“The windshield of a police car is the world’s best movie screen,” says Officer Donald Hummons of the Chicago PD. “You just can’t believe the things you see — crazy, sad, funny, scary.”
And some days you see a scene that looks quite ordinary and familiar in the beginning — but there’s a twist ahead you’re not expecting.
Such was the case one November Tuesday when Hummons and Officer Jameka Sherrod, riding as partners for only the second time in their brief careers, coasted toward an intersection on Chicago’s South Side.
Through their windshield, they saw a young woman clamber from her car and run toward them, frantically waving her arms and yelling, “Police! Police!” They stopped to see what the problem was.
Within minutes, their lives were on the line.
Hummons, in his early 30s, and Sherrod, in her mid-20s, worked separately except in special circumstances, he with a Tac unit, she with a gang team. Assigned to one of the city’s toughest police districts — Grand Crossing — they were well-accustomed to rough-and-tumble crime fighting, even though they each had only about three years’ on the job.
Earlier that cold but sunny morning, they’d been brought together for a minor undercover gig. Some kid had been getting muscled and robbed every day on the city bus he took to school, and Hummons and Sherrod, in soft clothes, were assigned to pose as fellow passengers with him that day in hopes of catching the young thug responsible. They tried, but no luck.
Back at the district station, a sergeant suggested they “roll around the area” in an unmarked unit for awhile to see if they could spot anyone fitting the suspect’s description.
It was about 1100 hours when they spotted the woman waving them down. Like most everybody in the district, their “plain” car didn’t fool her. “She knew we were cops, and she needed help,” Sherrod told PoliceOne. recently in an exclusive dual interview.
Clearly distraught, the woman spewed out a complaint that was commonplace to the officers. Her boyfriend had smacked her around earlier that morning — again. She was limping and had a few bruises, and this time she wanted him locked up.
The day before, she’d called police during another beating. By coincidence, Hummons’ brother, a patrol officer in the district, had responded to that complaint, but the boyfriend was not arrested at that time. After the encore attack that Tuesday morning, the woman signed a formal complaint.
The man was following her around, stalking her, the woman said. “While we talked to her, he kept calling her on her cell phone, berating her,” Sherrod says. “He was so loud we could hear him yelling at her.”
Between calls, the officers suggested that she arrange to meet him on a nearby street of single-family homes where they could then nail him. “It’s usually pretty quiet on that block,” Hummons says. “Sometimes I park there to eat my lunch.”
The boyfriend bit. The victim described him: light-skinned African-American, mid-20s with braids, about 6 ft. 180 lbs., probably wearing a tan leather jacket and driving a burgundy car.
The officers followed her to the agreed location, then moved to the sidewalk on foot and strolled along the block, watching for the suspect’s ride and eager to surprise him with a sudden arrest.
As it played, he pulled the surprise.
“We were focused on spotting his car,” Hummons recalls. “The victim was on the opposite side of the street. All of a sudden, she yells out, ‘There he is! Right there!’ ”
The officers turned. Directly behind them, no more than 10 feet away, two men were striding out of a gangway that ran between two houses. The one in front with braided hair was wearing a tan jacket. His hands were in the pockets, his face was twisted in a smirk, and his gaze was locked like a laser on the woman beside her car.
“He didn’t look at us, he didn’t address us,” Hummons says. But as the officers rushed toward him, Sherrod addressed him. “Chicago Police!” she yelled. She lunged to grab him but he dodged her.
What she saw next was the muzzle of a silver pistol that he yanked from his jacket pocket and shoved in her face.
Sherrod: “My mind went blank, white. I heard a voice in my head: ‘You’re about to die’.”
Hummons: “I thought, ‘Shit! He’s gonna kill my partner!’ My heart dropped out of my ass.”
The three-way action that exploded next occurred so fast as to be virtually simultaneous.
Once before, Sherrod had felt the shock of a gun suddenly thrust in her face, during a carjacking before she joined the force. That time she froze in place; this time was different.
Now she “regained my consciousness — snap! — like that.” She thought, Get away! Get away! She instantly moved to the side and dropped, ducking out of the suspect’s immediate line of fire.
Hummons had instinctively “coned out” from her as they’d approached, creating separation between them. The suspect was bladed in such a way that he “opened his body to me,” Hummons says. “There was no time to think. I had to act right now! Things had gotten real funky real fast.”
The young officer doesn’t remember drawing his 9mm Beretta, but he knew it was in his hand. With Sherrod free of crossfire, he squeezed the trigger.
“I saw the shot in slow motion,” he says. “I knew exactly where it went. It went right through his chest. I knew I got him.”
The suspect sank back into a mid-air sitting position and as he did he cranked off a round from his semi-auto that tore into the siding of the nearest house.
“He hit the ground and started to get up, still moving, still dangerous, even though he was shot center-mass,” Hummons says. “It shocked me. In my head, I’d put him down. In reality, it was different.” Before the echo of the suspect’s shot died away, Hummons fired a second time.
At the same time, Sherrod discharged her 9mm Sig as well. To her, too, the action seemed drawn out in slow motion, though it was really over in split-seconds. Struck again, her attacker sank back to the ground, this time dead right there.
Neither officer was injured. The suspect’s companion by then had taken off and disappeared into the neighborhood.
Sherrod and Hummons are quick to credit each other with fast thinking and fast reactions. If either had frozen in place, they acknowledge, both could have been killed. “And maybe the girlfriend, too,” Sherrod says. “He was moving toward her with his hand on the gun in his pocket when we intercepted him. Who knows what the outcome would have been.”
The suspect, Hummons notes wryly, “was not one of the most upstanding citizens.” He had a history of run-ins with the police. Associates said he’d repeatedly made threatening comments about cops and vowed never to let himself be arrested again.
Yet “to look at him, you’d never think he was a rough-house type,” Hummons says. “It goes to show that you can never go off of what someone looks like.”
For defending themselves and the girlfriend against him, Hummons and Sherrod were honored recently at the Chicago Police Department’s 49th annual Police Recognition Ceremony, which “pays tribute to officers who have distinguished themselves and the department by heroic deeds.”
They each were pinned with a chestful of medals: The Fraternal Order of Police Award for Distinguished Service, the Cook County Sheriff’s Award of Valor, the Police Superintendent’s Award of Valor, and the Police Medal of Honor, the highest recognition issued by CPD.
How were the officers able to execute such a rapid, coordinated response in their life-threatening encounter, considering that they didn’t work regularly as partners and hadn’t had the opportunity to thoroughly discuss and rehearse what-if tactics?
Because of scenario-based training with Simunitions that stresses an unflagging commitment to “fixing problems,” they say. Hummons recalls a frequent exercise in the academy in which he was placed in a room while role players assembled behind him. On command, he turned around and was expected to deal immediately with whatever challenges he confronted.
“I did everything wrong at first and shots came flying at me,” he says. “But we did that and other scenario training over and over. Whenever I made a mistake, an instructor was there telling me, ‘Fix it, fix it. You’re not dead yet. Keep fighting!’
“You learn to do something — gain distance, get cover — instead of just giving up. You don’t die until God says you do.”
“Pretty soon,” Sherrod adds, “you begin to react automatically, and that ability to think fast, to move fast, sticks with you on the street.”
Did they suffer any after-burn from being involved in their first shooting? Both laughed at having experienced the most common of cop dreams afterward, where you’re in a gunfight and your weapon won’t work. But they’ve had no lingering ill-effects, they say, and their enthusiasm for police work in clearly undiminished.
“I love being the police,” Sherrod says. “It’s something different every day. You never get bored.”
Hummons concludes: “Every time you suit up and go out there, you are fighting for all the good people on those streets. I don’t think you can get any closer to God than that.”