CCW Safe Podcast- Episode 82: OCPD Officer Katie Lawson Part 1
CCW Safe Podcast- Episode 82: OCPD Officer Katie Lawson Part 1
LISTEN TO THE CCW SAFE PODCAST
CCW Safe Use of Force Expert Rob High and Firing Line Radio host Phillip Naman interview Oklahoma City Police Officer Katie Lawson who was involved in on duty incident where she was attacked by a man with a rifle who fired 26 rounds at her and hit her 6 times. She survived the attack, returned fire and drove off her attacker.
Video version of the podcast:
Rob High: Hi, welcome to the CCW Safe Podcast. I’m Rob High here in Oklahoma City joined by my partner, Phillip Naman. Where are you at today, Phil?
Phillip Naman: I’m in Prescot, Arizona today.
Rob: Good to know. We also have a really special guest with us today, Katie Lawson. Katie is a police officer at the Oklahoma City Police Department. I like to claim her as one of my spare daughters. I was the training coordinator in the police academy when Katie was a new hired recruit. I got to spend about seven months with her before releasing her on the world. We’ve discussed so many different things, Phil, from how to train and how to prepare and mindset things. We had Tony Blauer on for a couple of different shows. We’ve discussed the mental preparation for some of these things, because as a competitive shooter, or as a martial artist, or things like that, you enter into these competitions, but you have preset rules.
Phillip: There’s a go buzzer.
Rob: There’s a go buzzer, yes. If I’m wrestling, I know that this is what we’re going to be doing within the parameters of that sport. It’s a martial art, but at the same time, it’s a sport.
Phillip: You’re not allowed to guide your eyes.
Rob: Correct. Same way with jujutsu or judo or anything else that you’re competing in, I understand the rules that are in that game. Those rules are completely out the window when I’m not prepared for an ambush. That’s part of what Tony was going over when we were discussing his stuff. Our bodies really are truly designed to react, overcome, we’ve got things in that lizard brain that we were talking about that, you don’t have to teach somebody a startle response. You just do it. You don’t have to teach a small child that, they just know how to do those things. The gift that we get from Katie today, Katie’s lived that life. She’s actually been in that situation.
As I mentioned, I was her training Sergeant when she was in the academy. Several years later, I returned to patrol and was working the same part of town that Katie was, same shift, same group of guys. On August 29th, 2010, is that right?
Katie Lawson: Yes, sir.
Rob: I was actually, my daughter lived in my district area and I had gone over and checked her house because there was a prowler that had been operating for a week in that area. I just would just roll through and just do a double check. I was over in that area, which was just north of 39th in Portland, Katie. You know how proximity wise, how close I was right there.
Katie: That was very close.
Rob: All of a sudden, there was something that, and I’ll let Katie give the details of this story, but she had gone over to back up an officer from another agency, from the Sheriff’s department. Shortly after that, she puts out that she’s been involved in a gun fight, she’s been shot. Like I said, she’s my spare daughter. Everybody and their dog is just dropping a car in gear and going as fast as they possibly can to that scene. It was unbelievable the response that we had that night. I’d mentioned to you, as you and I were together earlier Phil, that at some point in time, we had these guys in custody and we didn’t even realize it.
The work that was going on and the response, you have all these unknowns and your emotions are just off the charts. There was an officer at the hospital with Katie that actually allowed her to key up and talk on the radio while we were in the field looking for these guys. That was the most incredibly significant radio transmission I’ve ever heard in my life. It was so very cool. Katie, I’m just going to let you tell the story and fill them in and we’ll discuss from there.
Katie: First of all, thank you all for having me. I appreciate it. It’s my honor to be here and be part of this podcast with you all. Give props to Rob and the training staff, because everything they did for me in the academy, and everything they taught me for sure did come into play that night, and helped save my life. As I’m going through this, I’ll tell you how my training did kick in. Give y’all thanks for the preparation you gave me up until this point and beyond, continued training. I’ll just jump in. If I’m going too slow you all just let me know and tell me to speed it up. I’m just going to take you back to that night.
A little background history, I started in 2006. That’s when I started the police academy. I am on my 15th year. This shooting, as Rob said, took place in 2010. I had four years on the job. Pretty new officer. I didn’t have a whole of experience on the streets of course, a year of that’s the academy and then the FTO program. Three years by myself on the streets. August 29th was a Sunday evening. I’d actually been off Friday and Saturday. I’d been in a friend’s wedding. When Sunday rolled around, like most of us do, I was tired from the weekend, I had a lot of vacation, I actually had thought about taking off one more day, but decided I wasn’t going to.
I was going to come in and take care of my partners because they’ve been taking care of my district all weekend. I was working third shift. Our third shift in Oklahoma City is 9:30 PM to 7:30 AM. It’s the overnight shift. Reported to lineup, nothing significant about lineup, broke lineup, went out and started working. About an hour, approximately an hour into my shift is when I get the call from dispatch that an Oklahoma county deputy, as you said, needed assistance on a traffic stop. I remember looking at the computer screen, and it really did not tell me why he needed assistance.
That he just had a car stopped, he didn’t have any backups, so he was asking the PD to come help him. The traffic stop was at Northwest 38th in Miller, which is my district. I responded to the call and as I came in from the south and looked back to the west at Northwest 38th the Miller, I saw the deputy and his car was parked behind a red Honda Civic. He’s in his door jam, gun drawn pointed towards the vehicle. My first thought is, he’s doing felony traffic stop, Honda Civic is a typical car in Oklahoma City that’s stolen. I think that’s what it is. It’s probably a stolen vehicle, he wants somebody else with him when he pulls the driver out.
Pull up behind him, park, I get out and I approach him on the driver’s side. I do have my gun out at this point because he does, and I’m not sure what’s going on. I ask him what he has, and he informs me that the vehicle is not stolen, but that he had tried to stop the vehicle approximately a mile away from the location we were at. The vehicle would not stop and did not come to a stop until about a mile away from where he initially started implementing the traffic stop. Based on that, he wasn’t sure what the driver was up to. His original, the reason why he was going to stop him, he thought the driver was intoxicated, but he just wanted somebody else there with him when he got the driver out of the vehicle.
After getting all that information, I go around to his passenger side of his vehicle. Guns drawn, pointing towards the vehicle, he starts giving the driver commands to exit the vehicle. As he’s doing that, we can see the driver and the driver’s really not moving around inside the vehicle, but he’s also not opening the door, and he’s not getting out of the vehicle. He continues giving the driver commands to exit the vehicle. As he’s talking, I notice two young males and an older female exit the house that we were in front of. They start walking out to the yard as if they were going to approach a traffic stop that was going on in the street in front of the house.
I am able to get their information. I ask them to stay back. They comply. They do so. They stop about halfway into the yard and they just stand there watching the traffic stop as it’s going on. As the deputy continues to give commands to the driver, that’s when I noticed the older of the two boys, he starts speaking in Spanish towards the car. As he starts speaking in Spanish towards the car, that’s when the driver starts complying, he opens the door, he exits the vehicle. At that point, we realize that he’s translating for us. I did not speak Spanish and the deputy did not speak Spanish either so none of us could communicate with the driver.
The older boy translates for us, we have the driver walk back towards us lay, down in the grass. The deputy places handcuffs on him, he is in fact intoxicated. He places him under arrest and places him in the backseat of his squad car. As he’s doing that, that’s when I go up and make contact with the family. I originally start talking to the older lady, because I could tell she’s the mother of these two, and she’s the adult of the situation. She starts speaking broken English back to me, I can tell that she really does not understand what I’m saying to her. From there on, I start talking to the two boys. They spoke both English and Spanish.
They informed me that the driver of the vehicle was their father that he lived at the house. Evidently, he was trying to make it back home but that was their father and they wondered what was going to happen to him. The mother is asking them, I can tell questions, and they’re translating for her to me, they asked what we’re going to do with him if he’s under arrest. I informed them that yes, he’s under arrest, he’s going to be going to the Oklahoma County Jail, and he’s going to be booked in there, and that they could call down later and see when they could get him out and things like that. They were very compliant, very polite.
They provided us all the information we needed for their father because their father spoke no English at all. They gave us his name, date of birth, address, just things you need for a regular booking. The attitude I gained from them was this was no shock to them. They were used to their father being in trouble and the fact that he was going to jail was not a surprise to them. The deputy, he takes all the information I give him that I collected about the driver of the vehicle, he goes and checks him through Oklahoma County system, and he cannot really find anything in his system on the driver. He comes back to me in the yard and asked if I would check him through the Oklahoma City Police Department system.
I inform him, I will. I take the information. At that point, I stopped contact with the family, and I never had any more contact with the family. I go back and sit in my vehicle. As I’m getting in my vehicle, the record drivers pulling up, he’s going to get the car ready to tow. He’s talking with the deputy. Call Crime Information, find out he has no driver’s license, find out he has no warrants, and then I also look in our [unintelligible 00:12:47] system, which is the database for Oakland City police department to see if he’s had any contact with Oakland City Police. Look in there, he had had a couple of domestic-related issues with the police department.
Then also he had been arrested on a DUI previously. So, write all the pertinent information that the deputy is going to need down and he comes back to my car, I give it to him and he tells me that I’m free to leave the scene. I remember chatting a few more minutes with him just saying a few more things and then saying goodbye to him because the record driver was about done with what he was doing. I knew that he was about to leave. At that point, I felt like it was safe to leave. He was about to leave himself. I prepare, I get ready, I back up and reverse and then I start heading northbound on Miller away from the scene.
As I’m doing this, we back then as you know, we had to write down all of our activity on a handwritten form. I remember as I’m going down Miller thinking, “At some point I need to pull over I need to write down this information, the traffic stop I just did.” I’m also in my mind going through the night. I was tired so I remember thinking I want to be busy. I’m either going to do some traffic stops or Northwest 39th and Penn area that was known for crack back then. I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll go and make contact.” Really just playing out my night as I was driving. I was really just creeping down Miller.
As I’m creeping down Miller, as I’m approaching 39th, there’s a business on the southwest corner of Northwest 39th Miller, and behind that business is a parking lot and the two houses on Northwest 38, the first two houses, their backyard backed up to that parking lot. As I break the plane to where it can see into that parking lot, I noticed there’s a subject and he’s in the middle of the parking lot. He has his back towards me, and it’s very dimly lit back then it was completely dark, dimly lit, there was only one street light that I can remember. The trees were overgrown, so shadowy-like, back there.
I couldn’t really see what he was doing. All I could see was that he had his back towards me and he had his hand in front of him, but I couldn’t see what he had in his hands. As I look at him, he sees me at the same time that I see him. I remember him jumping as if I’d startled him. I thought, “Oh, well, based on that reaction, I’m going to pull over and see what this guy’s up to because he seems to be up to no good based on his reaction when he saw me.” I know that the business, it’s my area. I know it’s closed, there really shouldn’t be anybody back there that time of night.
I pull over, I do not go up into the parking lot, it was at upward angle, the actual parking lot, but I do not pull up into the parking lot because it would have put me head-on with him. As I pull over, I put my car in the park, and before I can even get on the radio to tell dispatch, I’m going out on the subject, or even open my door, the subject suddenly turns on me, and all I remember seeing a long barrel coming away from the space, and he automatically just starts shooting. I remember if I’m here in my car, he’s out this way towards me. I remember looking at him first, as I’m sitting here looking out my window and then thinking that’s when my brain started, is this really happening? The startled shock factor when it starts happening.
I remember thinking, is this really happening? He’s continuing to shoot just as fast as he can. That’s where the tunnel vision set in for me. I remember just seeing the big old large muzzle flash coming away from that gun and that’s all I was really seeing. I remember hearing the first couple shots of his go off, and then the sound actually went away as well so got that auditory exclusion as well. My brain starts immediately after that shock reaction going into, I’ve got to get my gun out, and I’ve got to start shooting back at him. At this point, I’m also thinking it looks like it’s aimed right at my head.
I think I’ve got to get my head out of this window as well, so I lean over, there’s the armrest in the cars I lean over the armrests at the same time I’m getting my gun out that’s when my training kicked in. Because I had three retentions on my holster at that time and I don’t remember undoing any of them. I just remember thinking I’ve got to get my gun out and then having it out. As I’m getting my gun out, though he’s at this point starting to advance on me. He’s walking and just shooting as fast as he can. At that point I get my gun out, stick it out the window, I start shooting back at him.
As soon as I start shooting back at him, he takes off running down the fence line, there was a big stockade fence, he started running down that fence line, and then disappears into that second backyard. At that point, I realized that I had at least been shot once because I can feel the tingling sensation going down my leg but I don’t realize how many times I’ve been shot. I just can feel that one. I get on the car radio and I make a call to dispatch and I tell the dispatch that I’ve been shot. I tell them where my location is and then I needed EMSA which is our medical personnel. I tell them I need EMSA fast.
Unbeknownst to me that radio call never went out, either a bullet struck my radio or there was another officer in the area who heard the gunfire and he got on the radio, and he may have got through before I was able to get on the radio and get my radio traffic out. After I make the radio call inside the car, my next thought was, “I’m going to get out and I’m going to take off running after this guy. One, I’m going to see if I can catch him but if I can’t catch him, at least I can see where he ran to.” My partners, they’re on their way and they can set up a perimeter and we can lock this guy in and get him. I get the door open.
I get out I go to take off running towards the suspect the last place I saw him, and it’s like I have huge bricks on my feet. My feet are not operating as much as I’m telling them to go, I cannot run. At that point, I start listening to the background noise going on. If panic had not set in, this is where my panic set in because I heard dead silence. There was this eerie silence and my mind immediately starts thinking why aren’t they coming for me? Why aren’t they coming to help me? I get on the radio again, make a call to dispatch, put all the same information out. At that point dispatch comes back to me and so I know that they’ve heard me.
From there, I had partners arrive within seconds people that were on my shift around the whole city, and really from every outlying agency as well showing up on the call. As they are getting me, they got there so fast, I was still by my car. I didn’t remember this until actually years later. I’d always see this blood trail that was going to the right of my car trailing towards the front of my car. I remember they walked me over to the left of my car, not the right. Actually, during that time in between, I was waiting for my partners to arrive and before they did, I remember trying to get around the front of my car on the other side, so I could still see the pits where he ran into in case he came back.
For a long time, I never knew why that blood flow was there but years later, it came back to me and I’d remember trying to get around my vehicle and that was the shortest way around my vehicle. As my partners get there, they start checking me out, applying pressure on the wounds, of course, fire showed up, EMSA showed up. As they’re checking me, applying pressure, getting me bandaged up, I remember, one of my lieutenants asked me, “Katie, can you give us a description of the suspect?” To be honest, I could not I felt horrible, because I did not really have a good description of the suspect.
I knew that he was tall, he was thinner, and he was wearing dark clothing but other than that, I cannot really give anything to the officers out there anymore to go by. They get me loaded up. They send me to the hospital. When I get to the hospital, that’s when I learned how many times I’d been shot, they advised that I’d been shot six times. I think one of the first shots I received was probably the round that went across my right cheek, and then through my right ear, it left a little hole in my right ear. I believe I got that one first because initially, I was looking head-on with the suspect.
Then after a while, I’d leaned over so that one my face would have been exposed like that. Then I was also shot, not even sure if you can see the center mass in my vest, right between where the ribcage comes together. Then once in my left back. Those two shots traveled through the car first and so my vest bullet vest was able to catch those two rounds. They did not penetrate my skin. They just burned off the first layer of my skin. Got shot twice and left butt cheek. I always call those my Forrest Gump shots. That’s the tingling sensation I felt one of them hit my sciatic nerve and so that’s what was causing the tingling sensation.
Then I was shot once in my right calf. As I’m getting treated at the hospital, of course, partners, as Rob mentioned earlier everybody showing up, they’re searching for the suspects, they learned that I was on a traffic stop earlier. They get the individuals that were on the traffic stop with us, the family, they put them in the backseat of patrol cars as witnesses, because at that time when officers started arriving, they were all out front like they were during the traffic stop, they were still out there.
They believe they were witnesses and they were going to ask and see if they heard or saw anything. Just talk to them like they were the rest of the neighborhood. As the time went on, as they were talking to citizens and neighbors that were next door to the house that the traffic stop was going on, they talked to one of the citizens and he said that when he heard the shots being fired, he could tell it was at the back of his property. He went and looked out the window of the back of his property and he saw a subject running through the backyard of 2705, which that was the house the traffic stop was taking place.
He saw Cedric run through that backyard and run inside the back door. At that point, they thought well, maybe the suspect ran in that house and he’s hiding in there while the family was out in the front yard. They get some members of the tact team together they go in to clear the house, as they do, they find a magazine to a AR-15 rifle. At that point, they realized that the people that they had as witness may not be witnesses that they may be suspects to this crime. They take them down to headquarters, they take them to homicide unit, which homicide is the ones who do all of our officer-involved shooting investigations.
They take the two boys put them in interview rooms, leave there for a while with audio and video recording. As they left them there for a while they start speaking in Spanish back and forth to one another. One of our homicide detectives, he is fluent in Spanish so he starts listening to the things they’re saying. One of them’s telling the other, “Hey, did you wash your hands?” So you see one of them wiping his hands on the walls. Then he also says, “Don’t talk to the police.” Come down to it and I’ll make the rest of this speeded up but in the course of the investigation, and-
Phillip: I actually Katie, I think what we’d like to do is we’ll run this through as the incident, and then we’ll do another session with you going on about reaction, then ambush and stuff. This is great. Please keep going.
Katie: Do you want me to continue on with the investigation?
Katie: During the course of the investigation and later, it was determined, actually what happened and to back up, all three, the two boys, and the mother all pled not guilty, they were all arrested, I’m sorry and were charged with the same crime shooting with intent to kill. Those arrests came due to citizens talking to citizens. One of the citizens that live nearby, he actually came outside during the traffic stop. He heard the family saying, “How are we going to get them out? How are we going to get them out?” They were speaking in Spanish and this is why the deputy and I were away from the traffic stop.
He just assumed that they meant how we’re going to get them out of the Oakland County Jail. What in fact, they meant, their dad was an illegal immigrant and he had already been deported from the US before. They knew that the probability if he went to Oakland County Jail, he was probably going to be deported again. This came out, again through the investigation, but also, the FBI did an interview with the suspect and myself, because they were doing a study on ambushes. The suspect told them what his thought process was.
As I’m telling this, know that this was not all determined that night or within a couple of weeks, but it actually took several years before the actual determination of what the thought process of the suspect was. As they were out there, they decided they were going to get the dad out of the car. The two boys go inside, mom stays outside, and the older boy retrieves an AR-15 from inside the house. The younger boy stays in the house, the older boy takes the AR-15 and exits the back of the house, goes into the parking lot, where I saw him, he’s preparing the gun and getting it ready.
Based on his words to the FBI later down the road, his intentions were he was going to sneak around the back of the house and ambush the deputy and I at the front of the house, he was going to surprise us. In his own words, he was going to kill both of us, get his dad out of the vehicle so that he didn’t get deported. I don’t think he really had a plan out for that part but that was his plan initially. As he is getting his gun ready in the parking lot, he did not expect to see me so, when he did that was the startled reaction he received, and he automatically just turned and started firing on me once he saw me.
He was able to get 26 rounds off before I could get my gun out, I was able to get 11 rounds off of him. A few of my rounds tracked him down the fence but never caught up to him, they did not hit him. Once I started shooting back that’s when he took off running, went back into this house that the citizen was correct he did see somebody run in the back of that house which was him. His little brother was inside the house. They went to a bedroom, moved a bed, pulled some carpet up, pulled the boards up, hid the gun under the house, covered it all back up, changed.
The shooter actually changed clothes tops anyway, and then went back out into the front yard to act like he didn’t know what was going on. Based on what the citizen saw and the things that they heard they also did charge the mother with the crime because the same citizen that heard them talking actually said that he saw the mom as the shooting was going on, he saw the mom approach the car, and it looked as if she was trying to lift the handle of the back of the car to get her husband out, and then faded back towards the house. That’s the basis of the shooting. I can go into more if you want as far as the aftermath of me in the hospital and what that looks like.
Phillip: Obviously, you’re shot, your training kicks over obviously Rob has done a good job, you got your gun out and the guy runs away. Rob, how many times does that happen, a criminal comes up and it’s all big and bad and they get one round in their direction they run like a coward, I guess would be the word?
Rob: It happens. Yes, it’s crazy. It’s one of those that your perspective on everything changes when you’ve been on the wrong end of a bullet coming your way.
Phillip: Yes, I don’t doubt that.
Rob: It’s life-altering. I can’t even imagine being in Katie’s shoes and actually getting hit.
Phillip: 26 high-powered rounds. Like you said, Katie, you’ve got a vest on and that’s great for level 3, right but you’ve got a high-powered rifle at 30, 40 yards. Thank God that car door was there.
Katie: Yes. That was it because it came through the car door first, it slowed it down enough for my vest to catch it because I was not wearing a vest that would have caught a 223.
Phillip: Yes, nobody wears hard plates but a lot of things aligned to have you here speaking with us. We’re very good. There’s training. There’s providence. Thank God for where you are and how you are. Rob, what I think would be a great combo on this is if we talked to her about the actual ambush maybe in our next segment. We’ll pick it up after that. I hate to leave you in the hospital right now.
Katie: That’s all right. I’ll get out.
Phillip: As you said, you had hundreds of visitors there, so you weren’t alone.
Katie: Yes, sir.
Phillip: I hope they didn’t want to sign your cast right on your sciatic.
Katie: No, they didn’t want to sign anything. I didn’t show them my body. The wounds, they got to see a few of them, but not all of them.
Phillip: Just watch Forest Gump. It’s good enough.
Phillip: Pretty good. How about we do that, Rob? We’ll pick her up. On our next episode, we’ll talk about reactions and what really went through her head during the ambush. Rob, we’ll talk about that on our next episode. I think that would be a really good thing. Katie, thank you for your service.
Katie: Yes, sir.
Phillip: I’m so sorry you got hurt, but I’m glad you’re back at it.
Katie: The good Lord saved me. I’m here physically able to do the things I did before. Everything’s all good.
Phillip: You’re here for a purpose. That’s a beautiful thing.
Katie: Thank you, sir.
Rob: Thank you, guys so much for joining us today. Tune in for this next one. We’ll finish up with Katie’s story. As always, we always welcome all your questions and comments and suggestions. You can get me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just rob@ccwsafe. We’ll join you back on the next go-round. Thank you, guys, for joining us. Thank you.
Katie: Thank you, all.