10/03/2007

'I'm doing great,' says Pa. officer who was shot in face

"I would go back tomorrow if I could," said Philadelphia rookie who was shot in the face with a shotgun.

By Barbara Boyer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Related: Rookie Phila. officer shot in face during traffic stop

PHILADELPHIA Police Officer Richard Decoatsworth, who took a shotgun blast in the face last week, left the hospital yesterday with bandages on his neck and chin, declaring that the injuries looked worse than they were and that he was "doing great."

Surrounded by police and relatives, Decoatsworth, 21, walked out of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to a 16th District police cruiser for a ride home.

"I'm doing great," he said as he paused with his parents, Mark and Evelyn, and sister, Natalie, to speak to reporters outside the hospital.

"I can't wait. I would go back tomorrow if I could," Decoatsworth said of returning to police work.

It wasn't a surprising response from the officer, who graduated from the police academy in March and was hailed as a hero by fellow officers after he chased the gunman three blocks despite bleeding profusely.

Before leaving, Mark Decoatsworth said that it had been a trying time for the family, and that his son was "very tough."

"I was very proud of my son," he said.

Decoatsworth was shot at 9:05 a.m. Sept. 24 in West Philadelphia after stopping a Buick that had been backing up on Farson Street near Market Street. When three teens got out of the car and started walking away, the officer ordered them back to the car. As they complied, the driver pulled out a sawed-off shotgun, leveled it on the hood of the Buick, and fired birdshot at Decoatsworth at close range.

Though seriously wounded, Decoatsworth ran after the gunman while returning fire. Several blocks later, he collapsed on the 100 block of Paxon Street and radioed for assistance.

Police flooded the area, searching rooftops and under cars for the gunman. They arrested Antonio Coulter, 20, who they said had been hiding in a brushy alley between Paxon and 52d Streets, and recovered a sawed-off shotgun hidden in weeds about 25 feet away.

Coulter, who lives on the block where the shooting happened, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and related offenses.

Top police officials, including Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson and Homicide Inspector Joseph Mooney, called Decoatsworth's pursuit heroic.

The officer underwent several hours of reconstructive surgery the day of the shooting.

Yesterday, though eager to get back to work, Decoatsworth said he had not decided whether to return to the 16th District, where he was wounded. He said that he loved working there, but that decisions about his career would be made later.

Typically, officers who have been shot in the line of duty may pick where they want to work when they return.

Decoatsworth downplayed the accolades from fellow officers.

"I was just doing my job, just as any other officer would have done," he said.

Copyright 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer

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