Three important lessons about suspect control were driven home for a Nashville officer — with knife slashes to his face, neck, and back. The attack occurred as P.O. II John Timm and his zone partner Ofcr. Mike Hunnicutt of the Metropolitan Nashville PD were attempting to resolve a domestic conflict.
An Hispanic male had tried to pick up his young daughter after school but school authorities would not release her to him because the child’s mother (the man’s ex-girlfriend) was the custodial parent. He took her anyway. Police were alerted and Timm and Hunnicutt detained the subject on a traffic stop a short time later. The child was in the car, apparently unharmed.
“We got the parties out of the car,” Timm told PoliceOne. The mother showed up and “the situation escalated due to the suspect not wanting to give up the child. There was a lot of arguing between the parents in Spanish.”
Timm doesn’t speak Spanish, so the specifics of the exchange were unclear to him. But there was something about the suspect — he’s still not sure just what — that seemed “strange...weird.” He remembers, “My suspicion level was raised—and so was the hair on the back of my neck.”
Hunnicutt was in his patrol car “working on the report,” Timm says. “I suggested that we physically arrest the suspect for not having a driver’s license, since he presented only Mexico ID. It would separate the parties for the night and somewhat quell the domestic situation.” Hunnicutt agreed.
By then, the suspect had returned to his car and was sitting behind the steering wheel with the driver’s door open. After he refused commands to exit, Timm grabbed his left forearm, pulled him out, and spun him around against the car. “He was flailing his arms about, trying to get away from my grasp,” Timm says.
Hunnicutt, trying to help Timm, leg-swept the suspect, and the man went down hard on his back. But Timm, who was gripping him, fell too, landing with his head on the suspect’s chest. “I tried twice to punch him in the face but I didn’t connect,” Timm recalls.
Then, after perhaps five seconds of struggling on the ground, “I felt a weird sensation on the back of my neck,” Timm says. “Blood started to run down my neck and face and splatter onto the suspect.” Timm reached to the back of his neck and felt a warm, gaping wound. He’d been slashed by a weapon he hadn’t known existed.
As “everything went into slow motion,” Timm “disengaged from the fight by crawling off the suspect to one side. The suspect began to scramble to his feet, a 4-in. paring knife now glinting in his right hand.
“Shoot him!” Timm yelled. Hunnicutt drew down and shouted, “Drop the knife!” The suspect didn’t, and the officer fired a round that tore into the attacker’s abdomen.
The suspect survived and has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison for the attack. As he lay on the ground waiting for EMS to arrive at the scene, he pleaded for the officers to shoot him again, Timm says.
Besides the neck slash, which sliced down to mere centimeters from his spine, Timm suffered two cuts to his face and a stab wound below the rear panel of his vest which penetrated almost to his kidney. Some 20 stitches were required to close the wounds.
“I never saw the knife until he used it,” Timm says. “Needless to say, he was very skilled.” Apparently he had the blade cupped and concealed in his right hand when the officer pulled him from the car.
Timm, 31, had served as an army MP and as a jailor before going on street patrol with Metro two and a half years ago. He offers these lessons learned from his close encounter:
1.) Don’t permit a suspect to return freely to a vehicle once he has been out. Weapons can be hidden myriad places inside and quickly accessed. The suspect in this case said in court that he kept the knife in the car for chiseling ice off his windshield. Timm believes it was tucked into a pocket in the driver’s door and that the assailant retrieved it during one of several unescorted returns to the car he made during the squabble with his ex-girlfriend.
2.) Trust your gut. Timm says his “sixth sense” told him there was something hinky about the suspect, but because he couldn’t identify specific danger cues he didn’t follow through by exercising maximum caution when getting him out of the vehicle. He failed, for example, to see and control the suspect’s right hand prior to, during, and after the extraction.
3.) “Watch the hands” is a mantra of officer safety. But an important element of that rule which is not always understood or remembered is “See the palms.” Edged weapons and other potentially lethal implements can easily be concealed in cupped hands that may appear innocuous from the front, just like the knife that Timm didn’t see until after he was wounded.
Timm was off work, recovering for two weeks. Fortunately, he says, “I don’t have any lasting effects except an occasional neck cramp.”