The following story is a fictional account of preparations leading up to the mythical Democratic-Republican National Convention event in Miami, Florida. The story is loosely based on an amalgamation of real life occurrences in the lead up to the Free Trade Area of the Americas conference in Miami, Florida in 2003. The names of all the characters in the story are fictional.
As you read the story, keep in mind what ethical and legal issues are likely to arise. At the end of the story, you will be asked to respond to several questions related to critical incident stress management.
Case Study: The Friendly Fire Training Incident
It was one month before the Democratic-Republican National Convention (DRNC) was scheduled to start in Downtown Miami. In the months leading up to the event, The Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) had conducted extensive training for riot response and large crowd control. Since the early 1980s, it has been the practice of MDPD to send every one of its sworn police officers, from the rank of lieutenant down to sergeant and patrolman to a yearly Mobile Field Force (MFF) training day. The activities on these MFF training days consist of basic riot control formations, response to “officer down” scenarios, snipers, high profile rescue techniques, and the practice on deployment of containment perimeters.
This year, in addition to the regularly scheduled annual MFF training day, the Department had ratcheted up its training regimen in order to meet the challenges associated with large groups of protestors expected to attend the DRNC event. Every lieutenant, sergeant, and patrolman assigned to the Mobile Field Forces and Special Event Response Team (SERT) for this event were mandated to attend a one-week training course on special event planning. After that, the assigned lieutenants and sergeants attended a discussion-based tabletop exercise. That exercise was followed two months later with a realistic “real time” tabletop exercise that tested the decision making abilities of the commanders on the ground with scenarios that were likely to occur.
In addition, several specialized training sessions were held for personnel assigned to the CUT teams, the water cannon teams, and the newly formed bicycle crowd control teams. The final component of the training regimen was a series of “dress rehearsals” held after hours in Downtown Miami. Not all the 19 MFFs or SERT teams could be assembled on the same day (1,105 personnel in total), so the dress rehearsals were held over six different nights… simply because the Department could not commit so many of its officers to training on any given night.
What made the dress rehearsal training nights so unique was that they were done in “real time” and with realistic adversaries. The MFF training staff that coordinated the dress rehearsal training sessions used a cadre of volunteer officers to dress up as protestors and simulate the actions of violent “Black Bloc” Anarchists that had disrupted other similar events in the past. The officers who participated in these dress rehearsals commented on how realistic the scenarios had been. Several times, the “bad guys” had taunted, punched, and even spit on the front line MFF officers in an attempt to make them lose their discipline and break their formation. Throughout these dress rehearsal training exercises, not once did any of the MFF front line officers lose their composure. They were being exposed to the conditions that they were likely to encounter, and they did exactly what they were being trained to do. The confidence level among the MFF personnel and the commanders was high.
It was now 11 p.m. on the evening of the fifth (out of six) dress rehearsal exercises being held in the mostly vacated Downtown Miami area. As with all the sessions before, the evening began with a general briefing involving all 210 personnel assigned to Task Force 5. That Task Force was commanded by Captain Earl Bishop and was comprised of three Mobile Field Forces: “Juliet” Field Force, “India” Field Force, and “Lima” Field Force. Those field forces were commanded by Lieutenants Fred Hayes, Beth Alexander, and Pete Gonzalez, respectively.
As with all field force training exercises, all the participants’ weapons were unloaded and checked by supervisors to ensure that no accidents would occur. Sergeant Connor McDermott from the Special Patrol Bureau was assigned as the Safety Officer for this training exercise. His job was to oversee all the weapons inspections to ensure that everyone’s weapons were unloaded prior to the scenarios, and to serve as an additional layer of safety control.
After the briefing and the routine weapons unloading, the training exercise began. First, the three field forces were put through line formation maneuvers. After that, they were exposed to a series of “attacks” from the volunteer “bad guys” as they threw tennis balls (to simulate rocks) and sprayed the officers on the line with water guns and fire extinguishers to simulate the real life spraying of urine and fecal matter, as these protestors have done in the past. Throughout these many attacks, the officers maintained their composure and their discipline. The line formations never broke.
At 1:05 a.m., as part of the training scenario, Juliet Field Force was dispatched to a disturbance at the corner of 5th Street and North Miami Avenue. As the officers from Juliet Field Force dismounted from their vehicles, three loud gunfire shots rang out. These officers had been trained to react to sniper situations, and they quickly spread out and sought cover behind vehicles, walls, and dumpsters in the immediate area. As the shots rang out, everyone cleared the street, except for one male officer who lay in the middle of North Miami Avenue. At first, no one realized what had happened. Most figured that the officer may have twisted an ankle or a knee and had not been able to run for cover as he was trained to do. The officer was on the street and appeared to be in a great deal of pain. At that point, the Safety Officer, Sergeant McDermott let out three blasts from his air horn to signal that the exercise had been temporarily stopped. He also advised on the police radio “real life… real life injury… all units be advised, we have a real life injury… the exercise has been stopped.” Those were the agreed upon code words that were used whenever a real life emergency occurred during a training exercise.
As McDermott worked his way toward the fallen officer, several others had already descended upon him. McDermott could tell that the officer was in a great deal of pain. He also sensed from the other officers’ facial expressions that something was terribly wrong. McDermott noticed that the officer was lying on a pool of blood. This didn’t look like a twisted ankle or knee. The officer’s left pant leg was drenched in blood.
“Juliet 20… Start fire-rescue on a 3… we have an officer down… looks like a gunshot wound,” said one of the officers surrounding the fallen officer called on his police radio.
A gunshot wound? Sergeant McDermott wondered if the officer had somehow shot himself by accident with an unauthorized secondary gun hidden on an ankle holster. How could this have happened?
Moments later, McDermott was approached by another of the field force training committee organizers, Sergeant Joe Heinz. “Connor… come here, I need to talk to you in private.”
McDermott could tell from Sergeant Heinz’s face that something had gone wrong… terribly wrong. “What’s up?” asked McDermott.
“It was my fault. I shot that officer by accident.”
“What? What do you mean you shot him by accident?”
“I don’t know what happened…I thought I had loaded the shotgun with a blank round. I shot it three times to start the scenario… and next thing I know, the officer is writhing in pain in the middle of the intersection…and there’s blood all over the place.”
“How do you know it was from your shot?”
“I wasn’t sure at first, but when I ejected the empty cartridge, it was a birdshot cartridge… not a blank. I don’t know how this could have happened. You saw me loading this shotgun…you double checked it yourself. How did this happen?”
“Are you sure that you shot the orange training shotgun?”
“Yes, I’m positive. Somehow, a round of birdshot got loaded into it. The other three rounds were blanks.”
Fire-Rescue arrived within minutes and bandaged the officer’s bleeding leg. The paramedics loaded the officer into their ambulance and transported him to the nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital Trauma Center. Before the officer was transported, McDermott looked at the officer’s leg and noticed that there were several entry wounds that were consistent with a birdshot pattern.
Major Louis Warren, who was the overall commander of the combined police forces for the DRNC had been observing the exercise. Major Warren immediately called off the rest of the exercise, and called for an Internal Affairs Bureau police shooting team to respond to the scene to conduct the follow-up investigation.
Major Warren heard the increasing chatter from officers on the scene that Sergeant Heinz had accidentally shot the officer. Warren walked up to Heinz and said, “I don’t want you to make any statements to me, or to anyone else right now. I have called the IA shooting team, and they’ll ask you questions when they get here. In the meantime, I want you to sit down alone in your police car and wait there. Don’t talk to anybody except for your PBA attorney. Make sure you give them a call right away. I’m going to walk away now…make sure you don’t say anything to anyone until your attorney arrives. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir…and I’m sorry…I’m very sorry…I’ve messed everything up again…I can’t believe that I did it again.”
“OK son…just stop for now. Whatever you tell me is part of the record. That’s enough…understand?”
“Yes sir.” responded Sergeant Heinz. He walked toward his police car and called the PBA from his cell phone.
This was not the first time that Sergeant Heinz had hurt another officer inadvertently. Only three months ago, he had accidentally run over an undercover detective who was chasing a fleeing robbery subject on foot. Although Heinz never admitted it, most of the people on that scene concluded that Heinz had deliberately hit the officer, having mistaken him for the bad guy. The undercover detective sustained severe wounds, including two broken legs, a broken pelvis, concussion, broken ribs, torn muscles, and numerous lacerations and abrasions.
Regardless of whether it was an officer or a felon, the act of hitting someone with a police vehicle was not condoned by departmental procedures. The internal investigation in that case was inconclusive. It was never determined that Sergeant Heinz had deliberately struck the officer with his vehicle. Nevertheless, the rumors around the police department were that Heinz was starting to show some early signs of dementia and may have deliberately steered his vehicle into the officer. Over the past several months, Heinz had been forgetting the names of his close co-workers’ and he was making uncharacteristically irrational decisions as a patrol supervisor. The injured officer of that incident never recovered fully and is now suing Sergeant Heinz and the department for negligence.
Sergeant Heinz has been a well-respected 27 year veteran of the MDPD with a spotless record…at least up until now. Sadly, over the past three months, he has now severely injured two of his fellow officers. The next day, on the front page of the local news in the Miami Herald, the top headline read, “Miami-Dade Cop Shoots One of His Own.” The caption below stated, “Second Friendly Fire Incident in Three Months for Sergeant Heinz.”
Consider the following questions associated with this story and analyze the operational and personal ramifications of this incident.
- What are the different categories of stressors Sergeant Heinz is likely to experience as a result of this incident?
- What are some of the psychological reactions the other officers might experience as a result of this incident?
- What interventions, to address Sergeant Heinz’s stress, would be appropriate during the investigative process?
- What should be done with Sergeant Heinz?