When we started to ask Law Enforcement Officers to tell us about their heroes, we had a feeling the stories would be pretty spectacular. We see all the ‘bad news’ on the news; the mistakes seem to get all the press.
But what about the amazing, heroic things that Law Enforcement Officers are doing every day? The things they chalk up to ‘just doing the job’? These are the stories we wanted to hear- the ones we wanted to bring attention to-because they far out number all those ‘bad’ police stories.
So we asked. We asked, and you answered.
This month, our Nominate a Hero Law Enforcement finalist is San Diego SWAT Officer DeWitt. When I first received Officer DeWitt’s nomination–submitted by a fellow officer–I was shocked. I had to reread it several times to get an idea of what really went down in the incident described.
While I had to cut back the story to make it brief for our voting page, I truly feel like fellow law enforcement officers would enjoy reading the nomination in full. So I have attached it here for you to read.
Nomination of Officer DeWitt by fellow officer:
*Some changes have been made to eliminate personal details and full names.
On Tuesday September 25, 2012, San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies were investigating a child molest case that occurred in Lakeside. Detective P. developed probable cause to arrest the suspect. He formed a team of deputies and responded to an apartment complex. The complex is located one block from where a High School which was in session. While attempting to make contact with the suspect in a second story apartment, he began shooting a high powered rifle at the deputies. Detective P. and Sergeant J. were hit by the gunfire. Detective P. was hit in the abdomen and shoulder area and went down in the doorway of the apartment. Sergeant J. was hit in the left forearm and with the assistance of Deputy S., moved into the neighboring apartment. Several deputies returned fire striking the suspect as they moved to cover. The suspect continued to fire at the deputies. He shot several rounds from different areas in the apartment toward deputies on perimeter positions.
As the incident occurred, off-duty San Diego Police GST/PRT Officer DeWitt was driving to work in his SWAT vehicle. He happened to enter the intersection when he observed two deputies with rifles near the apartment complex. He was unsure of what was happening and was asked to stop traffic from entering the intersection. Hearing gunshots, Officer DeWitt immediately donned his SWAT vest and armed himself with his rifle. He ran to the deputies and was quickly briefed as to the situation. The suspect continued shooting and a responding CHP officer was nearly struck as a rifle round whizzed by his head. Officer DeWitt was advised that Detective P. had been shot and was down, in the line of fire on the steps of the apartment complex as gunshots continued to be fired by the suspect. Officer DeWitt also learned that Sergeant J. had been shot and was still in harm’s way in an adjacent apartment. He believed that Detective P. needed to be rescued from the steps immediately before suffering additional gunshot wounds from the suspect. Officer DeWitt immediately assembled a team of deputies, giving direct tactical assignments. Officer DeWitt assigned a deputy to take the point as he took the right side position. The team moved up the stairway to Detective P., all the while continuing to take gunfire from the suspect. As they were approaching the downed detective, another deputy, who was covering the rescue team, was firing a shotgun at the suspect. The team reached Detective P. and began carrying him down the steps. Officer DeWitt knew they were tactically moving too slowly, placing the entire team at higher risk from the suspect’s gunfire, so he chose to sling his rifle in order to give full physical assistance in the carrying of Detective P. By doing so the team was able to rapidly retreat to a position of cover and concealment with Detective P. in order to render first aid and provide a safe area which responding paramedics could access him safely.
Officer DeWitt and the deputies rendered first aid with Officer DeWitt’s trauma kit. He used his compression bandages and gauze to apply direct pressure to Detective P.’ abdominal wound while Deputy A. applied pressure to the shoulder wound until a medic unit arrived a few minutes later. While they were caring for Detective P., a woman and two small children ran from the apartment complex in panic. Seeing they were in the suspect’s line of fire, Officer DeWitt left his position of safety, running to the woman and picking up her four year old child as the woman carried her infant. He quickly directed her to follow him as he carried the four year old across the street to a position of safety. While they were running, other deputies later stated that the suspect fired several rounds in their direction.
Officer DeWitt knew that the wounded Sergeant J. and Deputy S. were still in the apartment next to the suspect and still in danger. He quickly ran back to the complex. At that point the other deputies had formed a team to rescue Sergeant J. and Deputy S. Officer DeWitt joined the team and moved up the stairs. While they moved, the suspect was surrendering. The deputies began to isolate the suspect and take him into custody. Officer DeWitt and several deputies made their way up to Sergeant J. and Deputy S. Sergeant J. had a severe gunshot wound to his left forearm and was bleeding profusely. Sergeant J., though seriously wounded, still wanted to assist in the suspect’s apprehension. Officer DeWitt recognized the seriousness of his wound and quickly advised the Sergeant the suspect was being handled and they were going to get him to the medics. Detective P. was rushed into emergency surgery and has had several subsequent follow-up surgeries. He is expected to recover from his injuries. Sergeant J. suffered a gunshot which had entered through his forearm and lodged in his hip. He was also rushed into emergency surgery expected to recover from his injuries.
The incident was a rapidly progressive exchange of gunfire between law enforcement officers of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and a felony suspect in San Diego County, one block from in session High School. The exact location was an apartment complex which Officer DeWitt had no prior experience with or knowledge of its entire layout. Officer DeWitt immediately recognized a critical incident unfolding as he drove into the area en route to work and quickly joined deputies to assist. He quickly learned of the downed officers and immediately mobilized a team to perform a rescue. His additional SWAT training provided sound tactical assessment, direction and implementation of the rescue. During the rescue of Detective P., Officer DeWitt placed himself at significant personal risk when he forewent his firearm in order to fully physically commit to the carrying of Detective P. This action significantly reduced the team’s time within the line of fire. While rendering first aid to Detective P., Officer DeWitt maintained observation of the area when he observed an innocent female bystander with two children fleeing from the complex but directly into the open area and in the line of fire from the suspect. Officer DeWitt disregarded his own safety and immediately ran to their aid, picking up one child and directing the female to follow him.
Due to the immediate response and heroic decisions made by Officer DeWitt and the deputies at the scene the wounded personnel were taken to safety, administered first aid and accessible to emergency medical responders which expedited their transport to the hospital. A doctor from the Trauma Unit stated that the first aid rendered at the scene was vital to Detective P.’s survival. He would have likely died from blood loss prior to his transport.
Officer DeWitt is commended for his immediate response to assist fellow law enforcement officers and heroic actions at the risk of his own life during this incident and for his dedication to the citizens of San Diego County.
To vote for nominate a hero finalists, click here.