Incident analysis: Learning lessons from officer's hood ride during traffic stop
I doubt there are many departments training to deal with this scenario. We must physically and mentally train to avoid this type of outcome
On May 5, 2021, Officer Patrick McCarty of the Carroll (Iowa) Police Department saw a vehicle parked at a restaurant drive-thru. He recognized the passenger in the front seat of the car as Dennis Guider, Jr., who had a warrant out of Illinois for forgery. He conducted a traffic stop, approached the passenger side and advised Guider that he had a warrant for his arrest.
McCarty asked the suspect to exit the vehicle several times, but Guider refused to do so. Finally, Guider pushed the female driver out of the driver’s door and moved into the driver’s seat. McCarty moved to the front of the vehicle drawing his weapon, as he was joined by a backup officer who approached the driver’s door.
McCarty orders Guider to stop the car. Guider’s response is to raise his hand after placing the car in drive. The vehicle continues forward toward McCarty who continues to walk backward. The car continues forward faster than McCarty can back up and he ends up kneeling on the hood.
Eventually, the driver accelerates and McCarty holsters his weapon and hangs onto the car. His partner then attempts to stop the suspect's vehicle by ramming it with his squad car. This catapults McCarty on to the roof of the vehicle as it accelerates to 60 mph, and through a gravel parking area. The vehicle hits a ditch and McCarty is thrown from the vehicle resulting in a broken vertebra.
The pursuing officer's squad hits the same ditch and becomes stuck. The suspect was later apprehended after he fled to Illinois. He plead guilty to serious injury by vehicle, a felony and was sentenced to five years.
There are a number of learning points to incorporate into your own training and performance based on this video.
- Call for and wait for backup. The officer knew the suspect was wanted on a warrant. When you are stopping a vehicle with a known criminal suspect inside, it is no longer a simple traffic infraction. Wanted suspects are more likely to flee and/or resist. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, continue to follow the vehicle until sufficient backup is on scene prior to the stop. The level of the offense should dictate the method you choose to use on the stop. Felonies obviously required high-risk stop tactics.
- Bring them to you. if you know an arrest is imminent, have the suspect exit the vehicle and come back to you. If they comply, you have lessened the likelihood of a vehicle pursuit. In this case, having the driver exit with the keys and then dealing with the passenger could have avoided this situation.
- Avoid telling them they are under arrest until they are out of the car. They probably know they are going to be arrested, but when you tell them, you remove all doubt. Ask them to exit the vehicle using whatever pretext works. If they refuse your requests, you now have sufficient backup on scene to deal with a resistive subject and can tell them they are under arrest and attempt to use whatever verbal or physical tactics are required to accomplish the arrest.
- Don’t place yourself in danger. Our natural tendency is to block them from leaving using what we have, our body. The problem is that it usually works until it doesn’t and then the video speaks for itself. It’s easy for us to be critical of the officer’s decision, but who can truly say they haven’t done the same thing and that you were OK only because of the driver’s decision to stop?
- Train. This is a training issue. Telling cops not to stand in front of vehicles is not training. Training involves scenarios like this to ingrain appropriate responses. I doubt there are many departments training to deal with this scenario.
- Have an escape plan. If you find yourself on the hood of a car traveling at a slow speed, bail off before it reaches high speed. If you are in front of a car, get out of the way by moving laterally.
- Car-to-car contact. If your partner is being taken away on a fleeing vehicle, there is no good way to stop it. Ramming it could dislodge them, potentially putting them in greater danger of falling or being run over. Perhaps even by you.
- You don’t have to follow the path of the suspect. In pursuits, it isn’t a good idea to follow your suspect’s exact path. Let the bad guys find the rough patches so you can try to avoid them. Obviously, tending to his injured partner took priority over that in this case.
- Shoot? If you find yourself in this position you are facing a deadly force threat, even at low speeds. If you shoot the driver, you have several possible outcomes. None of them are good.
Second-guessing the officer's actions is easy after watching a video. We are all subject to the effects of stress. Under stress, our survival brain can take over and we end up doing things that are less than optimal.
We must physically and mentally train to avoid this type of outcome. Until we do, we will continue to see a repeat of this and similar situations with the resulting injury and death of officers.