Law Officer Magazine Volume 5 Issue 6
Officer Down: A Warrior's Sacrifice
The Keith Borders Incident
Law Officer Volume 5 Issue 6
2009 Jun 1
Editor's note: This article is an expanded version of one that appeared in the June 2009 issue of Law Officer.
The gun felt ominously light in Keith Borders' hand as he wiped the blood from his eyes and headed to the back of his patrol car. He knew the Glock 21 well from long hours on the range and was thoroughly familiar with its feel as the hefty .45s emptied from its magazine. It was nearly empty now, but the slide was still forward, letting him know that it still held at least one round.
Don Mettinger, the gentle family man now turned beast, was getting to his feet again, still firing the deadly shotgun and seemingly oblivious to the blood flowing freely from a torso riddled with holes. This was Borders' last magazine, and although he had a Chief's Special strapped to his ankle, he didn't trust it to stop this madman. He would have to make this shot count. He took a deep breath, and released it slowly as he stopped next to the right rear fender. Raising the Glock into firing position, he inhaled deeply again, let its sights settle squarely between Mettinger's eyes, and pressed the trigger.
The bloody ordeal had started about a half hour before with a call that Borders, a 34-year-old, three-year veteran of the large metropolitan police department, would never have handled alone under normal circumstances. It was a domestic disturbance that had been holding for over 15 minutes, and he had tried to wait for another car to break free before taking it, but most of the department was tied up working a major biker run several miles away, leaving the rest of the city shorthanded. When more calls started coming in from neighbors, Borders grew increasingly concerned that someone would get hurt. Unable to ignore the possible danger to one of his citizens, he reluctantly took the call alone.
As Borders approached the luxurious two-story residence, he spotted two women, a large middle-aged man and a little girl in the garage. He remembered the man, a salesman named Don Mettinger, from an auto accident he had worked in front of the same house two weeks earlier. After coming outside to help, Mettinger had struck up a conversation with Borders, leaving him with the impression that he was an obliging, good-natured man.
But now Mettinger was in a heated argument with the two women that grew hotter as Borders came up the driveway. Before Borders could reach them, Mettinger shoved the older of the two women, causing her to stumble violently backward. Borders stepped between them, facing Mettinger
"You need to calm down and talk to me," Borders said.
Mettinger's eyes bore fiercely into Borders'. "You're not gonna arrest me!" he growled.
"I'm not here to arrest you," Borders answered. "We just need to talk."
"I'm not goin' to jail!"
Then before Borders could do anything to stop him, Mettinger turned, ran into the house and slammed the door. Borders was close behind, but the deadbolt engaged before he could reach the door.
He turned to the older woman, and asked, "Is that your husband?"
"Yes," she answered. "I'm Debbie Mettinger, and this is our daughter Jenny and our granddaughter."
"What's going on?" Borders asked.
"I don't know. He just lost it today. I don't know what's gotten into him."
Borders hadn't liked what he'd seen in Mettinger's eyes. "Are there any guns in the house?" he asked.
Debbie gasped out a sob. "I'm afraid so. Lots of 'em. He collects guns."
"We gotta leave," Borders commanded. "Let's go!"
Without argument, Jennifer grabbed her daughter and headed down the driveway, followed by her mother, and then Borders bringing up the rear. Borders herded everyone across the street to the relative safety of his cruiser, ordered them to the opposite side of the car and called in a barricaded subject.
"It isn't safe here," he told them. "You're gonna have to leave while I stay here and try to calm him down."
Both women refused, but Jennifer capitulated once she realized that her daughter might be in danger. There was a pickup in the garage and a Honda sedan in the driveway, but it was too dangerous to allow anyone to get that close to the house. Borders told her to leave on foot, find the nearest officer, and ask him for help.
After Jennifer and her daughter left, Borders turned to Debbie again and urged her to follow, but she was determined to stay. As he continued to plead with her, he was interrupted by a barely audible sound from the right side of the house—a door closing. He looked in that direction and noticed movement just above the top edge of a six-foot stucco fence that surrounded the yard to the right of the garage. Shining his flashlight in that direction, he spotted Mettinger peering at them over the fence.
"Come out here so we can talk," Borders commanded.
Mettinger refused, and Borders repeated the order twice more with the same results. Then on Borders' next attempt, Mettinger answered with an ominous demand. "No!" he yelled, "You come to me, and I'll give you my gun."
Borders drew his Glock, squatted down for cover, and shined the flashlight directly into the man's eyes.
"Put the gun down, and come out through the garage with your hands where I can see 'em!" Borders commanded.
"Get that f__kin' light outta my eyes!" Mettinger screamed.
Borders repeated the order, got the same response and repeated it again. This time Mettinger answered with a gunshot. Although just a wild shot fired in Borders' direction from a revolver poked over the top of the fence, Mettinger had just upped the ante.
Borders grabbed his shotgun from his patrol car.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Mettinger began crying uncontrollably as her husband ran back inside through the side door, and then closed the garage door with its remote control. Again, Borders urged Mrs. Mettinger to leave, but she refused. Even worse, she repeatedly tried to stand up. Borders already had his hands full trying to watch for Mettinger while coordinating the responding units on the radio, and the added burden of trying to keep Debbie down made the shotgun dangerous to handle. He threw the cumbersome weapon back into his car, and drew his Glock again.
Moments later, the situation worsened again. As the first assist officer approached the residence, gunfire erupted from an upstairs window, peppering the patrol car with lead. Braking hard, the officer slammed the transmission into reverse and accelerated backward to safety. Borders knew he couldn't leave, and it was too late to safely remove Debbie from the scene now, but there was no sense in putting anyone else in danger. He keyed his mic and requested that all the assist units stay back.
An eerie lull followed, and Borders, now hunkered down next to his cruiser, used the pause to try to calm Debbie down. Suddenly, the lull was shattered by two booming gunshots from inside the garage, punctuated by the appearance of two bulges in the overhead door, both of them peppered with jagged points of light from the garage's well-lit interior. The door began to rise, and Borders watched as Mettinger's bare legs came into view near the back of the garage. Mettinger's baggy shorts came next, topped by the man's hefty belly. Stuffed into his waistband were a .357 magnum revolver and a 9 mm pistol, but even more worrisome was the 12-gauge pump he was holding.
Borders crouched low next to his right front fender, kept his gun trained on Mettinger and ordered him to put the gun down. Instead, Mettinger took cover along the left side of the pickup in the garage, and then moved out of the garage to the Honda parked in the driveway and advanced toward the street. He stayed low and kept the vehicles between him and Borders as he moved, leaving the officer with very little to shoot at from his present position. Borders started moving toward the rear of his car for a better shot, but Debbie was also there, sobbing as she begged her husband to stop.
Borders knew he was just seconds away from a gunfight, and he didn't want Debbie caught in the middle. Grasping at one last chance to avoid gunfire, he calmly said, "Look, Don, put the gun down and come here so we can talk."
"It's gone way past that," Mettinger answered as he swung the shotgun up toward his wife.
The First Hit
Horrified, Borders snapped off two quick shots at Mettinger as he rushed toward the man's wife. To let this innocent woman die was unthinkable. Driven by the selflessness that burns deep in the heart of every warrior, he threw his body across the imperiled woman just as the shotgun roared.
Border's body was twisting with his feet still in the air when the blast hit him in the forehead like a baseball bat, snapping him backward onto the ground. Bursting lights inside his head accentuated the gruesome sensation that his forehead had just been ripped away. He forced himself up onto all fours and grabbed his forehead, fully expecting to touch exposed brain. It was a bloody mess but there was no gaping hole. He looked at Debbie, noting that she appeared unharmed. "Is my head all there?" he asked.
She nodded. "I think you're OK."
Borders was alert, breathing without difficulty and able to feel his extremities. He knew he could still fight, but assumed that some of the pellets had penetrated his skull, inflicting a mortal wound. There was only one thing to do—stop Mettinger before he killed his wife. Only then would his death mean something.
Borders looked across the street. Mettinger was still standing there, apparently stunned into inaction by Borders' apparent resurrection from the dead. As Borders rose, gun in hand, Mettinger backed away and retreated up the driveway, firing as he went. Borders opened fire at almost the same instant and, using the patrol car for cover, kept up a steady fire as Mettinger moved back inside the garage.
Meanwhile, Debbie, now shocked out of her stubbornness by the violence around her, crawled to a spot near the patrol car's right rear fender and stayed there. Now free from worry about the woman's well-being, Borders was able to focus completely on stopping his adversary.
Mettinger was making himself a hard target by moving and keeping up a heavy fire with both handguns as well as the shotgun, but Borders was returning fire with equal vigor. As the fight went on, Borders soon realized there was something in the left rear corner of the garage that Mettinger wanted very badly. Time and again, the man headed in that direction, only to be met by a hail of lead from Borders' .45. It worked—Mettinger was driven back on each attempt—but at a heavy cost in ammo. Borders emptied his first magazine, reloaded, kept firing and had to reload again.
Borders could tell he was getting hits because Mettinger's bare torso was growing slick with blood, but the man seemed not to notice. It was disconcerting to see the powerful .45 having so little effect on his opponent, and Borders also had his own wound to contend with. The blood flowing into his eyes blurred his vision, forcing him to stop repeatedly to wipe it away so he could see to shoot.
The wound also served as a reminder that he was probably dying. But as a man of faith, Borders wasn't especially bothered by the idea. Instead, it only drove him to fight that much harder. If he was going to die, he would save Mrs. Mettinger first.
Apparently driven from the garage by Borders' gunfire, Mettinger made his way along the left side of the Honda to its left rear fender, where he knelt and opened fire with the 9 mm while reloading the shotgun again. Borders returned fire and saw the man drop down out of view. Lowering his eyes to the pavement below, he quickly spotted Mettinger lying down, partly concealed behind the car's rear wheels and firing the shotgun from under the car.
Borders had been taught to skip shots off the pavement in situations like this one, and he had practiced the technique often enough to be confident with it. Mettinger's side was partially exposed, so Borders aimed at a spot on the driveway a few feet in front of it and squeezed off three rounds. All three found their mark, opening up deep red holes in Mettinger's side.
Nevertheless, Mettinger was on the move again. Unsteadily, he rose to his feet, raised the shotgun and opened fire. The Honda provided Mettinger with good cover, and Borders wanted to make sure he could get a clear shot at him. Staying low, he headed back to the rear of the squad car for a better angle, wiping the blood from his eyes again as he moved. The Glock had grown light in his hand, and he had already emptied his first two mags. Now brutally aware that he was almost out of ammunition, he started deep breathing in preparation for what could well be his last shot.
He stopped next to his cruiser's back fender, squatted there briefly as he took another deep breath and then brought the gun up to fire. His vision narrowed until he could see nothing but Mettinger's anger-laden face and his sights resting on the bridge of the man's nose. He fired, sending the big .45 caliber slug through Mettinger's left eye and deep into his brain, dropping him instantly. (See Figure 2.)
Borders had been right. The Glock's slide was still forward, but its chamber had closed over his last round.
Realizing that Mrs. Mettinger would remain at risk as long as her husband was still capable of fighting, Borders wiped the blood from his eyes, stepped around the back of the squad car and moved cautiously forward to check on his downed adversary. He had barely covered half the distance when he was met by several officers coming to his aid. While two of them confirmed that Mettinger was dead, another went to check on his wife. Although hysterical with fear and grief, she was otherwise unscathed by her husband's savage attack.
Borders was escorted to a waiting ambulance and conveyed to the hospital, where it was determined that he had been hit with #4 shot, not buckshot and that only four pellets had struck him. After x-raying his skull, and with little more than a cursory checkup, the emergency department physicians bandaged the pellet holes and sent Borders home.
In addition to the bullet to his brain, Mettinger had taken six hits in the torso: one in the thigh and two in the right ankle that literally severed his foot, all of which were with hard-hitting .45 caliber Gold Dot ammunition. Sadly, he had also been a law-abiding family man until earlier that evening, but had inexplicably become enraged with his wife and daughter not long before the call came in. He had been drinking heavily that night, but a definitive explanation for his bizarre behavior has never been determined.
Subsequent investigation revealed why Mettinger had been so intent on reaching the back of the garage. A full box of 12-gauge 00 buckshot was found on a shelf there.
Mrs. Mettinger, though grieving over the tragedy, recognized the necessity for Officer Borders' courageous actions in her defense. She never blamed him for what he had to do.
To add to this tragedy, it was later discovered that two of the shotgun pellets had actually penetrated into Borders' brain. Further, he had suffered two fractured vertebrae in his neck and back, and an additional brain injury from the whiplash effect of the blow to his head and subsequent impact with the ground. These injuries, when combined with generally poor care from some of his doctors, caused Borders' condition to worsen with time. Despite a valiant effort to remain on the job, he eventually learned that his condition was irreversible. And although it wasn't evident to those who worked with him, he realized that his decision-making and response time were not what they used to be. With the realization that his condition could put others at risk, he decided to retire on a medical pension. Because he is unable to work without losing his pension benefits, he remains unemployed.
Nevertheless, Borders doesn't regret his actions that night. Despite the cost, he still firmly believes that it was worth it to rescue Mrs. Mettinger from her husband's fury.
Discussion & Analysis
Although suffering from what he understandably believed to be a mortal wound and pitted against a crazed man who seemed impervious to his gunfire, Officer Borders refused to quit. His actions prove what can be accomplished by an officer who possesses courage, tenacity and proper focus.
There is a lot more to be learned from this incident—lifesaving lessons that were purchased with Officer Borders' blood. We owe it to him to learn as much as we can from them.
An in-depth analysis of this case reveals a number of crucial learning points, including lessons related to proper risk assessment, hesitation in the application of deadly force, the ineffectiveness of gunfire against some opponents, the expenditure of large amounts of ammunition in a gunfight, winning mindset and warrior spirit. A thorough analysis is below, but before you read it, review the discussion questions below and work through your own answers.
What danger signs did Borders observe when he first contacted Mettinger, and how did he react to them? What does this case illustrate about the importance of taking quick and appropriate action when you detect danger signs?
What might have influenced Borders to wait until Mettinger started to attack his wife before he opened fire? When would deadly force have been legally justified? When would you have shot Mettinger? Why?
Borders' gunfire failed to disable Mettinger until his final shot to Mettinger's head. What can be done to prepare for the possibility that our gunfire may not always be effective? What should our attitude be if we are hit by gunfire?
This incident involved the expenditure of an unusually large number of rounds. What can be done to prepare for this possibility?
Borders had received very good firearms training from his department, including training on ricochet shots, and had also practiced on his own. What effect might his training have had on the outcome?
What can this case teach us about how to win in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation, like the one faced by Borders?
In what ways did Officer Borders' attitude and actions exemplify winning mindset and warrior spirit?
Keith Borders was a sharp, safety-conscious officer who made a point of always being ready for the possibility of violence. Because of this, he immediately alerted on Mettinger's unusually intense reaction to his intervention in the dispute. But more importantly, he didn't hesitate to act on his observations. Rather than ignore the danger signs or delay acting on them, he trusted his instincts and wasted no time in getting the two women and the child out of the garage.
Had Mrs. Mettinger been more cooperative and left the area with her daughter and grandchild, Borders could have retreated to a safer location and kept the house under observation until help arrived. With Mettinger's wife out of the picture, time to cool down, a greater police presence and the help of a negotiator, it is possible that Mettinger could have been talked into surrendering without violence.
Unfortunately, that was not the case, and Officer Borders was thrust into the difficult position of having to remain in the hot zone while trying to keep Mrs. Mettinger safely under control, guarding against an attack and coordinating the response of the backup units. Under the circumstances, Borders performed admirably. If it had not been for his alertness, persistence and indomitable courage, Mrs. Mettinger's stubborn refusal to leave might well have led to her death.
Hesitating to Shoot
From a purely tactical perspective, Officer Borders could probably have prevented Mettinger's attack if he had shot him sooner, either immediately after the garage door came open or when Mettinger left the cover of the Honda to approach the street. He had more than adequate legal and moral justification for doing so as soon as the garage door opened, because Mettinger—who had already fired at him once, shot up a patrol car and fired through the garage door—was clearly initiating a confrontation while armed with no less than three firearms. But the situation was greatly complicated by the presence of Mettinger's wife. Besides the fact that Borders' gunfire would probably have put Mrs. Mettinger in danger by drawing return fire, it is psychologically very difficult to shoot someone whose loved ones are watching. From a purely objective point of view, it makes no difference who is watching, but emotions inevitably play a significant role in our decision making, especially under stress. Although Officer Borders wasn't consciously aware of it at the time, it is very likely that Mrs. Mettinger's presence caused him to hesitate.
Officer Borders was also influenced by Mrs. Mettinger's insistence that her husband was a nonviolent person. Coupled with the fact that he had found Mettinger to be a decent, rational man when he had spoken to him a couple of weeks earlier, Borders was at least partially swayed into giving Mrs. Mettinger's opinion more credibility than it deserved.
We must also consider the fact that many officers are reluctant to fire unless someone points a weapon at them. Whether it is because of inadequate training, ignorance of the law regarding the use of deadly force, fear of legal repercussions, the normal human reluctance to kill or, most likely, a combination of these and possibly other factors, this reluctance is rather common among officers, and it has cost several their lives. Although we are legally and—more importantly—morally obliged to use deadly force only when reasonably necessary, officers must realize that there is no hard-and-fast rule that says we must wait until a gun is pointed at us before we defend ourselves. The justification for the use of deadly force lies in the reasonableness of our belief that deadly force is necessary under the totality of the circumstances, not where the suspect's muzzle is pointed. Policy must make this clear, and trainers must make every effort to ensure that their officers understand it well enough to apply it properly on the street. With so much hinging on an officer's ability to make good decisions in high-stress situations, we cannot afford to skimp on training when it comes to deadly force decisions.
It is important to note, however, that none of these concerns present much of a problem when the threat comes so quickly that the officer doesn't have time to do anything but react. Most lethal attacks against police officers fall into a very short time frame, but not all of them. Sometimes lethal threats develop over time, and when that happens, the officer has time to worry about the possible legal repercussions if his actions are questioned later, wonder if he should wait a little longer before pulling the trigger, question his own decisions or, as in this case, think about who is watching. Problem solving and decision making deteriorate rapidly under stress, and when these kinds of concerns have time to creep into the equation officers can be left with a dangerous level of indecision that can cost lives. On the other hand, we also don't want to overreact and shoot when it isn't necessary.
The best way to deal with this predicament is to simplify the decision-making process so you don't have to spend any more time than necessary wondering about when and if to shoot. The first step is to mentally draw a line in the sand, and then be committed to shoot as soon as the suspect crosses it. However, this can also present a problem, because it can be very difficult to determine where to draw that line when under the intense stress of an approaching threat on your life. Therefore, the decision-making process must be simplified further so that it will be applicable to as wide a range of situations as possible, and the best way to do that is to issue the proper verbal command as soon as you see the threat developing. Order the suspect not to move with the command, "Don't move, or I'll shoot!" This will firmly establish where the line has been drawn in your own mind, as well as his, and will make it very clear what will happen if he refuses to comply. It also warns any bystanders of the danger, clearly communicates to any witnesses that you are in fear for your life and makes it clear that you gave the suspect the opportunity to avoid gunfire by complying with your command. If he still chooses to move after that, any reasonable person would assume that he intends to attack.
Once you have frozen the action by ordering him not to move, you can start issuing other commands to further de-escalate the danger. These will vary depending upon the situation, but they should include clear step-by-step instructions, such as:
"Don't move until I tell you to, and then do exactly what I say!" …
"When I say, 'do it now,' turn around very slowly until your back is to me! … Do it now!"
"When I say, 'do it now,' slowly put the gun down! … Do it now!"
Again, you must be firmly committed to take appropriate action if he attempts to attack at any point during this process.
Because of its no-nonsense approach to the problem, ability to allow officers to take command early on, simplicity and applicability to just about any situation, this tactic will go a long way toward enabling officers to handle slowly developing lethal threats more safely.
Resistance to Gunfire
Mettinger absorbed nine rounds from Borders' .45—six of which hit him in the torso and two more of which literally severed his right foot—without any significant effect on his fighting ability. This would have been remarkable even if Officer Borders had been firing marginally effective rounds, but he was using .45 caliber Gold Dot ammunition, which is considered by many to be the best man-stopper on the market.
Unfortunately, such resistance to gunfire is not particularly unusual in police shootings. The human body can stand up to an incredible amount of punishment, especially when fueled by alcohol, drugs, mental illness, anger or other strong emotion. In this case, Mettinger's near superhuman ability to take rounds appeared to have been bolstered by alcohol-induced rage, but sometimes the only identifiable explanation for such resistance to gunfire is sheer willpower. Regardless of the reason, it is alarming and distracting to face an armed assailant who seems impervious to your gunfire.
To combat this, it is important to recognize and accept the fact that, although firearms are unquestionably the most effective means for quickly stopping an attack, they are not 100 percent reliable. Even multiple hits to vital areas may not incapacitate an assailant as quickly as expected, so we must be ready to respond accordingly. Become as proficient as possible with your firearm so you can make every shot count, but also be prepared to keep shooting until your attacker is no longer a threat or to do whatever else it takes to win. If necessary, charge him and crush his throat with your empty gun, stab him through an eye with your pen or smash in his temple with your walkie-talkie. Do something. Inaction is your worst enemy, so doing something is always better than doing nothing. In some cases, your wisest option may be to retreat. Remember, there is no shame in making a tactical withdrawal that allows you to continue the fight, regroup, call for assistance and/or plan your next move.
Also, keep in mind that you can stand up to gunshot wounds as well as anyone. Far less than 10 percent of all gunshot wounds inflict mortal injuries, and most of those kill instantly, so the odds are excellent that you will survive if you are still alive after being hit. This is true even for head wounds, as evidenced by the fact that Officer Borders not only survived his, but was able to win the gunfight in spite of it. Unfortunately, he was eventually disabled by his wound, but it is not at all uncommon for people to overcome head wounds with little or no long-term impairment.
Human beings can take far more punishment than most of us realize, especially if they are determined to win and possess a strong will to live. Besides, worrying will distract you from the only thing that really counts—winning the fight. Ignore your injuries, stay focused on winning, and keep going no matter what.
High Volume of Fire
This was one of those unusual cases in which an exceptionally large number of rounds were fired by both parties. Although the vast majority of police shootings involve the exchange of only a few shots, high-volume gunfights occur often enough to seriously consider carrying a third spare magazine. It won't take up much room or weigh you down, and it can easily be slipped into a back pocket or under one of the straps of your body armor. Besides providing you with extra ammunition, this will serve as an important reminder to slow down if you have to use it. Because it must be drawn from a location other than your magazine pouch, the act of drawing it will alert you to the fact that it is time to conserve your ammo.
Another important option in an extended gunfight is a backup gun. Although Officer Borders didn't need one in this case, he came dangerously close. Had it not been for the fact that he noticed that he was running out of ammunition when he did (which is not easy to do in the stress and chaos of lethal combat), he would have been facing Mettinger with an empty gun after just two more rounds. In that case, he would have been able to keep shooting because he always carried a Chief's Special on his ankle, but anyone less prepared would have been virtually defenseless. Interestingly, although Borders was aware that he might have to go to his backup gun, he was hoping it wouldn't be necessary, because he didn't trust the little .38 to stop Mettinger under the circumstances. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that even a single .38 caliber slug can be deadly, especially if well placed and/or delivered to an assailant who is already severely weakened by multiple hits from a larger caliber weapon.
While on the subject of backup guns, it is important to consider the fact that they have value that goes far beyond their ability to provide last-ditch firepower in an extended gunfight. They can save your life in a disarming and are irreplaceable if your primary weapon is lost, has a major malfunction or is disabled by an assailant's bullet. Further, if you choose to carry your second gun where it can be readily accessed with your support hand, it will provide you with a lifesaving option in the event that your gun hand is disabled, trapped in a car door by a motorist who is dragging you alongside his vehicle, being used to fend off an attack, etc. This last point is important, because it is very difficult and time consuming for most officers to draw their duty guns with their support hand, especially from high security rigs and/or when under extreme stress. If your backup is readily accessible with your support hand, you can use it instead of your duty gun if your gun hand is not available, which can save you crucial seconds in a gunfight.
Although they aren't needed very often, there is no substitute for a backup gun when you need one. No officer should ever work the streets without one.
Officer Borders credits his firearms training for much of his success. He scored 10 hits out of 39 rounds fired, for a hit ratio of 26 percent, and seven of his hits were to vital areas. Although a 26 percent hit ratio is only about average for a police shooting, Borders' accuracy was far better than his hit ratio seems to indicate. Besides the fact that Mettinger was often more than 20 yards away, never closer than eight yards, and moving or behind good cover for most of the gunfight, Borders also expended a large number of rounds in his successful effort to keep Mettinger from reaching the 00 buckshot stored in the back of the garage. In addition, Borders had to deal with the blood flowing into his eyes, which distracted him, blurred his vision and forced him to pause several times to wipe it away. Under the circumstances, Officer Borders' accuracy was exceptional and that kind of proficiency cannot be achieved without good training.
It is also important to note that Borders is a person who is never content with just being good enough. Rather than settle for the firearms training provided by his department, as good as it was, he trained on his own as often as possible. In addition, he practiced not only his basic shooting skills, but advanced skills as well, like the ricochet shots that served him so well in this case. This is typical of winners. They recognize that police work is a serious business that exposes its practitioners to violent people in desperate situations. Rather than be frightened by that fact, they plan for the day when it may happen by training as hard and as often as possible.
Winning Mindset/Warrior Spirit
Officer Borders understands the police officer's role as a warrior at the deepest, most personal level. It cost him his career and much of his health. Nevertheless, when asked if he regrets the sacrifice he made, he quickly points out that we only regret the things we wish we could change, and then goes on to say that he would do everything the same way if he had it all to do over again. It's not that he isn't saddened by the way Mettinger's rampage changed his life, but that he deems Mrs. Mettinger's life as more important than his well-being. It is this kind of selfless devotion to others that separates warriors from those they protect, that makes them view the risks they take as a privilege, not a burden.
Besides proving himself a warrior by his willing sacrifice, Officer Borders displayed many of the other key traits of a winner. Like so many others who persevere in the face of incredible obstacles, he stayed focused on the only thing that really mattered—stopping his adversary. Disregarding his apparently grievous head wound, the blood flowing into his eyes, and his attacker's apparent invulnerability to his bullets, he refused to give up. He kept shooting, kept moving to maintain cover while jockeying for a clear shot, kept wiping the blood from his eyes and, most importantly, kept thinking. When Mettinger headed for a back corner of the garage, he trusted the instincts that told him the man had wanted to go there for a good reason, and then poured lead into the area to prevent it. When Mettinger laid down for cover behind the Honda, Borders skipped shots under the car. And when he realized that he was just about out of ammo, he took a deep breath, calmly brought his sights to bear on Mettinger's face and smoothly pressed the trigger for the most important shot of his life. Winners keep their cool by staying focused on what they need to do to win, as Borders so aptly proved in this case.
Closely associated with his unwavering focus on winning was the way Officer Borders dealt with the idea that he was mortally wounded. Rather than dwell on it or be frightened by it, he simply accepted what he believed to be the reality of his approaching death and pushed on. He became determined to give his death meaning by saving Mrs. Mettinger's life and then used that commitment to drive him on to that goal. People who are able to overcome great adversity in the face of apparent hopelessness often possess this same quality. They quietly accept their circumstances and then turn their focus toward doing what it takes to win.
Faith also played a key role in the way Officer Borders handled himself. Possessing a steadfast faith in God, the unwavering devotion to others that often goes with it and less fear of death than most, he was able to look beyond himself to his sworn duty to defend the weak. Armed with the firm belief that God had given him a job to do and that he was duty-bound to do it to the best of his ability, he ignored the danger and pressed on until Mettinger was no longer a threat. While it is not the intent here to preach spiritual beliefs, it would be a disservice not to mention that a strong faith system tends to be a very common trait among officers who handle themselves well in lethal encounters. This is not universally true, of course, but it happens often, and it makes sense that faith would bolster courage and devotion to others in the face of danger.
Keith Borders exemplifies the best that law enforcement has to give. After literally throwing himself into the path of a blazing shotgun to save a helpless woman, he went on to defeat a relentless, apparently invincible adversary and then graciously accepted the career-ending consequences of his actions as a fair price to pay for doing his duty. In the process, he saved an innocent life and taught us a great deal about how to persist and win against all odds. But his actions have a lot more to tell. They define the meaning of courage, self-sacrifice and duty, and present us with inspiring insight into the soul of a warrior.
Trust your instincts when you detect potential danger signs, and always put safety first.
A practical understanding of the legal issues related to the use of force will help avoid hesitancy when force must be applied. Make sure you fully understand both the law and your department policy regarding use of force.
Officers are especially prone to hesitate when facing slowly developing lethal threats. When confronting such threats, it is essential to draw a line in the sand by issuing the command "Don't move, or I'll shoot!" and then be ready to shoot if the suspect starts to cross it.
Consider carrying a third spare magazine and a backup gun in case you're ever involved in an extended gunfight involving the expenditure of an unusually large number of rounds. Backup guns can also be invaluable in a wide variety of other situations. Every officer should carry one.
Gunshot wounds are seldom fatal. If you are shot, ignore the wound and focus on winning instead.
Besides developing the skills needed to effectively counter threats, training also instills the self-confidence needed to win. Train often, and train hard.
When under attack, stay focused on winning, regardless of how bad things may appear to be. Keep fighting, no matter what.
Officer Borders could also have shot at Mettinger at any time between the two times just mentioned, but he felt that he couldn't get a clear shot during that time because of the vehicles parked in the garage and driveway. He explained that the vehicles provided Mettinger with good cover during his advance, and Mettinger took full advantage of that fact by crouching low as he moved.
Although there is a serious lack of data on hit ratios in police gunfights, and much of the data that does exist is contradictory and confusing, it appears that a hit ratio of 26% is probably about the norm.
Granted, Mettinger was killed instantly by a head shot, but that was a well-placed round through an eye socket. For the most part, the hard, curved bones of the face and skull are more resistant to bullets than most of the other bones in the body, and the most vulnerable parts of the head are very small targets.
Brian McKenna is a retired lieutenant from the Hazelwood (MO) Police Department, where he served in patrol, traffic, mobile reserve and training. He is a 32-year police veteran, with a strong background in police training at both the recruit and in-service levels, and served his department as lead firearms instructor as well as in various other training functions. He is a state-certified police instructor, and holds a Master's degree in human resource development. Brian is a member of ILEETA and IALEFI, writes extensively on officer safety topics, and trains police officers nationwide in mental preparation for armed encounters and other topic related to officer safety. He recently completed a book based upon this column, Officer Down: Lessons from the Streets, which is now available for purchase on his Web site. Contact him at [email protected]
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