attack? How can he win this fight? Watch Officer Robinson’s bodycam video, which starts at 5:40 below and then let’s review.

Movement to cover

Robinson immediately gets behind the damaged vehicle and moves toward the only area that will provide cover from rifle fire, the engine block. He stays low below the level of the windows keeping himself out of view of the suspect using it as concealment. Movement makes it harder for the suspect to target you. Concealment makes it harder for them to find you.


Robinson needs help and he knows it. He gets on the radio to notify dispatch of the situation and request assistance. His words are clear and modulated despite the threat.

Accuracy under fire

He sees the suspect standing outside the vehicle armed and fires four times. The suspect takes cover behind his own vehicle. When the vehicle provides a rest for his pistol, Robinson uses it to improve his accuracy; 21 of the 31 rounds fired hit the suspect.

Shooting from cover

After firing several rounds and seeing the suspect move, he moves away from the last place the suspect saw him at to avoid being an easy target.

Courage under fire

Despite incoming rapid rifle fire, the officer continues to return fire damaging the suspect’s rifle.

I would suggest that has an immediate effect on the killer mindset. He wasn’t expecting a fight today. But now he has one and he is mentally unprepared. Instead of being the hunter, now he is the hunted.

When you come under ambush fire, attack the source.

Tactical movement

Seeing the suspect go down. The officer knows he needs to make sure the fight is over. Instead of moving straight toward the downed suspect, he flanks out to the right, using the suspect’s vehicle as cover as he closes distance.

He slices the pie to see the suspect and gives verbal commands. He moves back behind cover to make another radio call. Then moves out again, when the suspect grabs a pistol, Robinson opens fire again. His pistol empty, he moves back to a line of cover to reload. When he returns and sees the suspect is still armed, now with a pistol, he opens fire again and again.

It appears that he flanks to the rear of the car to get a view of the suspect’s hands. The suspect is still a threat and refusing to comply with his commands and Robinson fires again. These will be his last shots.

Once more Robinson moves, this time to the front of the car to assess the threat that has now been stopped.

The movement to flank the suspect serves two purposes:

  1. You become an unpredictable opponent. Changing position makes it harder for the suspect to track and shoot you.
  2. It allows a safer method to close the distance utilizing the available cover and concealment.

This shooting resulted in Officer Wallin being killed, and Officers Dotas and Hawkes and a citizen wounded. What happened was a tragedy. However, it was a tragedy that would have been much worse if the suspect had shot all four officers, resulting in all law enforcement resources to that scene allowing him to continue onto his original target(s).

What this shows is good tactics to end an ambush. It also offers a display of great courage. This is how it is done.

NEXT: Tactical considerations to prevent ambush attacks

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.