May 20, 2022

Deputy Matt & Others Who Serve

The individual voices and opinions of some first responders

Paid Vacation

Today is July 8, 2020. As I sat at my computer early this morning drinking my coffee, I realized that the 9 year anniversary of a shooting I was involved in, one in which I killed a man, had passed 5 days ago. This was the first year in which that anniversary passed without me noticing. It would appear it only took 9 years for me to finally be okay with killing a man who was actively trying to kill me at the time.

Nine freaking years!

And because this is important, my incident was a no-brainer, slam-dunk case of self-defense.  The guy was actively shooting at me, and fired the first round.  If it had been remotely questionable, or had been the subject of a protest, I can only imagine it would take MUCH longer for it to get over.

I mention all of this because I am sick of seeing all these idiotic morons running around talking about how cops shoot people to get paid vacations.  Hell, some idiots put a petition together to demand “No more paid administrative leave (vacations) for police officers” after they are involved in a shooting.

People who call this a paid vacation are complete freaking idiots who think movies like “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” reflect real life.  Cops get in a shooting, yuck it up with their buddies and go back to work like nothing happened.  The fact is, it could not be further from the truth.

Let me tell you a little about my “paid vacation.”

I got home about 6 hours after my regular shift ended.  After being interviewed by homicide and IA,while I had an attorney there to represent me, because I was the suspect of a homicide.  Then I returned to the scene, looked at my shot up patrol car, and walked them through the crime scene while describing the incident. When I finally got home, I crawled into bed and hugged my wife, whom I had woken up hours before to tell her I was okay, but I had just been in a shooting.  After finally letting go of my wife, I laid there, wide awake replaying the incident in my head, for hours.

I finally fell asleep about 5 hours later, and then slept for nearly 15 hours (nearly 3 times my “normal” amount) after the adrenaline dump finally wore off.

The next day (2 days after the shooting), I had to go to the range to qualify with a loaner gun since mine was now in the crime lab. Shooting at paper has never been more stressful than it was that day. Looking at that random guy on the target pointing a handgun at me took on a whole new meaning, and my heart rate showed it.  All of the range staff complimented me on my tactics and shooting, and for surviving.  While I appreciated it, because I understood their motivation, it also bothered me (more on that later).

The next night, I went to a “critical incident stress debriefing” where I got to sit around and talk about how the shooting made me feel to a bunch of other cops. Oh boy, my favorite, talking about feelings to other guys… The chaplain who was there to run the CISD is a great guy and we are friends to this day, but I felt bad because of the constant stream of cursing that came out of my mouth.

The next day, I got to go see a shrink.  Another “oh yay” thing that has always been on my bucket list…  I remember meeting the shrink, who was a very nice woman and I immediately felt comfortable talking to her.  It was a far different experience from the interview I had with the shrink to get hired many years earlier.  I honestly do not recall any of our conversation, but I recall being comfortable talking to her, and that actually helped.  That said, I was still a paranoid cop so I was careful about what I said, because I am not a moron and I realize that if I say the wrong thing, I won’t be going back to work.

Of course, all of this took place during what would have been my actual weekend.  So I did not only NOT get extra days off (the supposed “paid vacation”), I missed my actual weekend. In retrospect, I should have put in for overtime for all of the stuff I did, but I did not.

Some paid vacation, eh?

Beyond those first few days post-incident, things were dramatically different in my personal life from that point on.

My kids were young at the time, so my wife and I decided not to tell them what had happened because they would not understand it. So that made it impossible to talk about it at home.

All of the adults in my personal life acted differently around me.  They did not know what to say or how to act.  Some even avoided making eye contact.  It was very alienating.  It was a couple years before I felt remotely comfortable at family functions again.

My personality was changed by that incident, and I am thankful my wife stuck with me.  I know I changed, I could feel it, but you would have to ask my wife or my close friends for the specifics.  I know my temper was definitely shorter for many years, but I think it is finally getting back to normal, or at least my normal anyway.

For the weeks immediately following the shooting, I would run into coworkers at the gas pumps or around the office, and they would all offer some form of praise for surviving the incident.  Some guys who I highly respected, SWAT cops and military vets, were very complimentary on my shooting and tactics.  Again, I was thankful for their sentiments, but it made me feel weird at the same time.

And before anyone, like some cop hating moron, takes that the wrong way, the folks offering praise were glad I was still alive and that I escaped uninjured (physically).  They were not celebrating the fact that I had killed a guy.

As a gun guy who loves shooting and has taken a ton of training classes over the years, I was happy to receive compliments on how I handled the shooting, especially when it was coming from guys with far more training than me, and from several guys who had been in more than one gun fight themselves.  When one of my coworkers the night of the shooting told me that when the department range master arrived at the scene, saw my car and was told what happened, and his response was “that is badass,” it made me proud.

BUT all of those compliments also made me VERY conflicted.  Not only was I a long time gun guy, but I was also raised a Catholic.  In fact, I was an altar boy in the church for years.  I had been told my entire life that killing was wrong.

And here I was, proud about how I had handled myself, when the results of my actions were the death of another man.

Have you ever felt very proud about something you did, while simultaneously feeling ashamed of it?  It really eats at you.

But here I am, mostly healthy, happy, still with my strong, brave, and oh so tolerant wife, with my three healthy sons.  Nine years later, finally (mostly) free of the “paid vacation” I got to endure, thanks to some guy that wanted to kill me for no reason other than I was the cop who showed up to that 9-1-1 call.

Paid vacation my ass!

Note: One of the best things I did after the shooting, that really helped me get things straight in my head, was to attend Lt. Col. Dave Grossman‘s Bullet Proof Mind seminar, and then read his book “On Killing.”  If you find yourself struggling with similar issues, I highly recommend both.