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Charging Into a Hail of Gunfire

Charging Into a Hail of Gunfire

Incident Background
April 12, 2013 was another evening watch shift for Alpharetta, Georgia Police Officer David Freeman until he made a “routine” traffic stop. Freeman ran a license plate on a pickup truck and returned with a registration violation. Nothing remarkable about “another” traffic stop for David as he activated his blue lights. Freeman exited his patrol car and closed the distance to the vehicle using a passenger side approach.

Suddenly, the driver, Curtis Hicks, exited his truck and was startled to locate Freeman on the passenger side of his vehicle as Freeman issued a command to “stay in your car.” However, Hicks quickly turns to raise a pistol and shoot Officer Freeman seven times before fleeing. Despite his gunshot wounds, Freeman was able to return fire while withdrawing to a cover position and radioing for help. Freeman was able to broadcast the suspect’s vehicle description and that it was headed south towards the Roswell city limits.

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While assessing his wounds, David Freeman can hear sirens converging on his position. He takes comfort that his EMS, fire service, and law enforcement Brothers and Sisters are coming to his “Officer Down! Officer Needs Help!” radio broadcast. As David bleed internally and externally from his many entrance and exit wounds, his fellow law enforcement officers were driven to locate, close with, and apprehend his attacker. David’s attacker had less than three miles of freedom driving south into the city limits of Roswell, Georgia.


Sergeant Wescott Engages in Motor Vehicle Pursuit
Roswell Police Sergeant Jason Wescott, Uniform Patrol Supervisor, was having another busy night supervising and assisting officers, resolving issues, and approving reports. As Jason monitored the radio traffic broadcasting Alpharetta’s suspect’s vehicle description, he knew that the suspect was headed straight towards him. Alpharetta and Roswell are home to more than 160,000 people and is just ten miles north of Atlanta.

From the glow of streetlights, Sergeant Wescott spotted a truck traveling south and executed a 180 degree turn to catch up to it to confirm its identity. The driver saw the police car turn around and makes a hard right into a busy shopping center almost striking several pedestrians. Sgt. Wescott confirms this is “the” truck and activates his lights and sirens and broadcasts he is in pursuit. A few quick turns and the Hicks exited the shopping center and speeds up in an attempt to escape.

As the pursuit continues, additional police vehicles from both Alpharetta and Roswell join the pursuit or respond to locations to get ahead of the pursuit. Sergeant Wescott, who was the primary pursuit officer, witnessed the suspect shooting from his moving truck at numerous police and civilian cars. Radio traffic was filled with officers reporting that they had taken gunfire through their windshield or door panels. Furthermore, a female motorist was shot by the suspect who was attempting to delay police officers by injuring citizens.


Sergeant Wescott Charges Gunfire to Ram the Suspect’s Truck – REPEATEDLY
Sergeant Wescott made the deliberate decision to close the gap and ram the suspect’s truck in an attempt to disable it. Every time that Sergeant Wescott sped up to ram the suspect’s truck, the suspect would turn to his right and fire his pistol out of the open rear sliding window. In one of the attempts, the suspect’s weapon is pointed directly at Sergeant Wescott as muzzle flashes are captured on the dash cam. Despite the danger of serious bodily injury or death, the audio captures Sergeant Wescott’s vehicle accelerating at full power striking the suspect’s rear bumper.

While Sergeant Wescott was forced to weave and maneuver in an attempt to avoid being shot, he did not retreat. He continued to evaluate the heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic looking for more opportunities to ram the suspect. During these attempts, Sergeant Wescott’s vehicle was struck by numerous bullets. Wescott’s dash cam video documents the incredible danger Sgt. Wescott faced, with every attempt he made, to stop the suspect’s continuing public threat. Throughout the entire incident, Sergeant Wescott communicated calmly and clearly to dispatchers and officers including asking a subordinate to take control of the shift as the pursuit left Roswell.

The suspect then enters an interstate highway, collides with an innocent motorist who crashed into a police car. Eventually, Hicks loses control of his vehicle and crashes against the median wall. As soon as the suspect’s vehicle came to a stop, the suspect exited his vehicle and began shooting at officers. Sgt. Wescott and ten other Alpharetta and Roswell police officers return fire killing the suspect and stopping the violence. The Fulton County District’s Attorney’s Officer-Involved Shooting Review Report says that Sergeant Wescott pursuit was 18 minutes long. It was very fortunate the concrete median wall provided protection for the vehicles traveling on the opposite side of the interstate.

Lessons Learned

  • Radio communication between nearby law enforcement agencies is critical. Alpharetta and Roswell have both frequencies on their radios so it’s a quick channel change.
  • There is no training for a determined criminal intent on causing violence as he repeatedly fires at civilians and officers during a pursuit. Fortunately, the only fatality was the criminal.
  • Roswell and Alpharetta are cosponsors of the Roswell-Alpharetta Public Safety Training Center (RAPSTC). This facility sponsors an array of EMS, fire service, and law enforcement specialized training courses attended by officers across the Atlanta regional area. This close training relationship ensures that Roswell and Alpharetta firefighters and police officers attend courses together so personal and professional relationships are strong.
  • Officers working approved extra jobs provided a force multiplier during the chase and securing the many crime scene locations scattered along the pursuit route. Evidence had to be secured and processed. Additionally, injured civilian and officers needed medical treatment and transportation to the hospital, so these off-duty officers left their “extra jobs” and answered radio calls. This is an important benefit allowing officers to use their assigned police vehicle to work approved extra jobs.
  • Once the offender crashed his vehicle on the interstate, an extended firefight occurred. After the shooting, a number of officers began wearing triple magazine pouches to increase their duty belt capacity to 61 rounds of 40 caliber. In a gunfight, you never have enough time, enough cover, or enough ammunition.
  • The rest of the city does not stop having emergencies, car accidents, thefts, etc. while the incident and aftermath takes place. Having policies to address ongoing service requests have to be developed. In many cases, citizens will simply have to be patient.


Incident Aftermath
Officer David Freeman made a full recovery and returned to duty. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard found that officers’ use of force was objectively reasonable. Sergeant Jason Wescott was awarded a Medal of Valor for his heroism. He accepted a lateral transfer supervising the Crime Suppression Unit (CSU).  

The suspect had two misdemeanor convictions: 1990 for criminal trespass and 1998 for simple battery. He had a general hatred of people in authority and possessed an arsenal of weapons what were recovered when inventorying his vehicle.


Training Resources

This Dropbox link contains the Alpharetta Police Officer Freeman’s shooting video, Roswell’s Police Sergeant Wescott pursuit video, and the District Attorney’s Investigation Report. Officers are welcome to use them as training resources to enhance officers’ preparedness for violent assaults.


City of Roswell, Georgia Police Department

Roswell, Georgia Police Department is a 140 sworn officer law enforcement agency protecting a population exceeding 90,000 citizens. Money Magazine ranked the City of Roswell as one of the top 20 best cities to live in the eastern United States. The Roswell Police Department has accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).

 


James Easterwood is deputy chief of the Roswell, Georgia Police Department. James is a retired training commander (Captain) for the Cherokee County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office. Chief Easterwood has a Master of Public Administration from Columbus State University’s Law Enforcement Command College.

Bill Lowe is a Roswell, Georgia, police officer assigned to the Uniform Patrol Division. Bill is a Georgia P.O.S.T. Master Instructor and TASER Master Instructor. Bill has a doctorate in human resource management.

 

About The Author

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Law Officer is the only major law enforcement publication and website owned and operated by law enforcement. This unique facet makes Law Officer much more than just a publishing company but is a true advocate for the profession.

1 Comment

  1. Dr. David A. Payne

    I am so proud that my son, Jeff, is one of you. I know that my granddaughter is safe in Roswell.

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