A shot in the dark
Wisconsin officer Aaron Hintz is convinced his training prepared him to make a 54’ shot when lives were on the line
Do you train by shooting at close quarters and distances? Do you train by shooting from behind realistic cover from multiple positions while moving and reloading under pressure? Are you emotionally prepared to fire your weapon at another human being, realizing that suspect’s death might be the result of your shot? Officer Aaron Hintz did train for his moment. He shared his story in “Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Encounters” and now he shares it with Police1.
On December 16, 2005, during the change between second and third shift, Officer Aaron Hintz of the Tomah (Wisconsin) Police Department had cleared his squad of his personal gear to make way for his relief.
Officer Hintz had just completed his third night of patrol on his own. As he went inside the station for a shift briefing, a call was received of a noise complaint at an apartment from a complainant who added that “a gun” was involved.
Because of the presence of a gun, Aaron said, “I jumped into a squad with another officer to help out.” He left his cold-weather gear and long gun behind.
When the officers arrived at the scene, they directed everyone inside to come out. While talking to one occupant, Officer Hintz was told, “He’s still in there.” Another occupant, exiting on the run exclaimed, “He’s crazy!”
The officers cleared the area and set up a perimeter. Aaron took up a position behind a Chevrolet Monte Carlo on the street out in front of the apartment. He had his duty weapon out with his flashlight in the Harries position, leaning over the back end of the car.
Aaron blipped his tactical light. He told Police1 what he saw: “I saw someone in the window and then there it was; the flash that appeared right in the middle of his body. It was a muzzle flash. He was shooting at my light.”
The next thing Aaron knew he was on his knees off the trunk tucked behind the rear wheel of the Monte Carlo. He had moved instinctively, and it was good that he had because rounds were hitting near where he had just been, striking the Monte Carlo a few inches above his head.
For 11 minutes the suspect fired a stolen 22 caliber semi-automatic handgun with a 10-round magazine, alternating between shooting at officers in the front, and then at officers in the back of the apartment. In between, he would reload and then go to the front of the apartment again and shoot at the officers there.
Aaron noticed, “Every time he shot at us in the front it came from the same window. So, I covered that spot with my weapon using the available light.” He added, “The hardest thing for me during this event was not being shot at. In some strange way, I felt like I had some control over that as my cover had worked. But every time he shot at my buddies on the other side of the apartment, I felt I had no control over that, and I was just dreading that I was going to hear one of my buddies scream out that they had been hit. I knew that if he came back to that window again, I had to be ready to stop this before someone got shot.”
“Then it happened. He came back to the same window. This time he was right up to the window. I saw how he was dressed in the light from outside that was partially lighting the spot where he was, and I knew it was him. He leaned out his upper torso and I aimed and fired as fast as I could. I thought I fired three times, but it turned out to be five. I do not remember feeling like I had tunnel vision, but I was focused on my sights and I was watching the muzzle flash of my weapon as I watched the recoil, which appeared to be in slow motion. Another officer in the rear said he heard the suspect fire shots at me at the same time I shot at him, but I do not remember that. I did not hear my shots, much less his. Then he was gone. Since he no longer posed an imminent threat, I stopped shooting.”
“All of a sudden I heard my magazine drop to the pavement. It startled me at first and I looked down to see that without consciously deciding to do so, I had begun a tactical reload just like I had been trained to do in the academy during a lull in the shooting. It was a good lesson in muscle memory and that you will fight like you train. For the good or the bad.”
“Then came the waiting. He had been shooting pretty regularly, but it stopped after I returned fire. After it was quiet for a while it struck me that I might have hit or killed this guy. That thought didn’t bother me then and it doesn’t bother me now. He was trying to kill me and even more important than that he was trying to kill my buddies.”
Officers at the scene held the perimeter until members of the Monroe County Combined Tactical Unit arrived and the La Crosse County tactical unit arrived with its Bearcat armored vehicle. Aaron was relieved on the perimeter, which he welcomed, because of the incessant cold.
The La Crosse County and Monroe County Teams approached the residence with the Bearcat. They entered using a flash bang and discovered the suspect, who had fired 38 rounds at the officers, would not be firing number 39. Aaron explained, “As it turned out I hit him in his pelvic area and that wound must have taken him down and caused him some grief. He then killed himself with a self-inflicted contact shot to the head.”
Aaron said it was a team effort and everyone did their job well. Aaron, who is now a firearms instructor, shares these lessons learned:
- Take the equipment you need when you leave the squad because once the shooting starts you won’t get back to get it. The equipment I wished I would have had was cold-weather gear and a long gun.
- Since the incident, I carry two tactical lights on my person. I have a weapon-mounted light on my handgun and rifle.
- When you have even the slightest feeling that something might go south, take your rifle.
- Make the most of your cover and move. I should have moved up to the front of the vehicle once the suspect located me at the rear of the vehicle. Once you pop out in one location try to come out at a different spot if at all possible.
- It’s important to train for close quarter combat distances because a lot of shootings take place within a few feet, but officers need to train for distance shots as well to get proficient at those distances.
- Wear your cold-weather gear in cold weather. Carry disposable hand warmers on you during those cold months. When I finally got into a warm place thawing out was unbelievably painful. I have not been able to handle the Wisconsin cold the same since.
Being prepared for your moment comes down to your training. As Aaron said, “You will fight like you train, for the good or the bad.” He is convinced his training prepared him to make that 54’ shot in the dark when lives were on the line.