On May 18, officers responded to the 3800 block of Garrett Road for a call regarding a suicidal subject with a knife about 5:30 p.m.. The subjects plan was not to actually harm himself but rather to commit “suicide by cop”.
Officer James Hoback was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene but did not fully enter the apartment when he arrived. Instead he opened the door and saw the man sitting on a sofa with a knife to is throat.
Prepared for the worst he did in fact un-holster his weapon to defend himself if necessary but proceeded no further while waiting for other officers to arrive. Hoback using the door as a shield stayed about 15 feet away and never lost sight of the man sitting there with a butchers knife who put it to his own throat a couple of times.
When officers Russo and O’Connor arrived he started a dialog and showed himself at he doorway, but also holstered his weapon to show the man that he was not a threat while the other two officers were ready to protect him if necessary.
“I just said, ‘Talk to me, bud.’ I was trying to get him to talk and keep him talking. The training gave us different tactics for crisis situations and if you have them talking there is progress. It gets their attention and off what else they are planning to do.
“It helps me to build a rapport so the chances of a positive outcome are good,” he recalled. “I talked to him at least 15 minutes and kept thinking what else can I say or do to keep him distracted.”
“Do you want to end your life?” Hoback asked the man early on.
“Yes,” the man responded.
“Do you have a plan?” Hoback asked.
“Yes, the man responded.
“I told him as long as we were talking, everything was fine. I reassured him that no one was in any trouble and that the police officers were here to help him,” Hoback said. “I told him as long as we were talking, we are making progress.”
“I told him ‘I can’t go home to my wife and four children without giving you a fighting chance.’ I try to relate to people and find a way to connect and that connected with him. I was able to keep his attention on me and not on his plan. We are always looking for a good outcome and got him out of there and kept everybody safe. It all turned out nice and it was a pretty good feeling.” “I can’t do it, bud,” Hoback told him, trying to sway him.
For some reason, that message struck a sympathetic chord and he surrendered.
Hoback said they were on their way to the crisis unit at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital for much-needed crisis intervention when the man finally shared his plan.
“His plan was to charge at police with the knife so we would be forced to shoot at him,” Hoback said.
The man had been despondent because an ex-girlfriend said she didn’t want him to have any part in the life of their soon-to-be born child. A connection was made between the officer who had a wife and 4 children he wanted to go home to but did not want to see him suffer.
Some take aways:
Be honest with people you deal with. In this case, the point that made the connection was that the officer had a family and the man who was suffering had just lost one. It was that connection that allowed the man to drop his knife and seek help.
Never put yourself in danger needlessly, wait for other officers to cover you while you attempt to help people in distress. You do not know what their plans are. In this case “suicide by cop”