Shooting For Survival: Are Your Heroes Prepared?

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Ready on the left? Ready on the right? Ready on the firing line. Commence firing!

Those words, or something similar, are heard by officers all over the country as they attend their annual mandated firearms qualification. Yes, once or twice each year all officers get the word to report to the range to qualify with their duty weapons. So many of them, for the first time since the last mandatory qualification, pull out the gun cleaning kits to spruce up the old sidearms. Then, with their pistols all clean and properly oiled, a few begin to feel a bit of anxiety creeping up. Suppose I can’t qualify? What happens if my scores aren’t high enough? You know, my eyesight has gotten a little weaker since last year. What if I miss the entire target? Will I lose my job?

Well, those are worries that should never arise because officers should be required, or at least allowed, to shoot more often. Practice by repetition is the key to firearms proficiency. And budget woes should never affect an officer’s ability to defend himself/herself. Yet, ammunition and training time are normally some of the first things to go when funds get tight. But that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’ll probably remain. So cops deal with what they have, which sometimes isn’t much. Still, do departments make the most of what little firearms training time they provide? Easy answer. NO, many of them do not.

Some departments do little more than have their officers line up on the range, wait for the command to fire, and then blast away at stationary paper targets, hoping they’ll punch enough holes in them so they can pass the minimum qualification requirements. Then they call it quits until the next year. But is that enough to survive in today’s increasingly dangerous world? Probably not.

Each week we report the line-of-duty deaths of the officers killed during the preceding week. So far in 2016, 61 officers have been shot and killed, including one just yesterday. That’s a 69% increase over this same time last year. Many of those officers were killed by gunfire during shootouts with armed suspects, NOT in gun battles with stationary paper targets. Now, I’m not saying those officers weren’t properly trained. Nor am I suggesting they didn’t respond appropriately to the threats to their lives. Not at all. Sometimes you do everything right and the worst still happens. What I am offering is that there are numerous techniques and tactics that could and should be taught to each and every officer. Things that could help them in the field.

Classroom time is great, and necessary, and goodness knows there’s a mountain of wonderful books and research material available.

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Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide for Writers, is a how-to, behind the scenes book designed especially for writers. The book can be found in public schools and university libraries all across the world, on the shelves and desks of thousands of writers, including many top, bestselling authors, on the nightstands of fans of police TV shows and people who’re interested in learning about police officers and procedures, in police departments, police academies, and more.

Book “learnin'” is great, however, it’s a must to incorporate hands-on exercises into police training whenever possible. This is also why the Writers’ Police Academy came into being—so that writers can experience the same training as what’s offered to and required of police officers and investigators.

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International bestselling author Tami Hoag, Writers’ Police Academy 2016.

As I stated earlier, officers learn some skills best through repetition, and it’s the “over and over again” training that helps officers learn to react almost instinctively to various threats and situations. Then, when/if those events present themselves, officers will revert to their training and react appropriately. Therefore, it is an absolute must that officers spend at least some time training under “threat” situations. After all, suspects on the street are simply not going to stand perfectly still with their hands hanging at their sides so that officers can squeeze off 50 or 60 rounds at them. So why should officers train as if they’re going to someday face a one-dimensional paper bank robber?

Believe me, facing a live person who’s shooting at you is far different than shooting at an ink-blotted paper rectangle. Everything changes when a human suspect pulls the trigger, sending a bullet toward your head. Your brain has to suddenly shift from “it’s only a paper target (paper-man, or flat-man, syndrome)” to HOLY S**T HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME! mode.

Sure, some practicing with stationary targets is necessary. That’s how cops learn the basics. But what else could they do to better prepare themselves for the real bad guys?

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Karin Slaughter, Writers’ Police Academy 2015

1. Shoot in low light situations. Not all firefights are going to happen at noon. In fact, many, if not most shooting situations occur at night. So why practice all shooting in the bright sunshine? And practice shooting while holding a flashlight!

2. Tactical reloading. Spend lots of time practicing reloading while under fire (pretend of course). When performing reloading drills, officers should practice discarding/dropping the empty magazine. You do not want your hands full, trying to reload while bullets zip by your head. However, when/if possible, shooters should place the empty magazine where it’s easily accessible for future reloading, if necessary.

3. Practice shooting while using various objects as cover. The practice will then come naturally when in the field. Always use cover!

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4. Officers should get into the habit of always facing their target (never turn their backs on the shooter!). However, some departments have the officers first shoot from closer ranges (5 or 7 yards), and then when they’re finished at that distance they turn around and walk back to the next firing point. NO! They should back up to the next point. This instills the habit of always facing their aggressor.

5. Strong and weak hand shooting. Always, always, always practice shooting with either hand. The possibility of entering into a firefight with an injured strong hand is always a possibility. If it does, officers certainly want to be able to at least hold, point, and shoot their firearms with some degree of accuracy.

6. Practice shooting at moving targets. Bad guys do not stand still. Neither do cops when they’re in a firefight. So why always practice shooting at stationary objects?

7. Spend time on firearms training simulators. Simulators are great tools for preparing officers for real-life scenarios. They’re also great for pointing out weaknesses in stressful situations. I’d rather correct my errors in a classroom, not after I’ve caught a couple of rounds to my torso.

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Firearms simulations training, Writers’ Police Academy 2010.

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International bestselling author Lee Child and world-renowned forensic anthropologist Elizabeth Murray—firearms simulator training, Writers’ Police Academy 2012.

Finally, and this is to the officers out there, practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition! What you do during training is what you’ll do on the street. I guarantee it. So even if your department doesn’t offer extra time on the range, you find somewhere to practice shooting. Your life may soon depend on your ability to use your weapon effectively. Be safe! Your lives matter to a lot of people.

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10 Things A Police Officer Should Never Do

No doubt about it, police officers have a dangerous job. Sure, their training teaches them many ways to stay safe, but time passes and officers develop their own routines. Unfortunately, the “it won’t happen to me” mindset often tags along with a “routine.” As a result, well, sometimes unfortunate things happen when an officer lets down his guard and/or ignores his training.

No two calls are exactly the same. Events unfold differently. No two suspects act in the exact same manner. No two houses or businesses are exactly the same (layouts and furnishings differ). Vehicles and their occupants differ. Even the people officers interact with on a daily basis behave differently from one day to the next (moods change, life events affect disposition, etc.). Cases and scenarios are never exactly like those taught and practiced in the academy. And, well, you get the idea—officers must be able to react appropriately to every single situation, even when they change course every few minutes or even as quickly as a fraction of a second.

So, using what they’ve been taught, combined with a handful of common sense and a boat load of department rules and regulations, officers go about their daily business of keeping people safe while enforcing the laws of their communities and states. Easy money, right?

After all, what could possibly go wrong if officers follow rules and the procedures they learned during training? Well … there is a slight problem. You see, police officers are human. I know, that’s a bit of eye-opening news. But it’s true. Let’s all say it together. POLICE OFFICERS ARE HUMAN. And what is it that humans do on occasion? That’s right. They make mistakes. We all do.

The problem with a police officer making a mistake, even a slight one, is that his error could result in the loss of a life, including their own. Think about that for a minute. We make a mistake like … oh, let’s say we slipped up and left a grocery bag on top of the car and then drove off spilling prune juice, Preparation H, and a couple of boxes of Depends along the way home. What’s the worst that could happen other than our neighbors learning about our pesky bowel troubles?

Police officers, however, make one little mistake, such as forgetting to load their gun after cleaning it, and the next thing they know they’re in a one-sided shootout.

So let’s explore a few things cops should NOT do. Here’s a list of ten.

1. When accepting a prisoner/suspect from another officer, NEVER assume the other officer conducted a thorough search. Always, Always, Always search every suspect before placing them inside your patrol vehicle, even if it was your captain or your training officer who delivered the prisoner to you.

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2. Never assume a suspect is compliant, even if they seem meek and mild at the time of arrest. You never know what will set them off. Handcuff every suspect/arrestee before placing them in your car.

3. Never give up during a fight. Remember, you WILL survive and you WILL win. No exceptions, even when the bad guy is bigger, meaner, and stronger … and green.

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4. Never lose your temper. Remaining calm allows an officer to think through the situation. Knee-jerk reactions often occur during moments of anger, and knee-jerk reactions are not always the appropriate response to the immediate situation. Be cool and your training will tell you what to do next.

5. Never allow anyone to invade your personal space. Keep them (especially criminal suspects) at least an arm length or more away from you. Any closer and you’ll not be able to react properly should an attack occur.

6. Never hold your flashlight in your “gun hand.” Doing so would prevent you from drawing your weapon should you need it in a hurry.

7. When knocking on a door, never stand directly in front of it. Doors do not stop bullets (the same is so for drywall, plywood, etc.).

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8. Do not allow emergency situations to cloud your judgement and thoughts. This includes when at the local jail or other places where you’ve secured your weapon inside a lockbox while processing a suspect. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the scene of an intense shootout where you suddenly realize that you’ve left your gun at the county jail.

9. When transporting and/or processing prisoners/suspects do not sit or stand with your weapon next to the bad guy.

10. Never, under any circumstance, give up/surrender your weapon. That’s NEVER, as in NEVER.

*By the way, the detective in the top photo is fingerprinting a suspect he’d arrested for possessing and selling large quantities of cocaine. Do you see anything he’s doing that’s wrong and/or unsafe?

 

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The Slager Mistrial: Sometimes Justice is Slow

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Clickbait headlines tried their best to reel in emotional readers, people who were angry that former police officer Michael Slager’s day in court ended in a mistrial. HOW, they cried, could the justice system let that evil man go? WHY, they asked, would jurors  let that devilish man off the hook after the world so plainly saw him shoot Walter Scott in the back, multiple times? It was an open and shut case and now they’ve let him get away with murder. Judge Clifton B. Newman allowed Slager to get away with Cold-Blooded Murder!

Okay, before we continue let’s form a better understanding of a mistrial.

Mistrial – an inconclusive trial, such as one in which the jury cannot agree on a verdict.

A mistrial, in the Slager case, was nothing more than the result of twelve jurors who couldn’t agree on a verdict. Some, the majority, I believe, thought he was guilty. The rest, and maybe as few as one, thought otherwise, or they weren’t sure.

In scenarios where jurors do not agree on a verdict the trial judge has no alternative other than to declare a mistrial. But a mistrial does not mean the case is over and the defendant is clear and free of his charges. Not at all. In fact, a mistrial is nothing more than an inconvenient and costly hiccup in the process. It’s a pause for the cause.

Prosecutor says Slager to be retried.

In the Slager case, the prosecutor has already vowed to retry the former police officer.

Now, why one or more of the jury members thought Slager might not be guilty as charged, well, who knows. The video was pretty damning. Slager shot Walter Scott in the back, multiple times, as he ran away.

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But that’s exactly why the reason the system is as it is. We’re entitled to a jury of our peers, and it is they, the people who listen to the evidence and from it make a determination as to innocence or guilt, who are charged with determining the outcome of criminal and civil cases.

Both sides, prosecution and defense, have the opportunity to interview and select and/or reject each potential juror from a pool of randomly selected citizens (from voter registrations, driver’s licenses, etc.). Those selected from the jury pool are then seated as jurors.

Voir Dire –  the act or process of questioning prospective jurors to determine which are qualified (as by freedom from bias) and suited for service on a jury. (Merriam-Webster).

Somewhere near, or at the conclusion of a trial, the judge instructs the jury about relevant/applicable laws, defines all terms, standards of proof, etc. Then the jury is excused to the jury room where they’ll conduct deliberations. To help with making their decision, the jury may ask to see trial transcripts and to examine evidence or documents relating to the case.

The goal of the jury is to reach a unanimous decision of either guilt or innocence. If they cannot agree, the jury is a “hung jury,” and the judge will declare a mistrial.

In the Slager case, the jury had three options before them—a conviction for murder, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter, or an acquittal. The jury, in a final note to the court, said that a majority of its members were “still undecided.” They were deadlocked.

Once a jury deadlocks, a judge declares a mistrial it is then up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to retry the case. The prosecutor for Charleston County, Scarlett A. Wilson, has announced that her office will retry the Slager case.

Again, this case is not over. In fact, it’s merely in mid-process.

Mistrials occur all the time, and for various reasons.

For example (from the American Bar Association).

Mistrials can occur for many reasons:

  • death of a juror or attorney
  • an impropriety in the drawing of the jury discovered during the trial
  • a fundamental error prejudicial (unfair) to the defendant that cannot be cured by appropriate instructions to the jury (such as the inclusion of highly improper remarks in the prosecutor’s summation)
  • juror misconduct (e.g., having contacts with one of the parties, considering evidence not presented in the trial, conducting an independent investigation of the matter)
  • the jury’s inability to reach a verdict because it is hopelessly deadlocked.

So, to sum up and in response to a mountain of questions.

  1. A mistrial is not the end. Not at all. Instead, in this case there’s a 99.9% – 100% chance of a retrial. Please do not allow the click-bait headlines to send you down the wrong path. Again, a mistrial is not an acquittal/not guilty verdict.
  1. It’s not fair to blame the police for a decision reached by a jury of non-law enforcement folks. In other words, the jury that couldn’t reach a decision was comprised of everyday citizens, not cops. The police were in no way responsible for the jury’s decision.
  1. What do I think should happen to the former officer who pulled the trigger? Well, as I stated when it first occurred (I said Slager should be and would be charged, and he was), I wasn’t there nor do I know what the former officer was thinking at the time. However, to address the question, yes, there are times when it’s justifiable to shoot a fleeing felon—when police believe the suspect will cause death or serious injury to the officer, other officers, or the public, if not apprehended. I do not believe this was one of those times. Again, I cannot begin to guess what the officer was thinking or what he knew when he fired those shots at a man who was clearly running away from him. Did the officer believe the man would seriously harm someone? I don’t know.

But, this is strictly coming in hindsight from the perspective of an armchair quarterback, and we all know how I feel about “guessing” when it comes to these sorts of things. I don’t like to make assumptions based on videos that only capture a portion of an event. Still, the video showing this shooting seems to be pretty clear.

  1. Do I believe the former officer will eventually be convicted … yes. Of what, I’m not sure because I’m fairly certain jury instructions will be modified for the new trial.
  2. Why did Slager handcuff Scott after he shot him? It’s for safety reasons that handcuffing is necessary, even after suspects have been shot and are down. I’ve seen people shot multiple times and still get up and run away or to violently struggle with officers. In fact, the shootout I was in is a perfect example. After being shot five times, once in the head and four times in the center of the chest, the robber stood and ran towards officers while still pulling the trigger on his weapon. I and a captain from the sheriff’s office tackled and handcuffed him.

You just don’t know, so it’s best to handcuff until things are sorted out. So yes, handcuffing in these instances is standard procedure. It may seem cruel or cold, but it is what it is for a very good reason.

Slager. Is is guilty of murder? Well, it’ll be up to a new jury to decide.

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I. B. Steelin: Tips On Preventing Vehicle Break-ins

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It’s me, I. B. Steelin, the guy who broke into your car last night. Sorry about having to wear the mask, but I heard a bunch of cops hang out on this site and I can’t risk going back to prison.

Anyway, thanks for leaving so many goodies on the front seat. Caught my eye right away. My kids needed the new iPod, and the wife will absolutely love the purse. Louis Vuitton, right?

Your neighbors were equally as generous. The blue house two doors down … left their car doors unlocked again, so a quick stab at the remote and BINGO, up goes the garage door. What a field day that was … power tools and a small TV (perfect for the kids’ room, by the way). I also took a quick peek inside the house. They’ve got a really sweet flat screen and I’ll definitely be back for it another night.

Across the street … Yep, the people with the BMW. Sunroof was open so I took the gym bag from the back seat. Not much inside but the bag was nice. The best part, though, was what I found in the glove compartment. All sorts of documents containing personal information—social security numbers, addresses, pin numbers, bank statements (I see some new charge accounts opening in the very near future), a letter from the alarm company saying they hated losing BMW’s business and that service could be reinstated for the low, low price of $19.95 per month and, well, let’s just say it was a real smorgasbord. My favorite thing, though, was the key ring … front door key, key to the business downtown, the tool shed, the rear gate…(yep, they were labeled).

There was a blue SUV on the next block. Two boxes in the rear—a microwave and a projector for a home theater. Spotted them from the street while passing by. The owner should’ve taken the time to pull the built-in cover over the cartons. But, easy money for me. Took a rock from the landscaping beside the driveway and those two sweet items were quickly in my greedy little paws. The cards read, Congratulations, Billie! So thank you very much, Billie, for whatever you did that almost earned you a couple of nice, new gifts. Mine now.

Actually, the entire neighborhood was easy-pickings. Lawns not mowed (a sure sign no one had been home for a while), newspapers piled up in the driveway, mailboxes overflowing, windows open, no lights in houses and yards, garage doors up, lawn mowers and bicycles left outside, no curtains on garage and basement windows, and there was even one house with a note pinned to the front door—“Be Back Tomorrow. Please Leave Deliveries In Kitchen. Key Under Mat.” Well, Duh. Loved the cheesecake in the fridge, by the way. And those homemade cookies … to die for. Next time, though, a little less sugar and maybe an alternative to wheat flour. Some of us can’t eat gluten.

Okay, that’s enough for now, but I’ll be back for the rest of your things. Unless, of course, you start using some common sense and lock up, close the sunroof, turn on a light or two, and activate those alarms. Until then, you’re just another number in the nearly two million thefts from vehicles that occur every twelve months. That number is indeed correct and, as a result, my friends and I steal well over a BILLION items from cars each and every year.

So, thank you very much for helping us achieve our personal goals.

And, as Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said, “I’ll be back.”

By the way, don’t bother looking for your collection of Terminator DVD’s. I took them. Kindergarten Cop, too.

Hey, here’s my impression of Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. Love that movie, and thanks to your neighbor I have a copy.

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See you soon!

Oh, don’t wait up, I have a key. I made a copy before I slipped yours back under the mat.

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The Wheel: Page Two of My Spiral Notebooks

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My career in law enforcement started in the prison system working as a corrections officer in a maximum security facility. The aged institution was a series of old, weathered and worn brick buildings that were probably ten years past the demolition stage. Ironically, that description fit many of the prison’s residents—old, weathered, and long past their prime.

As a new employee, and someone who didn’t know what to expect, once I was permitted inside the endless fencing and razor wire, well, I was a bit apprehensive to say the least. During our orientation period (the prison system is a revolving door of both inmates and employees—neither seem to want to stay for very long), we were told the prison housed many hard-core inmates, even brutal murderers who’d never again set foot in society.

It didn’t take long to discover how many of the prison inmates survive in such a harsh environment. Some, like feral animals, hunt and stalk their prey, zeroing in on the weak, culling them from the herd before moving in for the kill. The difference between this type prisoner and a lion is that the lion hunts for food, while the prisoner hunts the meek, hoping for favors, liquor, drugs, cellphones, women, and possibly freedom. His prey—new, weak, unsuspecting prison guards who can be manipulated and conned into granting those wishes.

Thankfully, I’m not weak or meek, so I never once fell for any of their clever con games. However, there’s another type of prisoner that did seem to get to me at times—the old-timers with the sad stories who seemed to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They could have been anybody’s grandfather, even mine. And such was the case of…

The Wheel: Page Two of My Spiral Notebooks

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Tired eyes.

Skin, wrinkled like grooves etched in wet sand.

Working man’s hands.

Nails bitten to the quick.

“They tore down the mill,” I said.

Anxious eyes.

“The one near my place?” he said.

I nodded.

“I once caught a citation catfish at the base of that old wheel.”

“Over twenty pounds, it was.”

I offered another nod.

“What’re they gonna do there?”

“Convenience store’s what I heard.”

A gaze into the distance.

Staring into the past.

A deep breath. A sigh.

A tired voice, nearly a whisper.

“The wheel was turning that night, you know.”

I’d heard the story a hundred times before.

“I heard the water running over it when I crossed the road.”

Trembling hand through white hair.

“She screamed, but I still heard the water pouring off the wheel.

And the metal squeaking and creaking.

It was loud. So loud.”

His eyes meet mine.

“Still hear it, you know. Every night, in my head.”

“I know you do.”

I know because I hear his screams.

The ones that wake him late at night.

“I went over to her trailer to see about all the racket.”

Hand gripping hand.

Wringing and twisting.

“She was my little girl, you know.”

Deep breath.

“I opened the door.”

Eyes growing wide.

The memory.

He was there, again.

In his mind.

“He…He was sittin’ on top of her…”

Voice quivering.

“She was naked. Lips bleeding. Down there, too …”

Old eyes fill with water.

“I tried to pull him off.”

Knuckles white.

“Too big. Too strong.”

Anger creeps in.

Teeth clenched tightly.

“I went back across the road to my house.”

Almost a growl.

“To get my shotgun.”

I didn’t want her to marry him. Never did like the guy.

A drunk and a bum.

Never worked a day in his life.

Beat her all the time.

Bruises and black eyes.

I seen ‘em.”

More hand-wringing.

“Loaded three rounds of buckshot. I did.

Get off my little girl!

Mind your own business, old man, he says to me.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

“He’ll never touch my precious angel again.

No sir.

Never again.”

Police.

Arrest.

Jail.

Court.

Murder.

Went home to get gun.

Premeditated.

Life sentence.

No parole.

A beat of silence passed.

“So they tore it down, huh?”

“Yep.”

Sigh.

“A convenience store, huh?”

I nod.

“I’ll always hear that water running.

And the metal screeching and squealing.”

A tear on his cheek.

“I know you will.”

“I’d do it again tomorrow, you know.”

I nod.

Another beat.

Announcement from speaker.

“Count time in five minutes.”

“All inmates report to their cells.”

Voices approaching.

Chatter of dozens.

Feet shuffling on concrete.

“I wish she’d found somebody like you.

Maybe we could have gone fishing together.

Before they tore it down.”

A pat on my arm.

Liver spotted hand.

“I’da liked that. I really would have.”

“Me, too.

Me, too.”

* The Wheel is a true story that crosses my mind from time to time. Today is one of those times…

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Friday’s Heroes: Remembering the Fallen

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Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, 45

Tacoma Washington Police Department

November 30, 2016 – Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez was shot and killed after responding to a domestic disturbance call. After shooting Officer Gutierrez, the suspect barricaded himself inside the house where he used two young children as human shields until a SWAT sniper was able to terminate the threat.

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Trooper Cody James Donahue, 34

Colorado State Patrol

November 25, 2015 – Trooper Cody Donahue was struck and killed by a vehicle while investigating a traffic crash. He is survived by his wife and two children.

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