What Worked For Me: Personal Stories Of Blue-On-Blue Survival

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Editor’s note: Out of respect and sympathy for the officers involved in this tragic incident and in admiration for the agency’s courage in pursuing learning points that will help keep other officers safe, we have chosen to remove the actual names of the agents and the department associated with this event.

In Part 1 of this two-part series (click here), we recreated the fateful chronology that led to the fatal shooting of Agt. JD by his fellow officer Agt. DB during their response to a pre-dawn shots-fired call. Now, drawing on the findings of an independent Incident Review Board commissioned by the department that included a representative of the Force Science Institute, we explore some of the factors that put these two officers on a collision course of disaster.

You’ll recall the setting: JD, in uniform, was poking his head and his Glock 17 over the top of a privacy fence that enclosed the “pitch black” backyard of a residential property where an armed and dangerous suspect was believed possibly to be hiding. As DB and other officers entered the yard to search for the offender, the light on DB’s AR-15 illuminated JD’s face and hands. Mistaking his fellow agent for the suspect, DB shot and killed him when JD appeared to move his gun in a threatening manner.

Nearly 70 pages of the Review Board’s 144-page report are devoted to an unsparing analysis of big-picture, command-level errors made at the scene during the roughly 2? hours before DB pulled the trigger. Among the many shortcomings explored in detail are:

Poor command and control

From the beginning, the first patrol sergeant at the scene, who should have taken control of the operation, “failed to act as an effective incident commander,” the report says. Admittedly insecure about her tactical capabilities, she didn’t establish a CP, failed to set a decisive operational plan, allowed critical decisions to be made in an ad hoc manner by subordinates, and participated in tasks she should have delegated. A fellow sergeant on the scene also failed to take appropriate command.

Ineffective communications

JD’s location on the fence line could have been known and communicated if a periodic roll call of perimeter officers had been taken, but none was. No one asked about or conveyed his position. When DB arrived at the scene late in the incident, his briefing on the “situational awareness” necessary to conduct a safe search was “insufficient.” Indeed, a “buddy” officer who had been with JD earlier and was then with DB neglected to mention JD’s nearby location before the search team started to clear the backyard.

Dismissal of support resources

A helicopter from a neighboring agency offered assistance with its spotlight and infrared camera, but was dismissed early in the incident. Had it stayed, it could have been invaluable in clearing the backyard and identifying JD’s presence. Likewise, responding patrol officers from other agencies could have been used to fill gaps in the perimeter or to replace JD’s partner when he left JD alone to help deal with pit bulls inside the suspect residence prior to the backyard search.

Faulty risk management

With an armed suspect potentially barricaded alone and with no exigent emergency, SWAT should have been called to take over clearing the property, the Board said. This is a high-risk circumstance that “can be one of the most operationally sensitive situations faced by law enforcement,” the report explains, with “strict discipline” and “strong command…absolutely essential.” A highly trained SWAT team could likely have resolved the incident in the amount of time eaten up by the “ineffective” and “tactically questionable” procedures that surrounded the taking of JD’s life.

After addressing these and other macro elements that were largely beyond the control of DB and JD, the report then focuses on the actions, perspectives, and human performance factors of those two most intimate players in this ill-fated drama.

Obtaining post-incident reflections on what happened from JD was impossible of course, but with insightful input from the experts on the team the Board was able to draw reasonable conclusions about the shooting based on “the nature of human behavior and scientifically determined responses to stimuli.”

What DB saw and did

When DB stepped into the dark backyard, he told investigators, his attention was drawn to the fence line by a “conversational” voice that said, “Hey.” As he pointed his rifle in that direction, its light revealed a male head and hands above the top of the fence–with a semi-automatic pistol in one hand, angled “down and out.”

When DB yelled, “Police! Drop the gun!,” the subject raised the gun to a position that DB thought threatened his life. To defend himself, he fired a headshot that killed the subject, who was later identified as JD.

JD was wearing his uniform but there was nothing (such as a police-style hat) visible above the fence top to suggest his law enforcement affiliation. He said something after “Hey,” but DB found his speech “slurred” and unintelligible. And JD did not follow DB’s command to drop the gun.

DB, the survivor of another deadly force encounter earlier in his career, had seven critical actions to perform, some concurrently, within 1.5 to 2 seconds, the Board’s report points out: He had to identify himself as a cop…challenge the subject…remove his trigger finger from the “safe” position and disengage the safety on his rifle…observe the reaction/movement of the subject and the threatening firearm…access the rifle trigger…sight the gun…and press the trigger once he decided that the threat required an immediate life-or-death response.

All this left “little time to critically analyze the nature of the threat” and “very little time for facial recognition,” the report notes. He knew JD, but he had no idea he was even at the scene, much less positioned behind the fence. Plus, his primary focus instinctively would have swiftly been narrowed to the pistol and its movement.

Once his concentration shifted to his sights, “all of his attentional and visual resources [were] drawn away from the threat to [his] own action,” making recognition of the target even more difficult, the report explains.

As to the “incoherence” of whatever JD said, it’s “entirely plausible” that along with visual narrowing DB “also experienced associated auditory exclusion” or a distortion of JD’s speech as his attention zeroed in on JD’s gun. “Under conditions of high stress, humans tend to become visually dominant,” with their brain ignoring or suppressing “information coming in through other senses” so it won’t “interfere” with overridingly important visual input.

Dr. Lewinski elaborated in an interview with Force Science News: “In this type of blue-on-blue shooting, involving confusion or mistaken identity, time compression and a sense of life-or-death urgency are dominant factors.

“Either from a lack of pre-event information or because of erroneous information, the shooter doesn’t accurately understand the confrontation he’s about to enter into. He then encounters behavior by a subject that causes him concern and is easily misinterpreted as a direct threat.

“Because protecting himself seems urgent, he has no time to consider options or to negotiate. His only reasonable choice for his own defense as he understands it is to shoot. Only afterward is the encounter reframed in its accurate context–too late to prevent the tragedy.”

JD’s perception

JD was fully vulnerable.

The position he had chosen–balancing on the side of a metal ladder that was leaning against the wooden fence so he could see into the backyard–was a poor one “tactically and for any protective reaction to an unfolding threat,” the report says. “[G]iven his limited visibility to others and no apparent police identification…almost any movement …would likely have been interpreted as an immediate threat to a challenging officer.”

Being challenged would have been unexpected to JD, who “undoubtedly regarded himself as part of the [response] team,” the report says. He vocalized his presence (“Hey”) “apparently to get the attention” of the other officers in a friendly manner. With only a dead flashlight, he had no way of “making others aware of his presence.”

From his position behind the fence prior to DB’s entry into the yard, JD was “likely fully visually dark-adapted,” dependent on his night vision, the report says. The sudden 200-lumen light from DB’s rifle directed at his face “would have produced ‘flashblindness,’ washing out his visual system and resulting in an inability to see.”

A bright light to the eyes “often results in involuntary movement…of the hands to shield the eyes.” This automatic “physical byproduct of a psychological recoil” may well have been what caused JD to move his gun up in a manner DB interpreted as threatening.

JD’s head wounds suggest that he was looking slightly to DB’s right when hit. It’s possible he was reflexively starting to look away from the light. This movement, too, could have caused “an inadvertent [sympathetic] movement of [his] hands,” including the hand with the pistol.

Why didn’t he comply and drop his gun? Again, thinking himself as one of the good guys, he “may have been confused as to whether or not the challenge was directed at him,” the report speculates. Perhaps he thought there was “a threat present between [DB] and himself.” Even that misinterpretation could have caused him to raise his gun as he began to search for the unseen adversary.

In any case, time would have been a critical factor. Generally, the report points out, it takes 1 to 1.5 seconds to cognitively process a command and began to comply. “With confusion surrounding the situation, perception, decision, and reaction time would take much longer.” In short, JD’s reaction would have been too slow to beat DB’s action of firing bullets his way.

“The underlying problem here,” Lewinski points out, “is that each of these two officers had a different mindset about what was going on. With his mindset, JD wouldn’t have understood why he was being challenged. The only thing he could have done to save himself when challenged would have been to freeze and comply immediately with DB’s command. Any other movement on his part could have been perceived from DB’s mindset as threatening.”

Tired cops

As part of its examination of relevant human behavior, the Board took special note of work hours and fatigue.

JD had worked 18 hours and 40 minutes before the fatal encounter, an “alarming” amount of time, the report states. DB had worked nearly 30 of the approximate 63 hours before the shooting. DB, the sergeant who failed to exercise proper command at the scene, and some other personnel involved in the call had also worked excessively in the days before the shooting, the Board determined, and the sergeant said she habitually averaged only 6 hours’ sleep on duty days.

For JD and others, fatigue may have diminished their “optimal cognitive performance during the incident,” the report says. Being awake for 17 hours “is the cognitive performance equivalent of having a blood alcohol concentration of .05%,” the report explains. And research has shown that being tired significantly lessens one’s ability to, among other things:

  • “Comprehend complex situations that require processing a substantial amount of data within a short time frame”;
  • “Manage events and improve strategies”;
  • “Perform risk assessment and accurately predict consequences”;
  • “Monitor personal performance”; and
  • “Communicate effectively”–all of which were pivotal considerations in the case at hand.

Future benefits

“Given the totality of the circumstances,” the Review Board stated, “the tragic conclusion to the incident was almost predetermined…” But because the police department by commissioning the report courageously invited intense scrutiny that was “critical by its very nature,” substantial benefit may be reaped in the days ahead.

It is the Board’s hope that through the review “the department will arrive more quickly at the implementation of preventive measures in assuring that a repeat of this tragic incident does not happen to another police agent, his or her family, and the department itself.”

Beyond that, the Board notes, “there are lessons learned that should be reviewed by all law enforcement agencies, as this tragedy could have played out in almost any jurisdiction.”

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.