Expert says Garland police officer "was far outgunned (but) far better trained"
Police say two men with assault rifles and wearing body armor fired at police in Texas
They are shot dead by an officer with a pistol who "acted quickly and decisively"
It wasn’t a fair fight.
On one side, you had two men in body armor, toting assault rifles and showing every willingness to open fire now and count their victims later. On the other, you had a security officer – a traffic officer by day – with a pistol.
Somehow, the officer won.
Authorities have not released the name of the overmatched Garland, Texas, police officer who stopped a pair of gunmen Sunday night outside that city’s Curtis Culwell Center, where people had gathered at an event featuring controversial cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. But they have described what he did, actions that could be characterized as equal parts skillful, heroic and miraculous.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson lauded the police officer for having “acted quickly and decisively, and thereby likely (saving) a number of innocent lives.”
“He did what he was trained to do,” added Garland police spokesman Joe Harn. “And under the fire that he was put under, he did a very good job.”
Precedent for extremist attack
Authorities knew ahead of time that there could be trouble this weekend in Garland.
Many Muslims firmly denounce cartoons that depict Mohammed as offensive to their faith. And some extremists have turned to violence to express their opposition, by attacking those behind such drawings, as they did in the January massacre at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a February incident at a Copenhagen, Denmark, forum attended by Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.
As if the Mohammed cartoons weren’t enough to make Sunday’s event a target, there was also the presence of its keynote speaker, Geert Wilders. The right-wing Dutch politician is on an al Qaeda hit list for his short film, “Fitna,” which pairs disturbing images of terrorist acts with text from the Quran and recordings of incitements by extremist Islamic authorities.
The potential of a new attack was why the Garland police officer was at the convention center, which the Texas city’s school district operates. He had plenty of company: Harn didn’t specify the number of law enforcement officers on site, but did say the event’s organizers paid $10,000 for beefed-up security.
“Garland police officers work at the convention center all the time as an off-duty job,” Harn said. “And that was the case … for everyone.”
Gunmen ‘started shooting at the police’
The officer who’d later be praised as a hero was parked in a patrol car in front of the first entrance, from the east, off Naaman Forest Boulevard into the center’s parking lot. An unarmed Garland school district security officer sat in the car with him, ostensibly to check the identification of those coming in.
The event started, by all accounts, without a hitch around 5 p.m. (6 p.m. ET), and for nearly two hours nothing serious happened.
Until, that is, about 6:50 p.m., when a dark-colored vehicle pulled into the entrance the Garland officer and school district officer were blocking.
“When that car pulled up and stopped, those officers began to exit that vehicle, and two men exited the dark-colored sedan,” Harn said. “Both of them had assault rifles, came around the back of the car and started shooting at the police car.”
According to a law enforcement source close to the investigation, the two men had six guns – a mix of assault-style semiautomatic rifles and handguns – that are being traced back to various parts of Arizona.
Gunfire reverberated around the complex, from the two gunmen, and the armed officer.
A short time later, four members of a nearby SWAT team came in firing their high-powered rifles, according to a source familiar with the officers involved. But by the time they did, the Garland traffic officer was the only one standing.
The school district officer had been hit in the leg, according to Harn.
And the two attackers were already down on the ground by their car, having been shot by the traffic officer.
Within 15 seconds, the chaotic eruption was basically over.
Police vet: ‘You cannot downplay what he did’
He had a .45-caliber Glock pistol, a much less powerful weapon than the rifles used by the attackers, who have since been identified by federal law enforcement officials as Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi.
“There’s no advantage for a handgun over an assault rifle,” said Dick Fairburn, a veteran law enforcement officer who is a columnist for PoliceOne.com. “An assault rifle has more distance, more accuracy, more power, more penetration.
“You cannot downplay what he did there.”
Granted, the officer likely had on some sort of protective jacket. But Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director and current CNN contributor, said that the thin Kevlar vests often worn by police would be useless against an assault rifle round that “will go through that like a hot knife through butter.”
The same can’t be said for bullets coming from the officer’s pistol: The attackers’ body armor likely would have blocked those.
Thus, aiming for the suspects’ torso – as officers are trained first to do, since it is their biggest possible target – is no longer an option. But still, somehow, the traffic officer managed to down both men in seconds.
“It speaks to his skill level,” Fairburn, who is a firearms trainer for law enforcement, said of the Garland officer. “In terms of weaponry, he was far outgunned. But he was far better trained.”
Ex-FBI official: Naming cop could make him a target
Plenty of examples exist of officers who aren’t so cool under fire, or at least not as accurate.
For all the mandatory firearms and other training police officers undergo – from stationary targets to computer simulations to live exercises – “you also have to have the composure and the concentration” to hit your target, Fuentes notes. It’s one thing to aim at a cardboard target at a gun range; it’s another to shoot straight when the targets are shooting back with assault rifles.
Clearly, the Garland police officer had his wits about him. Both Fuentes and Fairburn point out that hitting one suspect could be an accident, but not two.
So who is this officer? Fuentes believes we may not find out anytime soon because, the moment you identify him, you also put a target on his back (and perhaps those of his family members) that will stay there for years.
“I think that’s why they’re not (going) to parade him out,” the ex-FBI official said. “…You have one heroic cop who kills two (Islamist extremist) soldiers. He needs to be cautious about not celebrating in the end zone.”
Still, just because the officer hasn’t been named, doesn’t mean he hasn’t been praised.
Zach Horn, a lawyer for the officers involved, said that if it weren’t for their actions, “we’d be hearing a different kind of story.”
“They faced death head-on,” Horn said. “And, with incredible skill and bravery, (they) were able to save a lot of people.”
CNN’s Ed Lavandera, Sonia Moghe and Alina Machado contributed to this report.