Nancy Fatura grew up in tiny Park Falls, Wis., where she dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But as a cop’s kid, she also craved excitement, risk and adventure. In 1993, Nancy joined the US Army Reserves as a Behavioral Science Specialist and the girl from the Midwest found herself deployed to a combat hospital in Germany during “Operation Joint Endeavour.”
After her deployment, she returned to Wisconsin and tried out various jobs, including a stint with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles where she developed a fascination and an expertise in working with faked documents. Her birth state of Arizona was still in her blood, however, as was an ever-growing interest in police work. She packed up her car and moved to Tucson.
Nancy was hired by the Tucson Police Department in 1999; she immediately loved the challenge of the academy. TPD has nearly 1000 sworn officers and protects 500,000 citizens within 200 square miles; what a change for the small-town kid from Wisconsin! Nancy credits her dad, a tall “cop’s cop” kind of guy and something of an intellectual, with influencing her during those rookie years.
Tucson Police Officer Nancy Fatura drive-stunned, then shot an aggressive suspect in a chaotic scene outside a restaurant. (Photo courtesy Betsy Brantner Smith)
“Mom gave me my spine but dad gave me direction,” she told me with pride. “I always felt I had a good mindset for law enforcement.”
Nancy thrived in the police environment, where work was, and still is, great fun for her.
Wake Up Call
As her career progressed, she worked in various assignments including patrol, narcotics, background investigations — and the requisite stint investigating prostitution in plainclothes — but she always returned to patrol.
She got married in 2004 to another Midwesterner and they had two kids. Childbirth and the lifestyle of a busy working mom took its toll and despite her natural athleticism she put on weight. In 2008, Nancy had an unnerving encounter with a suspect she’d put in prison years before. She considered this her “wake-up call” and started working out again, but she felt like she wasn’t maximizing her efforts. She lost weight (over 80 pounds in a two year period) and felt better, but Nancy knew there was more that could do.
So did Officer Mike Rapiejko, a Tucson fellow cop and fitness and nutrition fanatic; he approached her one day at the TPD gym and said “what the hell are you doing!?” Fortunately for him, Nancy took this in the spirit in which it was intended, and a partnership was formed.
Mike coached her in weight training, cardio, cross training, and he also helped reignite her interest in training not only her body but her mind. She attended her first Street Survival seminar as well as Dave Grossman’s “The Bulletproof Mind.” These classes left her with a realization that she needed continue to train her own will to win. In fact, she loved Grossman’s sheepdog analogy so much that she invested in a small tattoo: “Beware of the Sheepdog.”
Now that I’ve gotten to know Nancy, I sometimes think the word “sheepdog” should be replaced with “pitbull.”
A beautiful blond with sparkling, happy eyes, Nancy Futura is not someone you’d look at and immediately say to yourself “she’s a cop.” Her Midwestern upbringing gives her a relaxed, friendly demeanor, but even as she smiles and jokes, it’s apparently that those eyes miss nothing. Like the sheepdog, she is always watching. But like the pitbull, she is tenacious and almost impossible to divert off a chosen task.
In February of 2011, Nancy was on patrol when she drove by a small group of men on foot. Something was “off” about the scene, and she turned around and headed back. All but one of the men ran in the opposite direction and she took off after them.
After three men were in custody, the full story came out: Nancy had witnessed a homicide. The victim, already dying of a stab wound when she entered the area, might never have been avenged if she had not followed her instincts and run after the offenders. “Beware of the Sheepdog” indeed.
In June 2011 Nancy decided to broaden her perspective with the agency and transfer to a new division, the Downtown Division. She was a “Lead Police Officer” (LPO), a field training officer and a hostage negotiator with her eye on a sergeant’s position. Change would be good.
Pitbull's Memorable Last Shift
Nancy began her last shift with her current team later that month. During the previous night, she had gotten involved in a suicidal barricaded subject that she had negotiated to a successful conclusion, so her intent was to spend most of her shift finishing the mound of paperwork that goes with such an incident.
As she patrolled her area she got a call of a “male shot in the head” at the Overboard Restaurant. She was only 60 seconds away, so she raced to the address while starting to set up a perimeter as other units responded.
Dispatch came over the radio: “Male shot in the head, he’s pouring bleach over the scene.”
Witnesses called in more details as she arrived. The suspect, Anthony Salcido, 30, was still on scene, inside the restaurant.
“I didn’t know if we had an active shooter or a hostage situation, and now I have a guy with a gun and a hostage in the restaurant,” Nancy said.
She began to direct citizens to safety as the suspect ran. Then she lost sight of him for a second and he was able to dump the gun. The scene was chaotic and there were people everywhere.
As the suspect came into view, Nancy pointed her gun at him, shouted commands, saw that he has nothing in his hands, and re-holstered her gun as her partner on the call, Officer Chris Duenas, attempted to arrest the suspect.
The two men began fighting intensely, and every time she attempted to enter the fray, the suspect pushed her away, as though she was a tiny rag doll. She was hit three times in the head.
Nancy drew her TASER, pulled off the cartridge as she’d been trained to do, and drive stunned Salcido multiple times, starting on his side and moving up toward his head. Salcido was able to push Nancy’s TASER toward Chris’ head while it was cycling. Chris was TASERed multiple times. Nancy grabbed the end of the TASER to redirect it and also suffered a drive stun.
At that point she let go of the TASER, drew her pistol and quickly fired five rounds. The first round hit Salcido in left front torso, and it was a fatal wound. But he continued to spin, and she hit him three more times. He hit the ground on his back.
Still in the fight, her gun malfunctioned, so she tapped, racked, and readied herself for more, but Chris was already handcuffing the suspect and told her to re-holster. Salcido’s original victim, the man shot in the head, was up and about, walking and talking. The next officer who arrived on the scene hugged her and began to check her for injuries. Chris was treated and transported for respiratory issues.
“I never thought ‘he’s winning, he’s going to kill me,” she said. “I never really had a negative thought.”
She didn’t know that’s she’d been in such an intense altercation until she read the witness statements.
She describes Chris’s actions as “valiant;” he fought for her and for both of their lives. An investigating detective, who called the incident “Battle Royal,” told her she had also “fought like hell.”
Not An Ending
The shooting was quickly determined to be justifiable, and it was back to business as usual. That should be the end of the story, shouldn’t it? Small town girl does good.
But it’s actually somewhat of a beginning. Nancy Fatura continued her quest for fitness. She participated in her first “mud run,” an activity she enjoys not only because of the challenge, but because of the diversity of the participants. A month later, however, she was thrown a true curve ball. Pre-cancerous cells forced her to endure major, invasive surgery that also halted her workouts and made her gain weight.
Still recovering but back in the gym, Nancy is now a counselor at the Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Academy and should be promoted to sergeant early next year. She is also branching out, debuting her new workshop, “Unleashing Your Inner Warrior” at the Big Sky Women in Law Enforcement conference next month.
She is truly a role model on so many levels, and I’m so proud to call her my friend as well as my inspiration. I’m hoping to join her on one of those “mud runs” soon!
About the author
Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.