No time for complacency on new deputy’s first day
“A lot of people view a rural sheriff’s office as a Mayberry, Andy Griffith place where nothing goes on,” says Richard Hill, sheriff of countrified Stone County, tucked into the Ozark hills of southwestern Missouri. “They don’t realize the calls we can get.”
Hill’s newest-minted deputy, Kevin Crites, will drink to that.
At 1500 hours one sizzling Sunday this summer, Crites climbed into a patrol car for his first shift as a full-time LEO. At 1523, he and his FTO were dispatched to their first call, a “possible domestic” at a farmhouse outside a hamlet with a population of 157 people.
Minutes later, shotgun pellets were whizzing over Crites’s head, and moments after that he was forced to fire repeated rounds from his AR-15 to bring down a snarling Rottweiler that seemed determined to have him for lunch.
Before coming on the job, Crites recently told PoliceOne, his greatest concern was the risk of growing complacent. As things turned out, “I didn’t have time to.”
At 40, Crites had come to a law enforcement career later than most. He’d spent some time as an Air Force security cop, had studied biology in college, but earned his living as a fencing contractor. His father, Richard Crites, is a well-known police attorney in Missouri, who serves in his off hours as a volunteer trainer and reserve deputy for Stone County. Motivated by his dad’s experiences, Kevin worked weekends as an unpaid reserve, too, for a bit before deciding to pin on a badge permanently as a full-time professional road dog.
A New Deputy’s First Call
Kevin Crites and his FTO, Deputy Jamie Flint, were a dozen miles from the scene when they got the “possible domestic” call on the day Crites debuted as a full-fledged deputy last July. First, they were advised, there had been a 911 hang up. When the dispatcher called back, a woman who answered alluded to a marital spat in progress. But soon after, she phoned the sheriff’s office again and asked that the call be cancelled. There was no problem, she insisted. She was just “nervous and scared” because she’d been “bit by a snake.”
A young woman who identified herself as the bite victim was waiting at the end of a long driveway when Crites and Flint rolled up at the rural property. “We don’t need you here,” she told them. Crites recalls, “She was very nervous and smelled of alcohol.”
He asked her where she was bitten, and she pointed to her ankle. “There was no blood, no obvious puncture marks,” he recalled. He asked her who was in the house, visible up the driveway.
“Mom and dad,” she said.
“He’s not here.”
“Well,” Crites advised her, “we need to talk to the people in the house to be sure there are no problems.”
Suspect Determined to Make a Stand
The two deputies moved toward the residence and were about 15 feet from the front door when an older couple emerged and intercepted them. They were the homeowners and in-laws of the “snake-bit” young woman.
The man looked Crites in the eyes and said calmly, “My son’s in there. He’s got a gun. He’s gonna kill anyone that comes in, and commit suicide.”
Later, it would be established that the suspect, age 31, was on supervised probation for second-degree assault and had a charge pending on a similar felony from two months earlier. “He knew he was going to jail,” Crites says. Fueled by a mix of drugs and booze, he seemed determined to make a stand.
Crites and Flint hustled the parents and spouse to a protected location behind their patrol vehicle, called for backup (including operators from the regional SRT, of which Flint is a member), then took positions in a line of trees and brush some distance from the house.
Flint hollered for the suspect to come out and talk. He came to the front door — but in no mood for conversation. “He was cursing and yelling, ‘Shoot me! Shoot me!’ ” Crites says.
He disappeared back inside for a moment. When he popped back, he had a 12-gauge shotgun to his shoulder. “Fuck you!” he screamed...and blasted off a round of birdshot.
From Crites’s vantage point, “I couldn’t see exactly where the gun was pointed, but leaves and branches over my head were flying.”
Soon, the new deputy faced a different threat. The suspect had retreated into the house, but his large female Rottweiler had shown up, nosing around the deputies and the family members and exhibiting “highly protective” behavior regarding the suspect’s wife. “If we had to shoot the suspect, we didn’t need the dog running around loose behind us,” Crites says.
Getting the animal confined to the house or to a pen that was in the fire zone was out of the question. But from their unit, Crites retrieved a length of nylon cord and tied it to the dog’s collar. He then had the wife sit in the back seat of the vehicle, holding the other end of the cord, and closed the door on it, anchoring the dog outside.
Later, Crites heard from deputies who had responded to the residence on past domestic-calls that the dog could be vicious. What he saw first hand was a mounting and menacing agitation in the animal — lunging, growling, snapping.
A life-long dog lover and raiser of German shepherds, Crites tried with soothing voice and posturing to calm her, but with a powerful jerk the Rottweiler broke free and came at him — “committed,” as he puts it. Three rounds from his AR-15 — one to the head, two to the spine — dropped the charging dog before she could complete her attack.
From that point on, the deputies and their responding backup sweated—literally—through hours of tense negotiations with the barricaded suspect. The heat index that day was 105 degrees, with crushing humidity and no cloud cover. “Everyone was soaking wet with sweat,” says a sergeant who was present.
With other responders strategically deployed, Crites’s job was to keep his patrol rifle aimed at the front door while Sgt. Trent Massey, a trained negotiator, tried to broker the suspect’s surrender.
Massey encountered some formidable challenges.
1. Power to the house couldn’t be shut off to kill the air conditioning because the suspect’s cordless phone (to which Massey was communicating from his personal cell phone) was tied to the dwelling’s electrical system. No power, no talk.
2. Relatives and neighbors of the suspect who heard about the standoff as the news rippled through the close-knit area kept calling him, beeping in on his line. “I’d feel I was just making some progress with him and about to close the sale when he’d break off to take one of their calls,” Massey says. “After every interruption, I’d have to start over again.” In hopes of lessening the problem, Atty. Richard Crites, who was among the responding backup for his son’s call, canvassed homesites in the surrounding countryside, temporarily confiscating as many problem cell phones as possible.
3. The lengthy negotiations drained batteries in the cell phones officers carried. Massey worked his way through the power capacity of three phones before the incident ended.
4. The suspect had a scanner in the house, allowing him to monitor much of the responders’ communications. Plus the residence sat on a berm that gave him a high-ground visual advantage. If he had ventured into a doorway, deputies were prepared to beanbag or TASER him, but he didn’t.
Still, with patience and skill, Massey was able to build rapport and gradually to eat away at the gunman’s resistance. Late in the negotiations, he managed to persuade the suspect to trade a secondary weapon, a loaded .32-cal. handgun, for a single cigarette. Finally at about 2100 hours, after Massey convinced him he would not be harmed, the suspect tossed out his shotgun and walked out of the house with his hands up. “He wanted me to be the one to handcuff him,” Massey says, “so I did.”
What could easily have become a bloodbath ended more than 5½ hours after the initial call with the suspect, his family, and an estimated 30 responding law officers all uninjured. And Deputy Kevin Crites, after a long first day, had weathered his baptism of fire.
Tellingly, Sheriff Hill, who came to the Ozarks from a background in the Marine Corps and in urban policing in California, is an unshakable believer in training. Recently, he says, he hired a seasoned deputy from an agency in Arkansas where the sheriff had “suspended all firearms training for two years because of the economy.” In contrast, Hill advocates monthly live-fire drills on rifle and pistol ranges and regularly puts deputies through force-on-force scenarios with Simunitions and live ammo so their decision-making and firearms proficiency stay well-honed. “We want to make thinking gunfighters out of them,” Hill says, “so they can survive.”
“Can we afford the ammunition in these tight times?” Chief Deputy Richard Anderson asks rhetorically. “Can we afford not to buy it!”
The department’s philosophy is this, he says: “As a rural cop, you have to do everything. There are times when we only have two deputies working the entire county, over 500 square miles of land and water. You may be hunting a lost dog one minute and have to switch to working a homicide the next. You have to be trained to think on your own and to think fast.”
And, as Kevin Crites will affirm, to expect your next — or first — crisis call when you least expect it.