Peak Stress

The lead story this week is mind-blowing …especially to me as a first responder 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.

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 shopper who wasn’t even part of the confrontation; he 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.

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.

Since I made that graphic, I have the “original” images in the largest sizes I could find, so even as large as they are, you can still click to see them larger — on a computer and maybe a tablet, at least!

In the first one:

…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.

Even in this still frame from a video stream, it’s quite apparent even without blowing it up that Ruis has weapons: two knives 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 the blades 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.

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 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 these days!) 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)!

Her Goal

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.

Then What?

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 provide first aid to the bad guy — to actually try to save his life. 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: 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-qualifications.

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!

The Video

With that all said, here are the two videos expertly 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 1 minute and 9 seconds, and he doesn’t even break into his run until the 31st second. Watch where she clears her pistol at about second 36. First, she whacks the magazine to ensure it is seated well, 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.

Part-way in 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.

The best part: that deputy got to go home that day with no physical injuries. May she recover quickly mentally, too, from what had to be the most stressful few seconds of her 22-1/2 year career.

- - -

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29 Comments on “Peak Stress

  1. Holy. Mother. Of. God! That video is amazing. I counted 14 shots.

    …said my wife, the retired deputy coroner! I’m not sure if the investigators have said in public yet, but I got the 10 shots figure from experts who slowed the video down, etc. With the echoes, it’s hard to count without doing that. -rc

    Reply
    • I have always had my doubts about the relative stopping power of the commonly used 9mm round most police officers carry these days. I understand why a switch was made from revolvers to pistols, but increasing the stopping power of a firearm should be of equal importance.

      The older standard was a .38 Special loaded with a 158 grain hollow point. It is a relatively light round for experienced shooters, and one cop told me of shooting a fleeing felon 3 times with one, and the guy walked out of the hospital in 3 days.

      When they upgraded to pistols, a larger or more powerful caliber should have been chosen, but people with smaller hands or body frames might have a problem. There is no reason somebody should be able to sustain so many shots, and still remain a threat.

      Kudos to the officer. She did her duty and got home that night, safe and sound, but I expect her to improve her aim.

      I am also glad you do well on the range. I was a competitive target shooter and I admire accuracy. The last time I was at the range, I brought out a regular 1911 as well as my .45 Gold Cup. Some guy suggested I was not loading my pistols correctly and that target shooting is not the same as actual use. “I know,” I said, then picked up my Gold Cup and off-hand, removed the x-ring on my target in 5 seconds. His remark to me; “I guess you practice a lot.”

      Yeah, it’s pretty dumb for someone to lecture you on your abilities when they have no idea who you are or what do you, and haven’t seen you at work. The rest of this reply gets into technical detail: you’ve been warned! 🙂

      As I know Lenny knows, .38 caliber and 9mm are nearly the same diameter (9mm is .002″ smaller). The 9mm casing is 3/8″ shorter, but operates at double the pressure: .38 standard loads max out 17,000 psi, +P at around 20,000 psi, to typically push a 110-158 grain bullet. Unlike the .38, which was introduced at the end of the black powder cartridge era in the late 1890s, the 9mm has a smaller casing because it was introduced at the start of the smokeless powder era, and can handle up to 35,000 psi (standard load) or 38,500 psi for +P.

      So what does this mean? (And I’m not really speaking to Lenny here, but rather those who don’t know this stuff already.) It’s all about knock-down power BUT at the expense of controllability (from the recoil) and (for me!) how freaking loud it is. I tried a .40 caliber, but it was so loud with earmuffs on I knew I’d hesitate to shoot it without muffs, so I went with a 9mm instead. I did once fire a 9mm without hearing protection (to scare off a wild animal that was encroaching on us), which was fine. Anyway, knockdown power is based on mass × velocity. A .38 special +P (“plus powder”) with a 125 grain jacketed hollow point bullet gives a muzzle velocity of 950 ft/sec for 251 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. The same bullet in a 9mm cartridge rips out of the muzzle at 1250 ft/sec for 434 ft-lbs (data from Cor-Bon).

      So yes, a 9mm has much more knock-down power, but obviously less than a .40 cal. A buddy who is a retired undersheriff from an urban area tells me that “a 9mm is plenty” for a cop …if they land the shot. He was standing near a guy who got shot by one of his officers with a 9mm — again, a guy with a knife who went after the cop. IIRC, it took one shot to stop the attack. That was in the 70s or 80s, and ballistic research has progressed a lot since. In his opinion and mine, beyond hitting the target, once you get above the ballistics of a .38 the bullet design is the next-most-important factor when it comes to stopping an attack. Go much beyond that and control takes much more training and practice. So for me, I’d rather have more rounds (9mm being smaller can pack more rounds in than a .40 or .45) than bigger/heavier bullets. -rc

      Reply
  2. I completely agree with your comments. I *heartily* applaud all law enforcement officers! I *know* I could never do their job. We don’t pay them nearly enough for what they may have to go through (i.e. situations like this). I certainly hope she sees that she really had *NO* choice but to use deadly force. Even if she had time to try a taser, it probably wouldn’t have stopped him given that even after being shot several times he didn’t go down. Her restraint in waiting *that* long before shooting him, is amazing. He *had* to be on something to keep going after her initial shots hit him.

    Reply
  3. Toxicology report will be interesting. I’m not convinced he was on something.

    It’ll be interesting to find out. I’ll be keeping an eye out. -rc

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  4. Your “All This, for Low Pay!” heading got me curious, so I looked up the actual pay rate. If I’m reading the Eaton County web site correctly, it appears that a deputy with 5 or more years experience is paid $54,500 in salary, plus $26 per hour for overtime. (In some places, officers work a *lot* of overtime; I have no way of knowing if this is one of them.)

    Assuming $54.5 is correct (and it’d be plus benefits), I’m unclear whether you consider that low, appropriate, or high. -rc

    Reply
    • I’m not sure how best to evaluate it, especially since the cost of living there is a third of what it is where I live. Is it fair to triple that — $163.5k — and think of it in my local terms? Then I’d say it’s probably appropriate for someone with 5 years, but I’d think it was low for someone with over 20. As far as I can tell from their web site, though, everyone with 5 or more gets the same. Which makes me skeptical that I’m reading it correctly.

      Speaking less numerically, though, you couldn’t pay me enough to be willing (or able) to do that job….

      Yeah, I wouldn’t want to do it for $55K. The sad part is, the more they’re hassled, the less anyone with brains and qualifications will want to. -rc

      Reply
      • Sunnyvale’s officers get paid a lot more than that. But it’s not an apples-to-oranges comparison since Sunnyvale has an integrated public safety department and its officers all do police, fire, and medical response. They’re awesome.

        That’s a ton of training! Sunnyvale, being in the “Silicon Valley”, is an expensive place to live — and there aren’t cheap bedroom communities in easy driving distance. So yeah, they’re going to be paid a lot more. -rc

        Reply
      • @rc “the more they’re hassled”?

        I’m not going to put words in your mouth or on your keyboard. What do you mean by that?

        What do you mean what do I mean?! Do you watch or read the news?

        Would you want this as an increasing part of your $55K job? Or would you just decide to leave the profession altogether? -rc

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      • Randy — Your last comment is what I’ve been saying for several years now. As a retired high school teacher and coach of a number of LEOs, I don’t see why anyone would want to be one nowadays. The same is true for teachers. I loved working with teenagers for 50 years (only stopped for unrelated health reasons), but it became extremely difficult in the last five years. You really have to love it to endure!

        Yep, if we drive away the good ones — cops, teachers, firefighters, whatever — what will be left with? The prospect is pretty scary, but so few think about it. -rc

        Reply
    • How much is your life worth? Would you risk your life for $54.5k a year?

      I think the harassment is a bigger factor in job stress than fatalities: police officer actually isn’t close to the #1 riskiest job. Fishing work is, with 100.0 deaths per 100K workers* for a median wage of $28K/year*. Then loggers (87.3, $39K), pilots/flight engineers (41.3, $112K), roofers (45.2, $39K), trash/recycling workers (34.9, $36K), iron/steel workers (33.3, $53K), truck drivers (26.9, $38K), farmers/ranchers/agricultural managers (24.0, $70K), landscapers/groundskeepers (21.0, $47K), and power line workers (18.6, $49K) round out the Top 10.

      Police officers came in at #18, with 12.9 deaths/100K for $61K/year, and firefighters were #24, with 8.9 deaths/100K for $49K. Other surprising professions in the Top 25 were painters, taxi drivers/chauffeurs, and athletes/coaches/umpires(!)

      * These are 2018 figures, published in 2019 by Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual National Census Of Fatal Occupational Injuries report. (Source: USA Today)

      Reply
  5. My guess is “meth” which would (a) make him aggressive and (b) hard to put down and (c) uncooperative. The only good thing to come out of this: he won’t attack anyone else.

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  6. I agree 100% that it was absolutely a justified shooting. My only concern was the number of shots it took to drop him. Were they misses? Or was he like some people on drugs who become “superhuman”? And if they were misses, what’s your take having been in law enforcement?

    Thanks for the great story. We need reminders, now more than ever, that there are justifiable use of force incidents.

    I would expect that there were some misses, but hard to say for sure. When there’s a fairly buff man feet away, that’s an awfully big target, so there “shouldn’t” be “a lot” of misses. It’ll be fascinating to learn the details from the autopsy, which will catalog the wounds …and detail what drugs, if any, were in his system. -rc

    Reply
    • I also use to armchair critique how could they miss…till I started to research the physiological changes that the body goes through during high stress events (increase in heart rate, increase in blood pressure, adrenaline rush, etc.) which affect your ability to aim. Sometimes amazes me that they are able to function at all. Training, lots of training helps.

      She sure demonstrated that training when she cleared the misfire. I don’t think anyone could have done that faster on a range, let alone during a firefight. -rc

      Reply
  7. We’ve had some recent shooting incidents in our local PD. They did release the bodycam footage (within 24 hours, generally) and it was very clear that the only choices they had were to shoot, or get back in the car and let the guy with the knife go stab someone else. Not much of a choice.

    Reply
    • The often release it quickly where there is clear and convincing evidence it was justified. When it is less clear, they often stall releasing the images.

      With the caution that “less clear” doesn’t necessarily mean “not justified.” -rc

      Reply
  8. Thank you for a balanced and well done review of this incident. This view from the officer’s side, via the training that you are specifically aware of, is invaluable for the lay person to understand what happens in a situation like this. I never understand how armchair obliviots can have their loud opinions without having a clue of what they are talking about. Too bad that the people who need to see this the most are the last ones who would ever attempt to educate themselves. Well done! Further confirmation of why I subscribe to your publication!

    As I know you to be a professional trainer yourself (even if in a wildly different field), I appreciate your informed feedback. -rc

    Reply
  9. I was an airport police officer for 2 years in the early 2000’s. I went through the same state required training course as every other municipal cop who worked for a city that didn’t have its own police academy. I still remember the firearms training and the discussions on the dangers of a suspect with an edged weapon. Once the suspect was within 21 feet, if you didn’t have your weapon already drawn, you were going to get stabbed. Great job by this deputy!

    The same lesson was taught in my academy in California in the early 80s. -rc

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  10. Wow, I’m impressed. That’s some really quick thinking and great reflexes. Reading your break-down of the incident made me feel I was prepared for the video, but watching how quickly everything went down… that was something else.

    I’m sure critics will find something or the other that she did wrong, all’s easy sitting in the comfort of your home and analysing the situation, slowing down the video and replaying it multiple times. She had just one chance and her only warning was that he’d stabbed an innocent bystander. His actions, once she stopped his car, could have gone in a hundred different directions. And she needed to react correctly for whatever direction he took. Not an easy task to do and I must say that she definitely had some luck on her side.

    I’m really glad things didn’t go bad for her (physically at least) and I hope that this incident does not leave her mentally scarred.

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  11. This is one reason why I appreciate True, and will happily remain a Premium subscriber as long as I am able. You offer praise when appropriate, criticism when appropriate, and always in a thoughtful, logical manner. I sometimes disagree, but I can never say that you have not provided a rational case for your views. I don’t know if you consider yourself a part of the “media” or not, but for my money you are one of the best news commentators around. Cheers!

    I’ve always categorized the books as News Commentary, so it’s fair to call me a news commentator. Thanks for your kind comments, Nick. -rc

    Reply
  12. I am glad the Officer is OK except for the mental anguish of having to shoot someone, this also shows just how stupid all the 10 round magazine laws are.

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  13. Remarkable story, nicely written.

    Why did it sound like there were two officers yelling “Drop the weapon” (et sim.) early on?

    That’s the suspect, repeating what she is saying. -rc

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  14. The way Ruis walks and moves makes me think of a shark: notice the way he crosses towards the sidewalk, trying to get the cruiser between him and the deputy while gaining ground, before crossing back and charging? He’s done it before — and I’ll bet the screwdriver connected with the gun, too! [He really thought he was invulnerable. Did he think he had disabled it?]

    I hope the deputy thanks her guardian angel, as I do. It will always be with her — but so will the knowledge that she did her job well, and probably saved more lives than anyone will ever know. Stay Safe and Well!!!

    Reply
  15. Thank you for posting this, gruesome as it is. It gives a great perspective from the side
    of the police officer. She performed incredibly well, with the exception of letting him get too close before using deadly force. Particularly since she was responding to the call of a stabbing.

    It is nice to get some balance in today’s news. The comments section where the discussion was ballistics, knock down ability, and aim control was a great explanation for me of why most officers do not carry larger caliber weapons.

    In full disclosure, I am a politically liberal gun owner, a hunter. As such I get a lot of flak from folks, including some close friends and relations, on both the extreme ends of our society. Folks who are not willing to really look at varying sides of any issue, think for themselves, and respect that others may have experiences and opinions different from their own. I do not own a handgun as I do not feel I currently have a personal need for one. Some of the comments published here have reminded me that I would probably never be confident enough or be able to practice enough to use one effectively.

    All of the peace officers I personally know are of the highest moral caliber and I am happy to entrust my life to them. That said, as in any profession, there are officers on the street who should not be allowed to be police officers. I have even had in my long life, two personal run-ins with officers who did not do their jobs properly and had I not been staying calm and collected would have likely been in a much worse situation. Fortunately, I believe I know and practice how not to respond to a police officer. Unfortunately, not everyone knows or follows those concepts.

    I do firmly believe and hope that bad officers, by whatever metric is used, are a small minority in my community. However, I acknowledge that the percentage is not so small in other places. I do wish that departments everywhere would do a much better job of ridding themselves and us as a society of those individuals who should have no business being officers of the law with the power of life or death over the citizens they have sworn to protect. This in my view is why we have the growing backlash towards the police currently ongoing and growing in our country. This public criticism of the police is not at all new. It is however being seen in a new intense light.

    Lastly, I strongly encourage all who read this post, to get to know about your community’s public safety professionals. Not just the police, but also EMS, fire, public health, etc. Attend public meetings that they host. Go on a ride-a-long if they are offered in your community. Educate yourself on all sides of these issues, not only the side you agree with. Finally, when you meet these mostly good, dedicated, and compassionate folks, sincerely thank them for their service to you and your community.

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  16. I’d ask why she waited so long, and let him get so close before she shot. This allowed him to get so close he was able to make a gun grab and briefly disable her pistol. The outcome would have been terrible if he succeeded in disarming her, or got his blades into the fray.

    As to shooting him multiple times, it is necessary to stop the attack. This is not TV or movies, and a 9mm HP does not send someone flying off his feet. Nor is a single solid hit guaranteed to stop the attack, especially if the attacker is drugged, highly motivated, crazy, or wearing body armor. There have been incidents where criminals absorbed three dozen 9mm rounds before being stopped with 12-gauge 00 buck!

    She did good.

    Yeah, I meant to point out that people don’t fly backwards when hit by a bullet (total eye-roller). It doesn’t happen with 9mm, it doesn’t happen with a .45 cal (sorry, original Magnum P.I.!) Hell, it doesn’t happen with a .50 cal Desert Eagle, and anyone who has been properly taught Newton’s Laws understands why not! -rc

    Reply
  17. To all wondering why 10 shots didn’t stop this person immediately:
    This isn’t TV. The only way to instantly “turn off” a human body with any common pistol round is a Central Nervous System (the brain) shot or a heart shot that drops blood pressure quickly. Someone who is enraged, or has adrenaline or drugs coursing through their veins is hard to put down. People often die from pistol rounds but it usually takes time due to blood loss. In many cases one or two non-fatal shots stop an attack because people don’t like being shot and they want the shooting to stop.

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  18. I’m no expert in firearms, but I have has a major encounter with someone who broke into my house so I know the stress response.

    Still I wonder why the intent to stop an attacker like this is to hit the torso. That doesn’t seem as effective as putting slugs into the legs where all the motor force of the attack is. And it should be non-lethal as well. And it isn’t likely to have body armor.

    If you’re aiming at the torso already, then it seems like a quick dip down without distracting aim to hit the thighs and cause a lot of pain with any hit.

    Just wondering.

    Simply years of statistical data show that is the quickest way to stop a deadly attack, in part because it’s much easier to hit “center of mass” than a leg (especially considering the stress response!), and if a body shot doesn’t take them down, a leg shot probably won’t either. -rc

    Reply

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