How this police sniper's 100-foot shot stopped a deadly threat
Lt. Joseph Fix credits his time in the military as an Army Ranger and police SWAT training for his ability to remain calm and focused
Since Joseph Fix was a child, his dream was to be in the Army one day. He achieved that dream and once in the Army, he was driven to become one of the best. He became an Army Ranger assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia.
After honorably serving four years, he left the Army and used his GI Bill to earn an Associate's Degree. Eventually, he applied for and was hired by the Detroit Police Department in 1997. Police work seemed a natural transition from the military.
After listening to gunfire and responding to homicides for seven years in Detroit, he was ready for a change of location, but not a change in his career. He discovered what he described as “a great community” when he was hired by the Township of Clinton Police Department in 2004. Clinton Township is a jurisdiction with a population of about 100,000 with a 90-person police department
Fix also additionally challenged himself by joining the on-call Clinton Township Police Special Response Team (SRT). Here he was able to put his Ranger skills to good use as a tactical team member and would soon be cross-trained as a sniper. Officer Joseph Fix was promoted to sergeant early in 2021.
At around 1 a.m. on August 12, 2021, a call came in about a white male in his 50s carrying a rifle and wearing camouflage and a military helmet was reported to be agitated and confronting people at an apartment complex. As officers arrived, a stand-off occurred when the armed man barricaded himself in his apartment on the first floor of the complex.
The Clinton Township Police SRT was called out and Sergeant Fix set up a protective sniper overwatch for his fellow team members and the neighbors. He positioned himself in front of the building where the suspect’s apartment was located. He set up an improvised barrier using an available mound of dirt, fire hydrant and a portable Kevlar sniper hide.
Sergeant Fix remained at that prime location covering with his Remington 700 .308 Caliber scoped rifle. It turned out to be a long night. Rain came down at times as a mist and other times in torrents. Fix credited his time in the Army Rangers for preparing him well for this night by training him “to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” Even though he had rain gear, he declared, “The rain was so heavy, no matter what kind of gear we had, everything got wet. By the time it was over, I was lying in one or two inches of standing water. But at least it was August so it wasn’t too cold.”
Throughout the event, the suspect could be heard shouting incoherently and angrily. Negotiators worked tirelessly to establish a rapport. But the storm and the suspect’s unflagging agitation made communication impossible. “I could hear the man yelling and I feared that he was intent on this situation ending violently,” Fix said.
As the hours dragged on, the Clinton Township SRT acquired fire department ladders and courageously approached the apartment building from the suspect’s blind side. They rescued the residents by assisting them down the ladders from the second floor over a period of two hours.
The sudden conclusion
As the sun was peeking from the horizon, a neighboring agency loaned out its Lenco BearCat armored vehicle. SRT members and negotiators approached the front of the building in the BearCat and used its public address system to attempt to negotiate a peaceful conclusion with the erratic gunman. An entry team was stacked near the corner of the building on standby in case an entry was ordered. In response to this outreach, the gunman opened the blinds and pointed his rifle at the BearCat.
Then things happened fast. Sergeant Fix described it like this:
“It was just after 0800 hours when the suspect opened the blinds at the door wall. He was still wearing his helmet and wielding the rifle. After a few seconds, he opened the sliding glass door. While remaining inside his apartment, he pointed the rifle at the windshield of the armored vehicle parked just outside. The suspect swept his barrel left and right directly at the windshield of the armored vehicle for several seconds. He did not fire his weapon. After several seconds of this behavior, he briskly opened the sliding screen door.
The suspect then stood in the threshold of his door wall and assumed a high-port combative posture. He leaned close to the right jamb of the door wall as if to take cover. His right hand was on the grip of what appeared to be a black rifle. His left hand was high on the forearm of the weapon.
The suspect then looked to his right in the direction of the assembled special response team. It appeared that he was reacting to a target of interest. He immediately stepped out of his apartment and moved toward the entry team's position. As he was stepping out, he instantly leveled his rifle from a high-port position, now pointing it toward the assault team. His rifle was now shouldered and he appeared to take deliberate aim. I feared that he was going to fire on my teammates. I immediately fired on him first.”
Sergeant Joseph Fix’s 100-foot shot flew straight and true and served to end the suspect’s deadly threat instantly. He was incapacitated, but the military helmet he was wearing saved the gunman’s life. He would ultimately survive and face multiple felony charges.
Fix said he has emotionally recovered after the incident, satisfied that he did what he had to do: “I had great support. My department could not have been better in the following days and weeks. I was offered counseling and anything that I needed. The POLC (Police Officer’s Leadership Council that represents police command officers) responded immediately and they were excellent.”
The shooting has since been ruled justified.
Fix received the Meritorious Service Award for Heroic Action as well as the Officer of the Year Award. He has since been promoted to lieutenant. He is still with the SRT and continues to enjoy his 12-hour shifts as a shift commander.
Words of wisdom
Lt. Fix was asked if he had anything he could say to officers who have yet to face life and death decisions. He had this advice:
- Training is of the utmost importance. You should always develop new ways to challenge yourself and learn new skills.
- Every time you go out and in every high-risk situation you encounter, you must be always ready to act.
- Treat every situation like it could go sideways at any moment.
I asked Lt. Fix, “With everything happening now, would you recommend police work to others?” He answered, “I would as long as they know what they are getting into. If they decide to enter police work, each individual should know that they are capable of dealing with what peace officers have to deal with.”
Lt. Fix did not hesitate when asked if he still loves police work after all these years and all the things he has seen. He answered with enthusiasm, “I still love police work and look forward to going to work every day!”
That’s a good attitude for other officers to develop within themselves, to lead our profession through these difficult waters we are currently navigating. Lt. Joseph Fix sets a good example for others to follow.
After all, Lt. Joseph Fix is an Army Ranger and everyone knows, “Rangers lead the way!”
Now that you have read this story, here is one piece of additional information discovered by investigators after the smoke cleared. The weapon the suspect wielded was a rifle facsimile. Because of the manner in which the suspect wielded the weapon, there was no one at the scene that doubted his deadly intent and capability.
Knowing this after the event does not diminish the courage and determination to protect shown by the officers involved in this event.
This incident demonstrates the unique challenges facing officers every day presented by people bound and determined to put innocents in fear for their lives, forcing officers to make split-second decisions. May God bless the officers willing to face these challenges.