During IACP 2011 in Chicago, I attended a very special ceremony during which Arkansas Game & Fish Wildlife Officer Michael Neal was named 2011 International Officer of the Year. In fact, Neal is beginning to accumulate a significant number of high-profile awards. In addition to being named International Officer of the Year, he has already been named by the National Rifle Association as the 2010 NRA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) previously selected Neal as its Officer of the Month for October 2010. Furthermore, Neal is currently being considered for the Congressional Medal of Valor — commonly considered the highest award given to any law enforcer in the nation.
These awards have all been in recognition of his heroic actions on Thursday, May 20, 2010 in a Walmart parking lot, where he helped to end the threat posed by two cop killers. Officer Neal encountered Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son, Joe, only 90 minutes after those two perpetrators brutally murdered Sergeant Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans of the West Memphis Police Department during a traffic stop along Interstate 40.
Armed with semi-automatic AK-47 rifles and handguns, the Kanes fled the scene of those slayings, touching off a widespread manhunt in and around West Memphis. The Kanes were ultimately spotted by Crittenden County Arkansas Sheriff Dick Busby and Chief Deputy Wren, who were first on-scene at that shopping center parking lot. Seconds later, Officer Neal was on the scene, and seeing the firefight between those LEOs and those suspects, Neal sprang to action, ramming the Kane’s minivan and engaging them with his patrol rifle.
Speed, Surprise, Violence of Action
We have all seen the video — if you haven’t you can check it out below — of Officer Neal ramming his truck into that minivan and taking on those gunmen. I recently spoke with Officer Neal, and during that conversation he told me that after his truck impacted the Kane’s van, he engaged those subjects with his Bushmaster .223 patrol rifle. The term “speed, surprise, and violence of action” is thrown around a lot, but in listening to Neal’s story, I couldn’t help but have that phrase ringing loudly in my head.
“It was a split-second decision that I had to make,” Officer Neal told me. “I made that split-second decision to ram than van and engage them. I don’t think they were expecting that. It was just a very quick decision I made to take the fight to them. I recognized the threat, I knew officers were down, and I knew officers had been shot. I knew in my mind at that point that this had to stop. We’re sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent, so at that point, there were killing people and they were trying to kill as many as they could. Whatever we had to do to stop it, it was going to stop.”
Armed with his M-4, Neal engaged the driver first and stopped that threat, and then engaged the passenger. He exchanged fire with that 16-year-old murderer — who you will recall was returning fire with an AK-47 — at a range of roughly seven feet.
“He put about 15 rounds of fire into my truck, and I gave him 28 back. I had a 30-round magazine — the first two stopped the driver and the others were given to the passenger. Over the history of law enforcement we’ve been trained to secure the perimeter and fight it out with them from the edges, but that was just one of those days where it just wasn’t going to work that way. It was time to go in and fight the fight.”
Neal was not struck by gunfire, but did suffer what he called “minor injuries” from shrapnel created by the dozen or so bullets that penetrated the windshield of his truck. “I was cut on the head, some glass went into my eye, I popped my ear drum, and I had a pretty good hole in my leg. I spent a couple hours in the ER. They cleaned me up and sent me home,” Neal told me.
Helping Other Officers
In addition to his duties on patrol, Neal also conducts police officer training — you can email him by clicking here — to help other officers be as prepared as possible for the threats they may face on the street.
“I’m very passionate about my training. I try to go in and I try to wake up officers. The days we’re living in now are not the days they were ten years ago. This is a war on cops, and you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel. I like to call myself a ‘what if’er’ because I’m constantly asking myself, ‘what if I run into this?’ or ‘what if I run into that?’ If you’re not doing that you’re behind the eight ball already.”
Neal works with officers in two- and six-hour blocks that can include training in gunfighting from inside a vehicle (it just so happens that the very next firearms training I am scheduled to do is focused on exactly that problem).
Neal, who had previously been a deputy sheriff for the Monroe County (Ark.) Sheriff’s Office, has been with Arkansas Game & Fish Wildlife for more than four years, patrolling in a seven-county area. Neal told me that he is frequently an hour or more from his nearest available backup.
“We cover all aspects of the law,” Neal explained. “I have a county that I’m assigned to — we’re allowed to patrol outside that assigned county into any of the seven we cover, but my county varies from a rural environment to an urban environment. Most of our area is very flat, with a lot of deer and duck hunting. We do everything from traffic stops to DWI arrests to boating while intoxicated interdiction.”
As you might expect, Neal must be ready for threats ranging from armed guards at illegal drug operations in the wilderness to the poaching of game by well-armed violators.
“You’ve got to be on top of your game and you’ve got to be mindful of when to back down and when to charge forward,” Neal said.
From his heroic actions on that day in May, we can all plainly see that Officer Michael Neal knows how to charge forward.
Congratulations to Officer Neal for a job well done!