VIDEO: Use-of-force cop training: ‘My chest felt heavy as I pulled the trigger’

My hands shook as I aimed my gun. My chest felt heavy as I pulled the trigger.

I was sure I fired only once; I was later told I had fired at least 10 times.

I felt sick, but also relief, because it was all just a simulation — part of Boynton Beach Police’s shoot/don’t shoot training for reporters and city officials so we could have a small sense of the uncertainty officers face on the streets.

The “shooting” happened before noon on Thanksgiving Eve in the parking lot of an ale house in Boynton Beach. The makeshift scenario was that I was called to investigate a disturbance in which two men were fighting and a crowd had formed around them. I didn’t know if the men were armed. But I walked up to the scene with my gun out of its holster anyway.

The men were taller than me. They are were very loud. I was wearing a bullet-proof vest, a long-sleeved shirt and a mask and I was very hot. I looked at the scene: “What is that guy who’s walking around holding?” and “What are these men screaming?” were questions that popped in my head.

Who are the good guys? Who should I be focusing on? Is everyone a bad guy?, I was thinking.

I don’t want to get shot.

“Hey! Hey! Guys. Guys,” I shouted.

One of the men arguing looked at me.

I shot him (albeit with the fake gun with soap bullets).

I thought he had a gun. I’d find out later he didn’t.

He fell to the ground but I couldn’t help him — there was another guy I had to watch.

Suddenly, someone in the background fired at me. I shot back so many times and so fast that it was hard to come up with a number while watching the body camera video later.

If this was all real, I would have been put on paid administrative leave and would have been quizzed for someone to determine whether my shots were justified.

Were they?

In my mind, my life was in danger. But why did I shoot someone who simply looked at me? And why did I shoot someone else at least 10 times?

Well, I don’t have training. This was my first time firing a gun and my first time acting like a police officer.

But the point was clear: Officers don’t know what they’re up against, and only training and experience can help them prepare.

The training coincided with the Boynton Beach Police department opening of their newly-renovated $190,000 training center on Congress Avenue. It has LED lights, a surround system, renovated walls, a new roof, new air conditioning and new floors. Officers can do active shooter training inside and plan to build movable walls to have the building mimic a house.

The reporters and city officials were invited to act in these real-life scenarios to understand what officers go through in these shoot/don’t shoot calls. 

Mayor Steven Grant took part and had to decide whether to shoot two fighting men who stood over an injured police officer on the ground.

“He came towards me. I didn’t tell him to get back. I just shot him,” Grant said after.

Officers didn’t tell us whether we acted correctly. Capt. Matthew Zeller said officers never know what they’re going to encounter in any scenario and what the officer is thinking and feeling has to be taken into account regardless of what the video shows. And sometimes, even the body camera doesn’t show the whole story depending on how wide the view is.

“Things happen really fast,” said Zeller. “These are life-changing incidents.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Lake Worth firm sues over worker’s death in FIU bridge collapse
Lake Worth firm sues over worker’s death in FIU bridge collapse

A Lake Worth law firm on Wednesday filed suit on behalf of the widow of a 37-year-old Sunrise construction worker who died when a $14.2 million pedestrian walkway at Florida International University collapsed in March. Navaro Brown, who was working for a company that provides products to strengthen bridges, was among six who died when the 950-ton bridge...
NEW: Delray man, 27, killed in Boca Raton vehicle crash
NEW: Delray man, 27, killed in Boca Raton vehicle crash

A 27-year-old Delray Beach man has been identified as the victim of a fatal crash Monday night in Boca Raton.  City police said Jay Jonas died after his motor scooter was struck by another vehicle in the 7500 block of North Dixie Highway. Jonas died at Delray Medical Center. According to a police statement, Jonas was driving south on North...
La Mancha traffic calming plans in Royal Palm Beach: How to learn more

A busy residential thoroughfare in Royal Palm Beach could receive some relief from speeding vehicles looking to avoid the busy intersection of Royal Palm Beach and Okeechobee boulevards. La Mancha Avenue is eligible for traffic-calming measures, according to a survey completed for the village by consultant Simmons and White. The survey also reviewed...
PHOTOS: From 35th Special Olympics Torch Run in Palm Beach County
PHOTOS: From 35th Special Olympics Torch Run in Palm Beach County

As Bob Mooney stood in a parking lot Wednesday morning amid a sea of law enforcement vehicles and running enthusiasts clad in workout gear, he recalled the origins of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. “I can tell you that the first year, I ran the torch by myself,” said Mooney, who has coordinated the event for all 35...
Fired FAU professor, who denies Sandy Hook, blasts federal judge
Fired FAU professor, who denies Sandy Hook, blasts federal judge

Fired Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy blasted a federal judge on Wednesday, a day after she rejected his request for a new trial on his claims that the school robbed him of his First Amendment rights by dismissing him for expressing his beliefs that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and other national tragedies never happened...
More Stories