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Incident analysis: Indianapolis police neutralize semi-truck hostage taker

A tense hostage situation unfolded in a McDonald’s parking lot, where a suspect held a woman at knifepoint inside a semi-truck

On November 30, 2023, at approximately 7:20 pm, officers responded to a call from a McDonald’s, reporting a woman screaming for help inside a semi-truck parked in the fast-food restaurant’s parking lot.

An officer arrived and attempted to make contact with someone inside the semi by knocking on the side of the sleeper cab and announcing their presence. A male was observed emerging from behind the curtains of the sleeper area before quickly retreating back inside.

The officer placed an ear against the sleeper cab and could hear a woman screaming inside. The officer notified dispatch that forced entry into the semi would be necessary. Public address announcements were initiated, ordering the suspect to exit the vehicle, but there was no response from the male driver inside.

The officers broke the driver’s side window with a baton. At that moment, the suspect was heard saying, “Stop it. I’ve got a knife to her throat.” Officers then moved back to containment positions around the barricaded situation.

A lieutenant arrived on the scene and attempted to negotiate with the suspect, initially opening the driver’s side door and trying to pull back the curtains on the sleeper. The negotiations failed as the suspect continued to threaten, saying, “I’m going to kill her right now. I ain’t got nothing to lose.” The situation was further complicated when the victim exclaimed, “He’s already cut me. I’m bleeding out, help me.”

The suspect persisted, stating, “You come in, and I will kill her.” The victim responded with, “He’s going to kill me anyway.”

As the threats continued, the negotiator decided to move up into the cab. The suspect declared, “Go ahead and kill me. I’ve got it right at her throat.” Despite having a gun pointed at him from very close range, the suspect refused to comply with commands to drop the knife.

With the suspect lying on top of the victim and continuing to threaten her life, the negotiator fired one shot, halting the attack. The victim was rescued from the truck and treated for multiple lacerations. She reported having been assaulted inside the truck for six hours. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

Let’s watch the video of this incident and then discuss some considerations from this case.

1. Carry something to break a window.

Always carry a tool to break a window when in uniform. In this instance, the officer did not have a baton and had to borrow one. Whether you opt to carry a baton is a decision between you and your department, but it’s crucial to have a means to enter a vehicle. A spring-loaded punch, about the size of a pen, is more effective on safety glass and easier to carry than a baton.

2. Hold, move back or move forward.

You have a choice in how you position yourself. In this case, the semi’s height posed a challenge for the officers, who were unable to see inside to assess the situation or intervene to rescue the victim. Consequently, the officers were compelled to move up and into the semi cab. This unique circumstance hindered the ability of multiple officers to support the negotiator inside.

3. Use the available cover and concealment.

Entering the cramped and confined area of the cab, the driver’s seat can act as a deterrent against an edged weapon attack, potentially slowing or halting the attacker’s progress.

4. Have an escape plan.

The semi’s cab poses two escape challenges: tight quarters and a drop to the ground. It’s essential to mentally rehearse the steps necessary for a quick and safe exit, both with and without a gun in your hand. Ensure your partners are aware of your plan so they can maintain a clear area or clear it as they see you making your exit.

5. Practice shooting from awkward, unconventional positions.

Practicing a shooting drill backwards, over a semi-truck’s driver’s seat, is not typically included in standard range day training. However, it’s crucial to become proficient in one-handed shooting to prepare for such unique scenarios.

6. Be prepared to talk AND shoot.

Talking can delay your response time, which is critical in confined spaces. Ideally, the negotiator should not be the only person capable of using force, especially deadly force, in such situations.

7. I woulda/he shoulda

Quoting fellow trainer Brian Willis, “Anytime you hear the words, ‘Well, what I would have done,’” what follows is B.S.” As you watch the video you are calm, with time to deliberate and pontificate on what the “proper” method of dealing with the situation, already knowing the outcome. However, real-world situations don’t operate like that. Too often, we critique decisions in hindsight, without having to make those decisions ourselves, based on the limited information available at the time, often in split seconds, amidst rapidly changing and dangerous circumstances.

When preparing mentally and physically to respond to critical incidents, remember to keep these points in mind.

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.