Josh Kenworthy “never thought in a million years” he’d completely empty his M-4 patrol rifle, toss it aside in disgust, transition to pistol and keep shooting, and still be left to wonder whether or not the armed suspect still presented a deadly threat.
PoliceOne's Dave Smith congratulates "Not Today" Award winner Josh Kenworthy and his wife, Heather Kenworthy, at ILEETA. (PoliceOne Image)
On April 22, 2011, that’s precisely what happened, and for his fast actions and “Not Today” attitude to prevail no matter what the challenge before him may have been, PoliceOne has named Josh Kenworthy the Not Today Award recipient for 2013.
PoliceOne Columnists Dave Smith and Betsy Brantner Smith presented Kenworthy with the award during a ceremony at ILEETA 2013 in Wheeling (Ill.).
The Plan Was...
Shortly before Kenworthy’s shift began, officers were investigating a drive-by shooting outside a home in Tomah. When Kenworthy went 10-8, he immediately began assisting in the investigation, gathering information first at an auto shop and then a local motel.
Kenworthy ended up staked out near a local watering hole where the suspect — a 28-year-old man named Seth McCloskey — had reportedly been seen.
Sitting in the passenger seat of his Sergeant’s car, his rifle in his lap, Kenworthy watched McCloskey leave the bar and get into the pickup truck listed in the suspect’s motel paperwork.
While they didn’t know for sure they were looking at the same individual, Tomah cops all had it in their heads that day they might be looking at a man who had gone on a two-state crime spree of drive-by shootings.
Law enforcers from Illinois and Wisconsin had seen similarities in more than a half dozen cases, and with that in mind, Tomah cops investigating that day’s drive-by shooting were prepared.
Consequently, the plan was to allow the man to leave the more populated downtown area, and effect the high-risk stop outside of town. But McCloskey probably knew he was under the eye, because he led the two law enforcers on a brief, slow-speed pursuit into a residential area.
McCloskey stopped his truck, and immediately upon exiting, started shooting at Kenworthy and Sergeant Scott Holum.
Prepared for the worst, Kenworthy had his M-4 in his lap, so as he exited Sergeant Holum’s SUV, he immediately was able to put rounds downrange at the gunman.
Kenworthy told me that there was no way a rifle in a gun lock or in a case would have been put to use that day.
“The only reason my rifle came out that day was because it was slung around my neck,” Kenworthy said.
McCloskey tried to flee, and Kenworthy kept shooting.
“I didn’t want that to turn into a rolling gunfight. I didn’t want someone else down that road to be in danger because I failed to stop that gunfight."
Oh-Shit Moment: Open Bolt, No Extra Mag
Kenworthy didn’t have a perfect day that day. In addition to taking a round in his foot — he lost part of his toe — he knows he made one serious mistake.
“I don’t know why I did it, because every other day I’ve ever had that rifle on patrol, I’ve always had an extra mag in my pocket, but for some reason that day I didn’t have that extra mag,” he lamented.
“When I’d emptied my gun, my perception was that the fight was still on. I dropped the mag, reached down to grab the one in my pocket, and it wasn’t there. I’ll tell you what, when I threw that gun in the car it was in disgust. I was disgusted.”
But Kenworthy didn’t stop fighting.
The roar of the truck’s motor was deafening, so all indications were that the gunman was somehow still fighting to get away. Kenworthy quickly transitioned to pistol, and kept shooting as did his Sergeant on the opposite side of their patrol vehicle.
“I remember thinking ‘How is this still going? Enough’s enough, this needs to be over.’ Then, we realized he’d died with his foot on the gas,” Kenworthy said.
Prepare As Much As Possible
“We had training for high-risk stops, but we never had training that happened so quick. We had training where you’d be walking up on a vehicle and then a gun being produced, but nothing like what happened that fast that day — nothing like ‘the guy stops and bang you’re in a gunfight.'”
That said, Kenworthy credited his Sergeant for preparing those officers for the possibility they might be facing a serious threat that day. Kenworthy said that although there was no certainty the man they were looking for was the same wanted in that series of shootings, they approached the entire investigation and subsequent critical incident as if it was.
“The fact that we grabbed our rifles, and had those rifles ready for the worst case scenario, that was all training and preparation,” Kenworthy said. “We parked with the proper positioning. When I transitioned to pistol, it was fluid. That all goes back to good training.”
Kenworthy also credited his will to win.
“I don’t like losing anyway, but on top of that I knew that if he got off the block, and if he got away, another officer was going to have to deal with him. I couldn’t let that happen,” Kenworthy said.