Calif. officer knows bullets wound more than the body

By Mike Macias
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Editor's note: Mike Macias is a detective with the Ontario Police Department.

I had been a police officer with the Ontario Police Department for about 2 1/2 years when I was involved in my shooting.

I had no police experience before I was hired. I was attending Cal State Long Beach when I was hired by the Police Department. I was married with a 3-year-old son.

After the police academy and my time with a training officer, I was assigned to south Ontario, where three very violent street gangs ruled the neighborhood. Four years before my shooting, an Ontario officer was shot to death and following my shooting, two more Ontario officers were shot by Ontario gang members within eighteen months.

I did not know it, but when I was hired by my department, there was a war going on to regain south Ontario from those street gangs. I did not know it was going to be such a bloody war.

It was a hot summer night in August 1979. I was assigned to graveyard patrol. I was looking for any sort of crime in south Ontario.

I loved catching bad guys. It was slightly before midnight when I stopped a carload of gang members in an old low-rider. The group was on their way to a gang party and the gang member who shot me was the "muscle." He was the armed member in the car, whose job was to protect the group.

The low-rider rolled through a stop sign in the center of south Ontario. I stopped the car and called out my traffic stop, which was on a residential side street. In those days most of the street lights were shot out, so the area was pitch black.

The only lights in the area were my police unit headlights. The spotlight to the police unit was broken. As a one-man unit, I had made this kind of traffic stop many times before.

I approached the car just as one of the rear passengers started to get out. I ordered him to stop as he took about ten steps away from the car. He was now in complete darkness as I approached to pat him down. I was watching the car and watching him as I came within arm's reach. I started to pat him down, when he suddenly turned, faced me and shot me in the stomach with a Ruger .41-caliber Magnum revolver.

Just before the gun exploded in front of me, every sense in my body told me something was going very wrong. The bullet hit me one inch above the belly button.

I was wearing one of the original bullet-proof vests made, but it was not certified to stop that large of a round.

The bullet took the vest into my stomach, leaving me with a bullet hole about the size of a quarter.

The gunshot knocked me back about half a step as I pulled my own gun and started shooting. Because we were so close to each other, it was hard for either one of us to miss.

I hit him with three rounds. He fell to the ground as I ran back to my unit.

I screamed into the walkie-talkie that I had been shot when I heard the second volley of rounds coming from him. I returned fire and emptied the last three rounds of my six-shot revolver. Likewise, the gang member emptied his gun and eventually surrendered to backup officers arriving in the area.

All the injuries to both of us were with the first four shots. Based on radio transmissions, our first shots were exchanged 17 seconds after my broadcast that I had stopped the car.

Eleven rounds were exchanged by the gang member and me in about 23 seconds.

I was transported to Ontario Community Hospital for emergency surgery for a gunshot wound. I was off work for about three months and returned to day shift patrol in January of 1980. It was the beginning of failed self-help.

In February 1980, the gang member was tried and convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer. He was sentenced to seven years and served about 4 1/ 2 years in prison. He was released on parole in 1984.

I did not get any satisfaction from his conviction or sentence. I really did not think it was enough time for trying to kill me.

The main problem with officers who have been shot or have shot someone is that healing takes time. Even back in 1979, counseling was available.

I saw a psychiatrist three times. After the third session, I was pronounced fit for duty and returned to my job as a police officer. I was on Cloud Nine because now I had a certificate that said I was sane.

But the damage went beyond the time it took to heal my stomach.

When I was shot, I attained hero-type status in my profession, both inside and outside of my department. I had been shot, shot the bad guy and survived, all in less than thirty seconds. I healed up and returned to work. That showed every bad guy that cops are going to keep coming at you no matter what. I showed my peers that you don't die when you're shot, you keep going.

On the surface it really sounds good, but inside I was dying.

God, getting shot hurts.

Unlike TV, you do not return healed up the following week. While healing physically, I was not aware I was emotionally and mentally starting to crumble. The bouts of depression were agonizing. For no reason at all, the birthdays of my son and myself, as well as Christmas, would send me in to an unbearable depression that I had to hide.

After all, I had a certificate that said I was sane, and I needed my peers to trust me.

Police officers are allowed to use one legal drug to self-medicate: alcohol. My drinking standard went from social drinker to heavy drinker. The booze helped mask the pain that I could not share. I did not want to lose my certificate of sanity, so it was drink, drink and drink.

Fellow officers occasionally would ask me if I was OK because I was different now.

Reckless on patrol, taking unnecessary chances and always looking for guns and guns and guns. I wanted to be the one that found the gun. I did not want any of my brother or sister officers to go through the hell I was living in. So the best way to keep them safe was if I found the gun first.

Less than a year after my shooting, another Ontario officer was set up and ambushed blocks from where I was shot. Gang intelligence indicated that the same gang involved in my shooting had set this officer up in retaliation for me shooting one of their members.

As I visited him in the hospital, hell just got worse. He had been shot in both legs, and at the time it was not known whether he would be able to return to work.

Eventually, he was.

Less than a year after this officer was ambushed, another Ontario officer was ambushed a block from where I was shot. This time bullet fragments hit the officer in the head as he was in foot pursuit. He survived and returned to work.

Guns, guns, guns - I could never find all the guns.

The night I was shot, my first wife was seven months pregnant with our second child. While I healed, she begged me to leave police work.

That was not going to happen. My job meant more to me than my marriage.

She could see me grow more distant, selfish and reckless. The two of us grew apart and before my second son was 18 months old, we were divorced.

Hell just got worse.

Within months after the shooting, I started telling the story of my shooting to recruits at the police academy. It felt good to tell new officers about the mistakes I made on my traffic stop and how you never quit. Over the years, my presentation became a slide show and I talked at various police academies and police programs.

Finally, some relief.

Something good was finally coming out of the shooting.

It was about three years after my shooting when my mom and dad sat me down and reminded about my responsibilities as a father.

I was pretty much hitting rock bottom. I looked around and saw the damage I had wrought. I had a lot of mending to do but first I had to learn to like myself again. The long climb out of hell was about to begin.

Five years after my shooting, things were finally starting to settle down for me.

Emotionally and mentally, the shooting was no longer the reason for my problems. I was starting to get control of my life again.

Ten years later and beyond, I was no longer the lecturer on police shootings.

Unfortunately, younger officers were now telling their own stories of their shootings and being shot. It seems like there never is a shortage of these horror stories.

Looking back on almost 30 years of healing, the best medicine is time. Time heals the physical pain. Time eases the emotional pain.

Time eases the depression. Time refocuses you on the important things in life. And if you let it, time takes self-pity out of your life and gives you a fresh start.

However, the one question that was my ticket to hell was, "Why?"

Why did someone who did not even know me want to kill me? Because I stopped a car he was in?

Because I wear a uniform? Because he did not want to go to jail for a misdemeanor gun possession?

Because he wanted to get away? WHY?

Didn't he care I was a father? Didn't he care I had a wife that depended on me?

Didn't he care I was a son whose parents were proud of him but lived in fear that one night they would make that trip to the hospital or the morgue?

Didn't he care, didn't he care, DIDN'T HE CARE?

To this day these questions have never been answered.

I know now they never will.

Besides, we won the war.

And aren't there causalities in every war?

Copyright 2007 Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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