By Scott Buhrmaster
Security footage of a very recent life-or-death struggle in a courthouse sallyport between a correctional officer and a wheelchair-bound inmate spotlights numerous critically important officer survival points. In an effort to learn from this incident, we’re going to take a look at that footage and discuss.
Early this week, 55-year-old Frederick Goss was transported to a courthouse in Mount Vernon, IL by a lone correctional officer to face felony charges of armed robbery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm at a police officer. The charges were levied after he fled from, then shot at, an officer who approached him after noticing he fit the description of an armed robber who had just held up a gas station. Goss, who at the time was on supervised release for a previous conviction for felony possession of a firearm, was shot in the incident.
In this week’s incident, the transporting officer parked in the sallyport of the local courthouse, exited his unit, walked to the rear passenger side door of the vehicle, opened it and uncuffed Goss in response to an order that the suspect appear unrestrained in court. The officer then positioned a nearby wheelchair next to the open car door so Goss, who was apparently unable to walk, could slide into it.
After closing the car door, the corrections officer moved to the front of the wheelchair and bent over to open the foot supports. As he does this, the holstered gun he is carrying on his right side is fully exposed to Goss who, within about 7 seconds, lunges forward out of the chair and grabs the gun.
A desperate struggle for the weapon ensues, Goss gains control of it and a round is fired. A deputy inside the courthouse saw the attack on a surveillance camera, ran into the sallyport and after a momentary retreat after realizing Goss was armed, moved back into the sallyport and shot him.
Take a look at the footage:
Now, let’s discuss.
First, please remember that we are NOT evaluating this or any other incident we focus on with the intent to blame, judge or shame any involved officer. Our sole purpose in looking at these incidents is to learn from them, teach when we can and hopefully help keep officers safer.
That said, here are some things to consider with this incident:
— As the correctional officer moves in to remove the cuffs, notice that Goss is cuffed in the front. This goes against one of the most basic and crucial tactical commandments: Do. Not. Cuff. In. The. Front. Regardless of who you’re dealing with. Remember this!
— It was ordered that the prisoner appear in front of the jury unrestrained, so the CO removed the cuffs. “There are procedures for this,” says Calibre Press instructor and corrections expert Kelly Degman. “First, before that car door is opened you should secure your weapon in a lock box (not in your trunk.) Whenever possible, there should be a second officer there who is armed for cover while you make contact. If you’re short staffed, like everyone is, and you can’t have two officers involved in the actual transport, have someone meet you at the car before you get the suspect out.”
— NEVER underestimate the risks that can be posed by individuals in wheelchairs…particularly those like Goss who have an obvious bent for criminal activity and assaulting officers. Take the time to review our previous article, 5 Reminders for Dealing with Wheelchairs where you’ll get important tactical reminders related to this type of scenario.
— Always remain acutely cognizant of your gun side and protect it. Constantly consider your positioning when interacting with individuals, particularly someone like Goss, and make every effort to avoid making access to your sidearm easy or tempting.
— Be sure you are practicing gun retention tactics that will be effective should someone, heaven forbid, try to yank your gun from your holster. Make this a priority.
— Be sure your holster is equipped with a sufficient level of retention that will provide solid protection during an attempted disarming.
— Remember there can be an inversely proportional relationship between the stress and anxiety inmates and officers feel during transports to court or lockups. At the beginning of a transport when a suspect is being loaded into a vehicle, well-trained officers are acutely aware of the the tense atmosphere and highly dedicated to officer safety protocols. Suspects/inmates on the other hand may be more resigned at that point to the fact that they’re heading to wherever it is they’re going—court, jail—whether they like it or not. During the trip, that emotional balance can shift. As you get closer to the end of your ride—closer to “safety” where there are other officers and a more secure setting—some officers may have a tendency to relax while the suspect, who realizes they are now arriving at the place they didn’t want to be, gets more tense and potentially desperate. Reality hits and their motivation to try to escape can increase. Maintain a steady state of tactical vigilance at all times during a transport, from beginning to the very end.
— Along those lines, be leery of being “played” during a transport. We don’t know what was said during this transport but always remember that no matter how “harmless” someone may seem or how “nice” they are or how convincing they may be in making you think they would never—or could ever, in the instance of an injured or disabled person—attack you, maintain your mental and physical tactical edge at all times.
Thankfully the officer involved in this incident suffered only minor injuries. Clearly, the result could have been catastrophically worse. Goss was injured and taken to a hospital for treatment. At the time of this writing, his condition is unknown.
Have more thoughts on this incident to share? Additional tips? E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.