Atlantic City Pursuit and Gunfight – What Can We Learn? (NNSFW Language/Violence)

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Atlantic City Pursuit and Gunfight – What Can We Learn? 

David Reeder

Two weeks ago today New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that dashboard video of fatal encounters with LEOs should be released in most cases as a matter of public interest. This decision reversed an earlier, lower court’s decision restricting public access to such videos. The unanimous decision was made despite arguments from the New Jersey Attorney General that such disclosure could be “inimical to the public interest” by unnecessarily putting officers at risk or negatively impacting ongoing criminal investigations.

The court’s decision addresses dash cameras, but does not specifically mention body cameras. This doesn’t seem like a significant lapse (the decision will set the precedent) but will almost certainly come up at some point. Body cams have proven to be extremely valuable as LEOs are subjected to increasing scrutiny, particularly with regard to allegations of racism. Several officers have been exonerated by body cams in recent years, including those involved in the Cleveland, OH OIS where Theodore Johnson was shot, and other LEOs in Farmington (NM), Knox County (TN), and most recently, Rainbow City, Alabama. Body cams are frequently more useful when it comes to corroborating or refuting a story than dash cams, though the latter are definitely a useful tool.

Yesterday saw the release of the first video to be made available under the auspices of the ruling (that we’re aware of). This video was taken in March, 2014 in Atlantic City. It involves LEOs from multiple agencies in pursuit of a suspect named Antoquan T. Watson. The initial call was reportedly that of a man brandishing a handgun in either a bar or restaurant. As you can see, officers chased Watson for several miles over the course of at least ten minutes, ultimately wounding him fatally when he crashed, bailed, and opened fire on them.

Modern Budō (武道) shirts and patches are back in stock – and who doesn’t like Samurai carrying a Mk17 while jocked up with all sorts of goodies?

The call for service, response, and subsequent pursuit began when Watson was unable to pay a restaurant bill, apparently grew frustrated, and pulled out a gun. Pleasantville, Egg Harbor Township, and Atlantic City police were all eventually involved, though to what extent, i.e. blocking traffic, assisting the chase, etc. is unknown.

So what can we learn? TTPs, within the admittedly limited and myopic perspective of this video. What do we keep and what do we replace? For instance:

• Radio traffic: Sounded pretty damn good to us. What do you think?

• Slick-tops: Do many agencies allow slick-top vehicles (those without lightbars on top) to participate in a vehicle pursuit in other than the most exigent circumstances?

• Duration/speed: Some agencies require supervisors to shut a pursuit down past a certain point. Should this one have been called off, or was the involvement of weapon (which he was pointing out the window during the pursuit) sufficient to warrant its continuation? (Note, we say that with the caveat that we know LEOs are frequently “damned if they do/damned if they don’t”).

Serious conversation only please. Anti-cop trolls looking to excoriate officers at every opportunity and incorrigible LEO supporters unable to admit and learn from mistakes, please feel free to fuck merrily off. Neither of you are doing society or this honorable profession any good.

What did we do right? What did we do wrong? Be safe, stay dangerous. That’s it for now, go forth and conquer.

DR



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Reeder Profile Picture 5About the Author: It might not be too surprising that David Reeder, who never met a $50 word he didn’t like, one of the “leaders” of the pedagogic and frequently obstreperous Breach Bang Clear team — insomuch as they have a leader (the terms orchestra conductor and rodeo clown are equally apropos). A former POG who tastes like chicken, Reeder cannot play the harmonica. He founded Breach-Bang-Clear quite accidentally at his young son’s behest several years ago. He is the Mad Duo’s Chief Wretched Flunky and Breach-Bang-Clear’s HMFIC. A LEO for many years and former AF Security Forces SNCO, he was an O/C at the National Homeland Security Training Center for many years and a longtime MOUT instructor at the Bold Lighting UWS. Reeder has appeared on Fox News Business and written for a number of publications, from US News & World Report and Military.com to RECOIL Magazine and Soldier Systems Daily. All of that sounds way cooler than it actually is. You can read more about him here. Follow his banality on Instagram, @davidreederwrites.

“I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me” Hunter S. Thompson

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” T.S. Elliot

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin

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21 thoughts on “Atlantic City Pursuit and Gunfight – What Can We Learn? (NNSFW Language/Violence)

  • August 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm
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    A follow up on new UAV tech and how this will enable the “chase” to be virtual. Does UAV tracking vs LEO chase bring higher probability of arrest? Does it violate the 4th Amendment? Drones seem all the rage today. Can’t help but think new technology will provide answers and even deterrence in the near future. Not a demand, request really. Liked the story.

  • July 31, 2017 at 7:18 am
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    We need to embrace the tenets of the SCOTUS decision Scott v. Harris. Early in the video they are pursuing on a multi-lane roadway with center barrier wall, which low traffic volume. A vehicle intervention at that point would have dramatically reduced the public safety risk of this incident.

  • July 29, 2017 at 4:23 pm
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    It has already been said but bears repeating. Law of due regard. No matter how badly we may want to we simply cannot drive without giving those on the road time to process what is happening around them. Cuss and swear all you like but if one drives in the manner shown here they WILL eventually find themselves in the hospital, attending the funeral of one or more civilians or in a casket. None are desirable outcomes.

    • July 30, 2017 at 6:59 pm
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      America Fuck Yeah

  • July 29, 2017 at 3:16 pm
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    Stream of typing and subject to revision. I just paused it at a little less than 2 minutes in. Apparently this pack of cars is trying to catch up to the pursuit; everyone was too close to each other IMHO. Front runner has a problem and it will be squad car dominos. Jockeying for position like a race track? Not what I would advocate. Likewise blazing through the red lights; any time lost by slowing way down (my old agency required a stop, which I suspect was treated as a suggestion) will be better than what happens with an HUA driver on the cross street. I’ve seen the HUA demonstration, and I know of a couple of wrecks that resulted. One peer was in the clear over his because he was going pretty slowly when Mr. HUA drove into the fully marked, everything activated car. I recall another incident in which both the offender and the officer crashed at 4 way stops a block apart. Civilians were killed by both; officer and his ride-a-long were both crippled, and the cost to the city was epic, especially for 25+ years ago when it happened. Even then, the officer was lucky he did not get prosecuted.

    As of the 5 minute mark, I am glad to see that the officers are at least keeping a decent distance back most of the time. Between 5 and 5:50, driving in the middle presents a risk of one HUA driver (note that few yielded, and all who did were slow to do so) turning in front of the cop. I did see that he slowed down at the red light to clear the intersection, then pounded on the gas again. I am not sure the cop could have bounced him into the area marked with the cones at the 6 minute mark, as the dog walker (SAOAFR) might have been at risk, but it looked appealing. This dude, in addition to his initial conduct, was dangerous and getting into that residential area made it a ton worse. Given the SCOTUS rulings, that would have been a justified use of force … but lord only knows what weird stuff NJ does for training and restrictions on such; some of their other practices of which I have heard are really aberrant. I do see the front end drop and the officer get on the gas again at the stop signs; loud and slow, must have been a CVPI.

    Saw a couple of times when it MIGHT have been possible to ram him in the turns; if tolerated there, easily justified. In the driving down the middle about the 8 minute mark, I think the cop got too close to him, but at least the other cars were yielding this time. I’m pretty sure if there had been a head on with the offender, the cop would have been been in the offender’s back seat before he could have done anything. In the stretches in which the right lane was clear, moving over to it might have been a good idea. (All of these comments are easy to make now, from my chair, as opposed to being adrenaline fueled and in the moment … I could see doing worse if it had been me.) The blocking vehicle, driven by Mr. Saoafr Hua, was … typical. I’m surprised it took until the 9 minute mark to experience something like that. Years ago, a trooper friend of mine got recorded doing a far worse demonstration of Situational Tourette’s.

    That unmarked Crown should have driven parallel and not been in the pursuit; be a resource at the end, sure, but engaged in it with all the dumbasses around not paying attention was likely not a good choice. I would need more information to critique or approve of the use of the wrong way in the turn lane; if the view was clear enough, maybe. The crash was predictable. Too bad it wasn’t a semi.

    Officer driving what I presume was the video car got sucked in to the scene. One option would be to keep one’s ass in the seat; feet up against the front of the door frame, and have at least some of the A pillar for modest cover and some concealment. A pistol would not be the “A” answer, but it might have been hard to have a long gun ready during the events. I did see the offender finally fall (not sure how many times he was hit first), and as of the point at which I paused it to write this, he still has the pistol in his hand and appears at least possibly capable of using it. Went a little father; same thing. TURN THE FUCKING SIREN OFF. I suspect that’s one of the reasons that the “cease fire” was not immediately followed.

    The cluster at the end is understandable, but should have been addressed, especially with plainclothes personnel there. The actual shooting/use of force analysis? No problem; ample case law in their favor.

  • July 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm
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    It was hit on well before I found this piece – I am not a fan of the driving of the car with dash cam. Overtaking, passing, driving the wrong way, into on-coming traffic, etc; as well as not making n effort to even slow for red lights the suspect is blowing through.

    Breaking cover once the suspect vehicle crashes and pushing past the front quarter panel … argh. I understand that suspects want to flee on foot. There had been multiple radio broadcasts indicating the suspect was displaying / brandiahing / waving a handgun around. Stay at the car, make use of the cover it provides against the hansgun, and work the problem. I didn’t see any indication of hits early on (maybe because of distance, maybe because of misses), staying at the cover and not having advanced advanced into the OhChit could have impacted that (pun intended).

    I’d be interested in seeing the investigation and autopsy.

  • July 27, 2017 at 8:58 am
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    Coming from a place that doesn’t let pursuits to that extent go on I applaud the coordination displayed on managing it. From an instructor POV (disclaimer, we have hosted Will Petty for VCQB Instructor twice now…)- as the dismounted encounter began- having the suspect moving in that fashion in the open and armed screams either work off the driver seat and use the A pillar if need be or migrate to the rear of the vehicle and stack pillars. Seeing as how the officer in uniform that we see in the dash cam view has time and opportunity to move forward I would love to see him use that opportunity to start working from the rear of the vehicle. With the physiological effects of stress playing out in the situation, I’d want to prime officers to react with some solid VCQB concepts working in their favor here. My agency had a shooting last year where a suspect armed with a gun was cornered in a similar way- two officers approached, seemingly leaving the cover they had and were engaged and two others worked from the cover of their vehicle (one who had had recently attended recruit level VCQB) and successfully stopped the threat. Again, from a training perspective, I’d want to instill solid trained reaction of migrating to some cover if possible once a threat is recognized/ perceived and manage the problem from there over rushing in with no cover. Stay safe and work smart!

  • July 27, 2017 at 8:36 am
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    Sustain: Radio traffic seemed controlled, concise, and professional for the most part. Responding units/agencies did a decent job of shutting down cross traffic and providing some traffic control. Pursuit driving, with a few exceptions, was not bad.

    Improve: Pursuing units should understand not every unit can be the first unit; resist the desire to battle for and drive wildly to maintain/regain “pole position.” Anticipate traffic flow and obstacles in order avoid becoming trapped in traffic. Once the pursuit terminates, resist the urge to “pig pile” the offender: maintain cover and conduct a felony stop. While sometimes the backstop is going to be the bad guy’s spine, be aware as much as possible of civilians “downrange.” Resist “buck fever;” the tendency to engage in sympathetic firing or to just dump rounds at the offender past the point where he is a threat in order to “get in on the action.”

    A few general comments and thoughts:

    1. I get the desire to be the primary unit, but driving like a fool so you can be “first” is not the way. I cringe every time I watch a video like this one, where I see cops racing each other to be the lead unit, or driving like a maniac to jump out in front.

    2. While I don’t know the policies of the agencies involved in this incident, it sure seemed like everyone and their brother was jumping in this chase. Are you really part of the solution if you’re Unit #8 in a twelve unit chase? Or are you just adding to the (already considerable) liability of a high speed pursuit through the middle of town in heavy traffic?

    3. Again, no first hand knowledge of these agencies policies, but in my opinion, unmarked units generally have no place in a chase once marked units are involved, and flat topped units might not be a good choice either. Once marked patrol units with roof mounted lights are involved, other lower profile units need to carefully consider if they should stay in the chase.

    4. When are we going to learn to resist the desire to run down the threat after a chase ends? JS said it so well regarding that one officer: “…I am gonna rush towards the car with my muzzle acting as a shield of invincibility…and then finding out that perhaps the steel of a patrol car would be better.” Hell yes. Conduct a felony stop.

    5. The video really speaks for itself: Offender went down, and then the rate of fire increased and just went on and on and on. Cease fire was called and ignored. I guess it’s possible that the bad guy still posed a threat not obvious on the video, or perhaps the heat of the moment played a part. Or maybe it just took the cops in the back of the pack a few seconds to run up to where they could shoot at the dead guy so they could say they were in a gunfight.

    • July 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm
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      I think he still had the gun in his hand. If not, it looked like his gun hand was still moving. Couldn’t really see it that well. But in one of my OIS”s the suspect was shot and down like this and was reaching for his revolver still and was subsequently shot some more so depending on where the gun fell it could still be good shooting at the end.

  • July 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm
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    7 years spent on the job with 4 spent on a tac team. I think the shoot was good although I could see ramming him in his car before he could get out being the better logical option and I’ve responded that way as a natural response in training scenarios. I agree that way too many shots were fired after he was down but I didn’t see what was just off camera so I won’t judge too harshly there. What I do question is the veracity of the camera car officer. He’s seen cutting off other officers rather aggressively and comes off as trying to get a kill as opposed to stopping the chase which he had missed opportunities to do by ramming the driver several times. I think it would be easy for a defense attorney to paint that officer as having a “blood lust” in the court room to a jury regardless of what the facts are. I think once they had his plate number they could have easily had unmarked cars waiting at the guys house and called off the chase earlier on instead of risking civilian lives down range as I could tell a good couple shots didn’t hit the guy when the shooting started. My 2 cents.

  • July 26, 2017 at 11:39 am
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    The driving was excellent, I especially appreciated how the driver of the video car cleared intersections. This video illustrates how infuriating it can be to run code or pursue an offender in traffic with many drivers having their heads up their fifth point of contact.

    This video also demonstrated a significant problem in modern police training. Many agencies have made efforts, mine included in TX, to train officers to shoot well bit almost no agencies teach their officers to fight with guns. The two are very different things. Force on force, realistic scenarios under stress and small unit tactics are not covered as officers only fire their weapons on flat ranges against stationary paper.

    AAR

    Needs improvement

    Use of cover

    Fire discipline

    Approach of downed suspect

    Elapse time to return fire

    Waiting to engage suspect until he opened fire

    Sustain

    Never quit

    Driving radio traffic

    Shot placement

    No officers shot or wrecked out

  • July 26, 2017 at 2:00 am
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    BTW

    Kudos to the driver of the Honda CRV for his flawless PIT maneuver.

    Textbook.

  • July 26, 2017 at 1:55 am
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    I’m not a cop, but I do control combined arms for the Marine Corps in Twentynine Palms, CA. Can’t speak to the procedures involved in the chase, but I’d like to mention that there is a ricochet hazard area for small arms’ impacts that extend out at 45 degrees from impacts for (very roughly, I’m going from memory) 2/3rds of the maximum ballistic distance (distance X). So any 9mm shot that hits pavement has a hazard area beyond the impact of roughly 1200m in a 45* fan.

    As we saw in both Iraq and Afghanistan, anything less than a well-aimed shot results in problems on the back end. Rock and roll is to be avoided, if possible, so as not to hazard innocents and friendlies downrange of impacts. Maintaining awareness of that hazard area, past the target/impacts, will serve you well in the long run. For more on Surface Danger Zones of small arms, see: http://tacsafe.net/resources/Range/IntroductionRangeSafetySurfaceDangerZones.pdf

    Good shit and warmest regards,

    Unclean

  • July 26, 2017 at 1:39 am
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    1. An air unit is invaluable in a situation like this.

    – Provides for greater situational awareness.

    – Can control and coordinate other units.

    – Allows for a “looser” pursuit and more options.

    2. Should not have allowed pursuit to enter residential area.

    – The chance that civilians would be harmed increased exponentially

    – Imagine if this pursuit and subsequent gunfight has occurred on a Sunday afternoon or 3pm on a school day.

    – Officer should be trained and allowed to use their vehicles to end the pursuit.

    3. “You’re responsible for every round you send downrange”

    – Did any of the officers realize what was behind the assailant when they pulled the trigger?

    – Isn’t it sometimes better that an officer take hits than for civilians to caught in fire?

  • July 25, 2017 at 11:46 pm
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    Ok, I will bite with some analysis – over 20 years on the job here in a state not too far from NJ.

    Agreed, good radio traffic and good driving by the camera car.

    Someone mentioned PIT-ing the suspect, some jurisdictions and some states prohibit the practice of this and do not even train to do it. I work in just such an environment. I so very much WISH I could PIT someone.

    Perhaps flat out ramming the suspect when he spun out after the collision could have helped keep him in the car. As it was, I saw about 6 civilians in obvious danger downrange when the lead began to fly. Yes, it would have put you at close contact range for a shootout but here you are in the middle of a business district in the middle of the day with a guy walking down the middle of the road blazing away like he thinks he is some sort of ghetto hero.

    Speaking of cars, perhaps someone would have been in position to drop their cruiser into “D” and flatten his ass while he was walking down the street? Cars make great weapons. We harp on this all the time.

    Ok, so you do not ram the suspect in his car, or turn him into a speed bump. TURN YOUR DAMN SIRENS OFF as the chase ends. It takes half a second. DONT BE IN A RUSH when the chase stops. Keep behind cover. This will be a felony car stop…and it drives me crazy when I see everyone mob towards a car at the end of a chase. Saw that officer doing the good old I am gonna rush towards the car with my muzzle acting as a shield of invincibility…and then finding out that perhaps the steel of a patrol car would be better. I wonder just how accurate his fire was as he retreated posthaste?

    Once the suspect was down, they should have gotten a contact / cover formation to approach him and place him in cuffs, maybe use a cruiser to slowly creep up to him in case he is playing dead. In the stress of the moment, it may not have been clear he sustained a considerable number of bullet strikes.

    The suspect played stupid games, and won the appropriate stupid prizes. I hope his final meal was worth the cost. Moron.

    • July 26, 2017 at 1:30 am
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      Excellent take on the event. I thought mostly the same, even though I am new on the job (8months).

  • July 25, 2017 at 11:44 pm
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    Good shoot. Not here to ‘Arm Chair Quarterback” however, if I were to show this to my Dept. -or my team- as a training video, and this is just from watching it once, and I am only commenting on the actual shooting, not pursuit.

    1. Officer who you first see once the chase ends, not sure if he is coming from the Tahoe, or the cruiser from the dash cam video….Either way, if from the Tahoe, he is in front of the officer’s muzzle from the patrol car (probably)…Not good, as you do not know if he is going to jump to the right, i.e. muzzle in front of meat….IF he is coming from the patrol car, I would ask why he felt the need to expose himself, in front of the cruiser?

    2. They shot until the threat was eliminated. bad guy was still moving on the ground, he is still a threat….May look bad to the uninformed, untrained general public, but you shoot until the threat is eliminated, on the ground or not. Good job.

  • July 25, 2017 at 4:43 pm
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    Each state and agency has different laws and rules regarding pursuit but it seemed clean and a weapon no brainer. Only issue that I noticed was a call to cease fire and someone fire a few rounds but adrenaline maybe twitch maybe they just wanted to. Shot placement was decent it seems like no bystanders we’re hit.

  • July 25, 2017 at 3:14 pm
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    Play stupid games……win stupid prizes. Not LEO, but I’ve driven race cars for two decades. The dash cam guy is a pretty good wheel man.

  • July 25, 2017 at 3:00 pm
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    as a non-LEO I thought they let the chase go on too long but I don’t know their protocols for chase. With that many cars in pursuit I would have tried to tap him and stop the chase and let it play out from there. Again I don’t know their protocols. It finally ended when a car hit the perp and then he came out shooting. Very few shots when the perp was out and pointing and actively shooting and then he went down, then way too many shots when it was clear he was no longer a threat. But I have seen the same reaction in combat. And this is also a dash-cam not the officers individual view. But a justifiable shoot involving a guy who clearly didn’t want to go back to jail.

  • July 25, 2017 at 2:31 pm
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    Might have PITted the guy back by the boat, except for the oblivious dog walker. Opticons didn’t seem to be working, or were they being used by officers blocking cross streets? Good to have the cars behind calling it, so the guy in front can just drive.

    I assume the bad guy was still waving a gun around since they were still firing after he went down. And the copper cussing at the driver at the stoplight when he was boxed in made me laugh. Every code run I’ve ever been on, there’s someone like that.

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