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One survivor's post-shooting mission: more respect between cops and security

It’s no secret that LEOs often sneer at security officers as “wannabes” and “rent-a-cops.” But consider Matt Prindle, a security captain in Dallas. His brush with death during an attempted bank robbery — and the cost he’s paid for winning a gunfight — may make you reconsider the stereotype and appreciate some commonalities.

For nearly three years, 36-year-old Prindle, who stands 6 feet 2 inches tall, guarded a small branch of Chase Bank in a rough-and-tumble inner-city neighborhood known as Oak Cliff. The bank, with seven teller spaces along a single counter and a scattering of desks in a tight lobby, sits exposed on a corner and shares the immediate area with an aging VA hospital and what Prindle describes as “rundown crack houses and hooker hotels.”

Customarily, Prindle spent much of his 12-hour shift in the parking lot. “Keeping a visible presence there tends to shut down a lot of wrongdoing before it happens,” he says. Plus, the lot affords a good vantage point for keeping an eye on a nearby rapid transit station and adjacent street traffic.

A security guard wears a black band of mourning over his badge as he works outside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington one day after a shooting left a fellow security guard dead and the gunman wounded. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A security guard wears a black band of mourning over his badge as he works outside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington one day after a shooting left a fellow security guard dead and the gunman wounded. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A lot of drug deals, prostitution solicitation, and gang activity went down in his sight, Prindle says. Sometimes customers were beaten up and robbed after they left the bank. When police patrolled through the area, the street creatures scattered. But as a “mere” security guard, they pretty much ignored him.

“They’d say, ‘I know you can’t bust me,’ and keep on doing their stuff,” he says. He’d surreptitiously jot down license plates and call the cops about what he saw, and from time to time his tips led to significant arrests.

On December 16, 2008 the weather was a howling bitch in Dallas — below freezing, alternating between snow and stinging sleet, with a piercing wind that stabbed right through Prindle’s layered clothing as he escorted customers to their cars and kept his watchful presence in the parking lot. By about 1:30 p.m., seven hours into his shift, he needed to thaw out indoors.

He scanned the lobby as he walked through. Texas has the second highest bank robbery rate in the nation, and the branch had been hit a couple of times in the past. But that day, everything looked fine. Prindle settled into a small room just off the teller line for a bite to eat and a hot drink.

A few minutes later he was chatting with a banker who was also on break there when the branch manager burst in.

“She was very distraught — crying, screaming, hysterical, straight-out terrified,” Prindle recalls. “She yelled, ‘We just got robbed!’”

From the way she said it, he thought the heist was over. “Not knowing what I was stepping into,” he pulled his Ruger P95. Just as he reached the door — he can’t explain why — a photo from the book Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters flashed into his mind. It shows an officer, down and bleeding, who was unable to defend himself in a gunfight because he’d neglected to disengage the safety on his semi-automatic.

Not today, Prindle thought. He quickly made certain the decocking lever on his 9mm was in the firing position and stepped into the lobby.

He saw no one at the teller counter. Sweeping the lobby, he “locked in on the first person standing,” a man heading out the front door. Prindle started after him and had reached the parking lot when he heard a bank employee yell, “He’s behind you!”

Before, when Prindle had glanced down the line of teller stations, the robber had been out of sight, crouched down behind the counter, trying to stuff money into a backpack. Now as Prindle reentered the lobby, the bandit stood up. They looked directly at each other.

“My first thought was, This is the worst place for me to be, the center point of fire,” about 10 feet from the teller counter. He yelled: “Security! Don’t move! Security! Don’t move!”

When the suspect had vaulted behind the teller stations, he’d left his pistol on the counter. In defiance of Prindle’s commands, he grabbed it. Prindle heard a muffled report and felt a puff of air near his left ear.

Did he just shoot at me? Prindle thought. The next round removed all doubt. “It struck my vest,” Prindle says. “I felt the impact hard. It took the legs right out from under me, and I ended up facedown on the floor. I always looked at my vest as a necessary evil — I hated it — but I would have been dead without it.

“When I looked up, the suspect was climbing the counter to come after me.”

Prindle estimates he spends at least 100 hours a year on his own time training in LE-related skills, including practicing with his firearms at an indoor public range. That cold December Tuesday, his commitment paid off.

Firing from an awkward prone position, he squeezed off two rounds. Struck in the chest, his assailant dropped behind the counter, out of sight. Prindle rolled to where he could punch a silent-alarm button under the nearest desk, then pulled out his cell phone and called 911.

Uncertain of the gunman’s status, he continued to monitor the counter area. A few employees and customers had not yet fled the bank, and he gathered them to a spot where he felt he could protect them until police arrived. They were later pulled outside to safety when a Dallas PD SWAT team made entry.

Prindle suffered blunt trauma but no further injuries. The suspect was found crumpled in a corner behind the counter, dead. He was identified as a 31-year-old career criminal whose sheet reportedly included more than a dozen arrests for nearly 50 offenses. Two felony drug charges were pending against him.

Apparently because of the foul weather, he’d been able to enter the bank without suspicion, even though his head was covered with two ski masks and a black hoodie. He demanded money and then, according to witnesses, “pulled out a big silver gun” and jumped the counter to help himself to the cash drawers. Police believe he was operating alone; the man Prindle initially pursued apparently was just a departing customer.

The fact that Dallas PD’s Chief Dave Kunkle came to the scene and asked the security officer if he was okay was immediately comforting, Prindle says. He was further comforted when he was able to debrief with a psychologist and, of course, when his actions withstood the scrutiny of the PD’s investigative process.

Yet like most police officers after a shooting, Prindle is quick to second-guess himself. If he hadn’t given in to the bitter cold and come inside to get warm, his visibility in the parking lot might have deterred the robber, he speculates.

Also in common with most cops in fatal encounters, family members of the dead thug would have us believe that Prindle had shot an angel. The suspect “wasn’t the type of person who would go in and shoot someone,” one of his sisters angrily told the media, in blatant disregard for the facts. “He never harmed anybody.” He was just “depressed” and “struggling” over the recent death of his father.

Prindle himself has struggled to regain his equilibrium. He tossed and turned through nearly sleepless nights for two weeks after the shooting. One night, hearing what sounded like shots outside his apartment building, he bolted out of bed and grabbed a gun, “ready for action.” The post-shooting stress reactions, he says, “wiped me out, but every day gets better.”

What troubles Prindle the most, however, is the turn his career has taken since he defended his life. His employer, one of the largest contract security companies in the nation, has moved him to unarmed lobby duty in a staid corporate office building elsewhere in the Dallas area.

He says he has not officially been given the specifics behind the transfer, but people he trusts have told him that violent, retaliatory threats have been made against the bank by persons seemingly connected to the dead robber. He has also heard that strangers have come to the bank looking for him. Moving him out of the facility apparently was a business decision, grounded in risk-management.

“I’ve worked as an armed officer since I was commissioned in 1992. I like high-risk assignments and I hope the time will soon come when I can get back to the kind of work I love best,” Prindle says.

Meanwhile, he has another mission, as well. He’s an active member of LEAPS (Law Enforcement and Private Security), a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen communication and working relations between security personnel and police officers.

Launched by the Dallas PD in the mid-1980s, LEAPS provides instructional workshops by DPD officers on enforcement-related matters, such as criminal trespass, the laws of arrest, securing a crime scene, and so on, to better prepare security officers to cooperate with and assist the police. Dallas’ Dpty. Chief Brian Harvey, who liaisons with LEAPS for the department, says he is impressed with the benefits the program has reaped.

Working with the LEAPS board and the PD, Prindle wants to “try to take the program to new police departments, more security companies, and more front-line personnel,” to increase the professionalism of security officers and deepen respect for their contributions.

“I know there’s not always a lot of regard for us by police officers,” Prindle says. “I’d like to be an instrument in turning that around.”

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