LEO Near Miss: Biker bar booking gone bad

If a prisoner is transitioned from one officer to the next, it’s always appropriate to re-search the prisoner


Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows law enforcement personnel to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.

Event Summary

On an October evening at approximately 2030 hours, several units were dispatched to a biker bar for a fight in progress, weapons involved.

Always thoroughly search a prisoner. Never hurry.
Always thoroughly search a prisoner. Never hurry. (Police1)

We were advised by the watch commander to stage at a location near the bar to assess the real nature of the call and confirm, as best as possible, the number and nature of weapons involved prior to responding to the scene. Fights at the bar were not uncommon, but we were rarely called. Often, we were notified later by the hospital of a stab or gunshot wound that had occurred at the bar.

After several more calls stating that combatants were stabbing each other and hitting each other with clubs and fists primarily, it was decided to move in on the location.

Upon arrival, there were individuals who began fleeing, some who were staggering out of the bar wounded and bleeding, and others still inside. We contained the perimeter as additional sheriff’s units arrived. We made entry into the bar and began to make arrests, contain the scene and call in medics.

As a young officer (only my second year), I was assigned to transport a couple of prisoners in my unit to our city’s jail and begin booking. I remained in the booking cell to receive other prisoners. Another officer remained in the booking office.

As I took personal property off those in custody and searched them, I passed the items through the window to him. One of our older officers brought in a subject that he arrested.

The arresting officer had uncuffed the prisoner as he transitioned from the hallway to the booking cell (this was done primarily because most officers did not want to wait on their handcuffs and some of them only had one pair). Thank goodness I immediately put the subject against the booking cell wall with his hands against the wall, his feet back and spread. I could feel him tense up; I warned him to relax and comply.

My tone was loud and authoritative, as something did not feel right, especially since the previous three bikers were banged up and exhausted from their fight, making their bookings very compliant. As I was running my hands down the right front leg of the arrestee, I felt a large, hard object. I immediately yelled, “Gun!”

Using a hair-pull takedown while gripping the arrestee’s right arm, I put him on the floor while two other officers ran into the booking cell. Concealed down in his right leg was a beat-up, modified, sawed-off Browning double-barreled shotgun! Terrified doesn’t even come close. I honestly never thought that would happen. A penknife, perhaps, or some other small object, but a shotgun or any type of gun after transport to jail, I never expected that.

lessons learned

  • Always thoroughly search a prisoner. Never hurry. If a prisoner is transitioned from one officer to the next, it’s always appropriate to re-search the prisoner. Even if you trust that your fellow officers have done their job, “trust but verify.”
  • When conducting a search, control your subject. If they are not handcuffed, ensure you place yourself and the subject in a position that allows you to control them at all times, as demonstrated in this incident. If the subject becomes uncooperative, take that as a good indication they may have a weapon concealed on their person. Take quick, decisive action to ensure you maintain control, then proceed with the search.
  • Be mindful of the totality of circumstances (e.g., the behavior of the other subjects, the nature of the call, known history of violence, etc.), and follow your gut; if something feels wrong, it probably is.

HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR NEAR MISS

Support this critical officer safety initiative by reading and sharing the near-miss stories and lessons learned that your fellow officers have shared, and consider sharing your own near-miss experiences at LEOnearmiss.org.

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