The lead story this week is mind-blowing …especially to me as a current first responder medic and former deputy sheriff. Here, I go through the incident step by step to show just how fast the deputy had to react — and make a life-altering decision along the way.
There are Several Updates: Jump There
First, the story, from True’s 19 July 2020 issue:
Hold the Cream
When a shopper at Quality Dairy in Dimondale, Mich., was told by an employee he couldn’t be in the store without wearing a mask, the man stabbed a 77-year-old customer who wasn’t even part of the confrontation; the older man was hospitalized in serious condition. The assailant ran, and store employees were able to describe him and his vehicle to police. A few miles away, an Eaton County Sheriff’s deputy spotted the car and pulled him over. The suspect got out of his car, slowly walked toward the deputy, and then rushed her holding two knives in one hand, and a screwdriver in the other. The deputy backed away and ordered that he drop his weapons, but the man kept charging and she opened fire. He was still able to grab her gun, but she kept him from taking it. The deputy, who is a 22-year veteran, was able to rack the slide to get the weapon cleared, and opened fire again: it took 10 shots to stop the man — and he still wasn’t killed. Sean Ernest Ruis, 43, a state employee, died in surgery later. The deputy, who has not been named, barely escaped injury. The shooting was clearly recorded both by the deputy’s body camera, and a security camera at a house. “She had to use deadly force” to save her own life, said Sheriff Tom Reich. (RC/Lansing State Journal) …Let me guess: Ruis was brain damaged from having to think about breathing through a mask.
(Note: the first sentence was corrected after publication to make it clear which man was hospitalized.)
Breaking it Down
I’m not “really” satisfied with the tagline, but with a story that intense, I think the tagline ends up being irrelevant. Pretty much the same with the slug, but I thought I’d use an innocuous one for this to be sure I don’t signal what’s to come in any way.
Since the newsletter can include graphics (this being the 21st century and all), I illustrated it with the sequence shown here. But I wanted to go through this in more detail to point out a few things to show just how intense this situation was. This deputy had to make some extraordinarily quick decisions, and as far as I can see she did everything right.
First, a note: the source article I used for the story did say Ruis was “holding two knives in one hand and a screwdriver in the other when he went after the deputy.” That was later corrected to two screwdrivers and a knife. Presumably the knife was the same one used to stab the older man in the dairy store.
Since I made that sequence graphic, I obtained larger images, so you can still click to see them even larger — on a computer and maybe a tablet, at least!
In the first:
…Ruis is still sauntering, but getting dangerously close. The car in the background is what he was driving, so clearly he has walked ever closer to the deputy even as she has ordered him to drop his weapons while she has him at gunpoint. This is taken from her body camera, so yes: those are her arms out in front of her with her pistol in a two-handed grip, just as she was trained. Ruis’s face was blurred in the video by the sheriff’s office.
Even in this still frame from a video stream, it’s quite apparent even without blowing it up that Ruis has weapons: a knife and what was later revealed to be a screwdriver in his right hand, and (as we’ll see in a moment) a Phillips head screwdriver in his left. But here’s a close-up anyway, still clickable to make it even larger.
Also notice she is behind her door: she got out and backed up very quickly.
Then, Ruis breaks into a run:
…while pulling his knife hand back, ready to thrust at the deputy. Remember, she already knew — even before she spotted him driving — that he had stabbed an innocent bystander at the market.
Two more things to notice with this one: the deputy has backed up even more, and the time stamp (upper right) shows this is 3 seconds after the first frame. This is about where she opens fire. If it were me, I would have started shooting before this, since it’s very common for a violent person to continue approaching slowly, as if they are no threat, yet still ignoring the orders to stop, drop their weapons, etc., and then lunge when closer. Often, by then, it’s a bit late to get the perpetrator stopped before they make contact, as we see here.
This next frame was harder to get: someone had to find the exact single frame that showed Ruis’s hand in contact with the deputy’s pistol, and then this was photographed off the screen:
It’s unclear for us outsiders to confirm if this actually caused her gun to jam, but in the real-time video, embedded below, you can see her very quickly clear her pistol, just as she was trained.
Again, notice that she has backed up even more …and it’s just 1 second after the frame above. Clearly, she wasn’t just taking a step back now and then: she was actively backing away from Ruis as he actively kept moving toward her. That’s amazing restraint on her part: she’s one tough cop.
The next frame is from the security camera on the house — the one that this happened in front of, and it’s just lucky (or maybe these days expected!) to get such a clear side view:
…he’s hit, but not yet down. But this shows just how much the deputy has backed up at this point — around 20ft (6m)!
The goal of a good cop in a situation like this is definitely not “to kill the assailant” (the occasional criminal cops aside). Again, that’s not the goal. What is? To stop the deadly assault. Since it is a deadly assault, deadly defensive force is fully justified. As you can see, there isn’t time to “try” a Taser or other “less lethal” defense.
Once that assault is stopped, training is to stop firing. Absolutely the downed assailant would still be “covered” by the officer — their gun pointed at directly at them — until they are sure the assailant is not going to spring back up or otherwise be a threat to the officer or any nearby civilians.
Once the bad guy is down, her next task is clear: get the hell on the radio and advise dispatch what’s going on! Which she did: “Shots fired!” she said into her radio the very second Ruis finally went down, which speed is amazing. It’s then dispatch’s job to get medics rolling there — yes, without the deputy asking for them. With shots fired, the odds of injury (at the very least) are extremely high, so general protocol is to get them rolling immediately after making sure nearby officers are alerted to back her up. If an officer later says they aren’t needed, fine: the responding medics can be stood down.
But meanwhile, assuming it’s safe to do so, her next job is to move his weapons out of reach and provide first aid to the bad guy — to actually try to save his life. Usually this won’t happen until at least one backup unit arrives: this is still an extremely dangerous time, and she needs to take stock of whether there is anyone else around the scene who could be an additional threat, or witnesses. The video doesn’t go on long enough to determine if she did, but with the guy still conscious and verbally resisting, I wouldn’t have made direct contact immediately either.
The real “then what?” is the tough part: the deputy is relieved of duty while investigators probe every angle of what happened, second by second. She has to tell the story again and again and again so that if she remembers a tiny little detail she didn’t mention before, it can be documented while it’s all still fresh in her mind.
Investigators will try to determine where every single shot she fired landed. They’ll second-guess her as to whether she was aware of what was behind the assailant as she started shooting. And much, much more.
All This, for Low Pay!
It’s tough being a cop, and this is a great example of a professional officer doing a great job. It’s astounding, considering an armed man was actually able to make contact with her drawn weapon, that she was not injured. She gave the bad guy much more leeway than I would have! And that’s an issue too: I hope she didn’t have to waste brain cycles thinking whether some civilian (or, worse, “activist group”) would second-guess her decision — but that’s part of the job these days too.
I wasn’t a deputy for all that long. I was never full-time, and never had to draw my pistol defensively. But I am happy to say that when I went to the quarterly firing range “qualification” sessions, where every armed deputy had to prove we knew how to handle our weapons, I always out-shot the full-timers. A perfect score on our range was 210 points; if we didn’t get 180 or more, we had to go through the course again. Fail three times and we weren’t allowed to carry until completing remedial training and re-qualification.
I did fairly often see deputies have to go through the course a second time, but never saw one flunk out. Meanwhile, I commonly got 202 to 204 points, packed up, and headed home while some had to stay behind.
And that’s deputies who think a gun is their most important piece of equipment. Not in my opinion: their two-way radio is. It’s a rare deputy that formally trains with that every three months!
With that all said, here are the two videos intercut so you can see, both from the deputy’s viewpoint and the side view from the house’s (Ring doorbell?) camera, how it unfolded. Yes, it is intense, but there is no blood or even injuries to see:
The entire video is just 46 seconds, and he doesn’t even break into his run until the 27th second. Watch where she clears her pistol at about second 32. First, she whacks the magazine to ensure it is seated well, since that can cause a misfunction, then she racks the slide to clear it and then immediately gets back on target. Grisly, maybe, but this is what cops might have to do on any given day with only a couple of seconds’ notice.
Early on you can hear the sirens of the other officers coming to back her up — a sweet, sweet sound in such a situation!
Was Ruis stupid? Blind with rage? On drugs? Hopefully investigation, including an autopsy, will provide at least some answers.
September 24, 2020
The man that was stabbed at Quality Dairy, John Duncan III, 77, of Lansing, didn’t recover from his injuries: he died August 8 without ever leaving the hospital. Apparently most or all of his stab wounds were to the neck.
Ruis had been an employee of the Michigan Department of Transportation since 2008, and in the past two years had two “discipline” entries on his work record. The subjects of the transgressions were not released, but involved a suspension and an order to go to special training.
Despite the obvious conclusions that can be made just by watching the video once, the sheriff’s office and prosecuting attorney did a thorough investigation, and didn’t release their findings until September 21, 2020. The conclusion was that Deputy Theresa Vandorpe was justified in using deadly force to stop Ruis’s attack on her, and there were quite a few details included.
Investigation found she fired five shots before Ruis made contact with her pistol, causing the jam discussed above. As she continued to back away, Ruis dropped the two screwdrivers and the knife, and bent down to grab the knife and continued his advance on Dep. Vandorpe. By then she had cleared the jam, and fired five more shots. Backup (state troopers) arrived just over a minute later and secured the scene. Medics arrived shortly after that.
Investigators checked all homes within view of the incident and were able to get four different security camera videos that showed at least some portion of the incident.
One of the questions readers had after reading this page was, did the deputy fire so many shots because she wasn’t hitting Ruis? No: she continued to fire because that was the only way to stop the deadly assault. The medical examiner, Patrick Hansma, MD, reported eight bullet wounds on Ruis, including to his forehead, both shoulders, torso, abdomen, groin, and left knee.
The body shots damaged Ruis’ heart, right lung, liver, and right kidney — yet as shown in the video, he was still conscious after he hit the ground. “At least three” of the first five shots struck Ruis, which is obvious since she fired ten shots total, hitting him eight times.
There was no mention of alcohol or drugs in his system. A toxicology panel is standard in such an autopsy.
Investigators found Dep. Vandorpe had probable cause to stop Ruis, and once that has been done an officer “may use the force that is necessary” to effectuate an arrest, “including deadly force, if they have sufficient evidence to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others.”
“Further,” the investigative report continued, “a police officer has the same rights as a private citizen to use the force that is reasonably necessary to defend herself or others. In Michigan, any person may use deadly force to defend themselves or others under certain circumstances.”
“To determine whether a person acted in lawful self-defense, their actions must be judged according to how the circumstances appeared to them at the time they acted. Deadly force in self-defense is appropriate if a person has an honest and reasonable belief that she was in immediate danger of being killed or seriously injured.”
Also, “Under the law, a person may use as much force as she believes is needed at the time to protect herself. Ultimately, the actor does not have to prove that she acted in self-defense, instead it is the Prosecution’s responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actor did not act in self-defense.”
“At the time, Deputy Vandorpe was aware that Ruis had just stabbed an individual, and his actions in exiting the vehicle with a knife in his hand would cause any reasonable person to conclude that Ruis posed a great risk of death or serious injury to them,” the report notes.
Why such a thorough investigation when the circumstances were so obvious?
“As your elected Prosecutor,” commented Douglas R. Lloyd, “it is my responsibility to thoroughly review incidents involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers in Eaton County. That review, is no less thorough simply because the incident is captured on video, as this incident was. I have a firm belief that no officer starts their shift with a desire to use deadly force, but an individual who had already stabbed John Duncan placed Deputy Vandorpe in grave danger of death or serious injury. Therefore, I have concluded that her use of deadly force was lawful.”
My research finds that Dep. Vandorpe was also involved in a previous shooting, in 2015.
Deputy Tad Schwartz fired on Matthew Lundy, 32, when Lundy raised a gun and pointed it at Dep. Chris Cunningham. Schwartz fired nine shots.
In the days before the incident, Lundy, a convicted felon, had said he was considering suicide, maybe “suicide by cop,” and sent a text message saying his life was over and would die before going back to jail. It’s unclear in the report I read if the two deputies knew of this beforehand.
So where does Dep. Vandorpe come in? It’s also unclear whether she was present during the shooting, but she was there minutes later. Lundy wasn’t dead — and wasn’t cooperating with the deputies. She was covering the two deputies, apparently with a patrol rifle, when they all heard a click that sounded to them like the trigger being pulled on a gun. Dep. Vandorpe fired two shots with her rifle, killing Lundy.
Prosecuting Attorney Lloyd also investigated that case, considering it as two separate shooting incidents; the two shootings were about eight minutes apart. Lloyd not only cleared all three officers, attorney Jamie White, who represented Lundy’s estate, announced that he and the Lundy family were “satisfied” that the investigation was complete, and apparently agreed with its findings. “At this time,” White announced, “the Lundy Estate will not be seeking any further action of any sort against the officers involved in this incident.”
Dep. Vandorpe (whose name was spelled as VanDorpe in reports of the 2015 shootings), by the time of the Ruis incident, was obviously well acquainted with the investigative procedure after an officer-involved shooting incident. Not to minimize the emotional impact on her in any way in the Lundy shooting, but it seems to me that the Ruis shooting probably had much more impact on her, stress-wise, due to her being alone and Ruis not only advancing on her, but making enough contact to jam her gun.
As is standard procedure in a police shooting, Dep. Vandorpe was placed on paid administrative leave in both cases. I have not been able to find if she has returned to duty yet after the Ruis shooting.
Source for most of this update: the Prosecuting Attorney’s press release dated September 21, 2020, which you can download:
- “Police: Mask Confrontation Leads to Stabbing, Suspect Fatally Shot by Eaton County Deputy”, Lansing State Journal, Updated Jul. 17, 2020.
- Facebook post by Quality Dairy, August 10, 2020.
- “Man Stabbed in Quality Dairy Face Mask Dispute That Led to Police Shooting Has Died”, Mlive.com, August 11, 2020.
- “Deputy Justified in Use of Deadly Force in July 14, 2020, Shooting”, Eaton County (Pa.) “Civic Alert”, September 21, 2020.
- “Michigan Sheriff’s Deputy Won’t Be Charged in Shooting after Mask Dispute Stabbing”, Detroit News, September 22, 2020.
- “Prosecutor: Deputies Were Justified in February Fatal Shooting”, Lansing State Journal, May 12, 2015.
- Photos and raw video: Eaton County Sheriff Dept.
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