NY police chief recounts day he was shot during domestic dispute call

Arnold "Butch" Amthor saw the assailant's arm rise. He heard the gunshot just before he was knocked to the floor

By Amanda Spadaro
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.

TOWN OF MONTGOMERY, NY — Arnold "Butch" Amthor saw the assailant's arm rise. He heard the gunshot just before he was knocked to the floor.

Anthony Bostick, 28, had barricaded himself in his third-floor Abbey Avenue apartment in the Village of Maybrook when Town of Montgomery and Village of Maybrook police officers tried to arrest him on charges related to a domestic dispute.

Amthor, police chief for both departments, said the situation escalated in seconds after officers breached the barricade.

Bostick, armed with a .45-caliber handgun, shot him.

Amthor's left side went numb. He couldn't get up. An officer grabbed him by the jacket and helped him stumble down the stairs.

He was immediately put into a car and taken to Newburgh, then transferred to an ambulance on Route 52 and taken to St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital.

"Until I saw the wound myself in the car, I initially thought that possibly it had blown my arm off, because I've investigated a lot of shootings, and a round like that certainly is capable of blowing your arm off," Amthor said.

Through the barricade

The confrontation in which Amthor was shot stemmed from an early morning report of a domestic dispute.

At about 3:30 a.m. on May 16, a woman walked into the Town of Montgomery Police Department and reported limited information about property damage at her home on Abbey Avenue, Amthor said.

Although Abbey Avenue is in the Village of Maybrook, the village relies on the town for police services from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Since 2007, Amthor has been the full-time chief for the town police, and he became the part-time chief for the village force in 2010.

Because the town's police department was short-staffed that night, officers decided to wait to respond to the complaint, Amthor said. The woman went to stay somewhere else, and officers drove by the home a few times during the night.

Later that morning, town and village officers headed to 812 Abbey Ave., a three-floor, multi-family home, to question Bostick about the property damage.

At about 8:30 a.m., Amthor was returning phone calls and answering emails, his normal routine, when he learned Bostick was not responding to officers' requests to come to the door.

Amthor decided to stop by the scene.

"It's on a case-by-case basis," he said. "I just felt like on that particular day that I should go over there."

After talking with the officers for about 40 minutes, Bostick stopped responding.

"Officers were concerned that he might be attempting to harm himself," Amthor said. They decided to enter the apartment.

The door had been barricaded, as documented by body camera footage released by Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler.

Bostick was hiding at the end of a hallway, near the bathroom.

"Anthony, step out," one officer said to Bostick, audible on the released footage. "Step out, bro."

Bostick can be heard telling the officers to "stop" multiple times.

"I'm coming either way," an officer said.

It only took seconds for the situation to turn violent.

"One officer started to approach (Bostick), and he just raised his hand up really quick," Amthor said. "He fired one shot."

"It spun me around about 180 degrees and knocked me right on the floor," Amthor said.

While Amthor was helped out of the apartment, Town of Montgomery Police Officer John Hank returned fire.

'Your husband is shot'

Amthor's wife, Lisa Amthor, was on the phone in her office at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut when two police officers showed up.

"They said, 'We're here to tell you that your husband is shot but he's okay, and we're going to take you there,'" she said. "But all I really heard was that he was shot."

With a background as a critical care nurse, Lisa Amthor knew that even if he was alright initially, a gunshot wound could be worse than it looked.

"They didn't know if he was hit in the heart, in the lungs, in an artery, in the throat. We didn't know anything at the time," she said. Halfway through the hour-long drive from Danbury to St. Luke's, she learned he was shot in the shoulder.

Hospital staff stopped the bleeding and dressed the wound. Amthor was held overnight for observation and released the next day.

"I never had the thought that I was going to die," he said. "I knew as long as I got to the hospital, I was confident that I was going to be OK."

In his 31 years as a police officer, it was the first time he had been shot. While he always considered it a possibility, he didn't expect it.

"I say if you gave Alex Rodriguez a 20-pound sledgehammer and told him to hit you, and they braced you against a brick wall so you really couldn't kind of roll with it ... that's about what it feels like," he said.

Today, his left shoulder bears a purple scar the size of a penny.

The bullet missed a major artery by an eighth of an inch. Doctors told him he would have died on the way to the hospital if it had been hit.

The round embedded in his scapula, where it remained until early August, since it wasn't medically necessary to remove it immediately or at all, Amthor said.

"You could feel the bullet coming through my skin," he said.

On Aug. 2, he had the bullet fragment removed. A week before, Amthor had returned to work for both the town and village. But in September, he went back on leave, realizing he had returned to work too soon.

Amthor has been doing physical therapy to improve his range of motion, and hopes to return to work in about two months.

Asked if he ever considered leaving law enforcement, he answered immediately.

"No, not at all."

Now, the family is working on their return to normalcy, Lisa Amthor said.

"People really have no idea of the gravity or the impact," she said. "Even though he's OK and things worked out really as best as can be expected, it still takes something out of you, the officer, or the family.

"Even now that something has happened, this disturbed twist of events, you have to try to weave it back into the fabric of life so to speak and smooth things over."

Shots fired

Although the Orange County District Attorney's Office and Amthor declined to identify the officer who returned fire, Hank identified himself after an award ceremony in September in Maybrook.

Hank, who was the first to enter the apartment and notice it was barricaded, said the situation was frightening in its unpredictability. The 39-year-old has been a police officer for 17 years, including four years with the NYPD.

"Any police officer that says they do not deal with fear is lying," he said. "Any time you're in a stressful or very dangerous situation, there is always that element of fear. But that fear helps us stay focused and stay vigilant to keep us safe."

The danger is real, Hank said, even in a quiet place like Maybrook.

"None of us go into situations like this thinking we're invincible or feeling like there's no chance anything bad can happen," he said. "It doesn't matter how big or how small a department you work for, there's always that threat."

A few seconds after Hank fired back, a muffled shot can be heard on the video. The officers fled the apartment and set up a containment perimeter around it.

Hours later, Bostick was found dead, killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left temple, according to the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office.

In August, an Orange County grand jury decided not to charge Hank for returning fire, and an independent investigation by the District Attorney's Office determined he was justified in using deadly force. Ballistics evidence was consistent with suicide, and no bullets fired by the police struck Bostick, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Hank declined to talk about Bostick's suicide or the investigation.

"I'd be perfectly happy if this had never happened," Hank said. "I think people think we're excited to be involved in these things, but ... we all wholeheartedly wish we could've ended this peacefully and moved on from there."

Judgment calls

Being a police officer requires one in-the-moment judgment call after another.

The officers decided to enter the apartment out of fear that Bostick might commit suicide, said Amthor, who declined to describe officers' 40-minute conversation with him.

Police knew Bostick had expressed suicidal thoughts, and that he had served five years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree attempted burglary a decade ago.

But that is not something that changes how an officer reacts, Amthor said.

"You're not going to treat the person differently because they got arrested before," he said. "If you have somebody who you know has a history of mental illness, or you know somebody has a history of suicidal behavior ... those are all things that you'd like to have knowledge of and take into consideration."

Officers often have to make immediate decisions with limited information, which can be challenging during emotionally charged calls like domestic disputes, Amthor said.

"People are very unpredictable when they're upset, when they're angry, when there's anxiety ... they're very volatile," he said. "It's an emotional situation."

Officers simply try to de-escalate the situation and make what they believe is the best call.

"You try not to make the situation worse. And I think somebody can always go, after the fact, 'Well, you should've tried this or you should've said this,'" Amthor said.

That hindsight can be difficult to deal with, Amthor said, especially when the Abbey Avenue call ended with Bostick's suicide.

"At the end of the day, no police officer wants to feel that they're responsible for somebody taking their life," Amthor said.

©2017 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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