Not like TV: Westminster police chief recounts shootout
April 28, 2010
WESTMINSTER, Colo. (AP) – When Westminster police Deputy Chief Tim Carlson sat down to lunch with patrol Officer Matt Rippy in November, he didn’t expect the meal to end in a car chase, a hail of bullets, two dead bank robbers and the closest call of his life.”I have an office job. I don’t go out on the street,” Carlson said at a news conference Tuesday after the Adams County district attorney last week cleared all officers involved in the bloody gun battle.On Nov. 19, Christian Benshoof, 35, and Ashley Johnson, 25, walked into a Westminster bank, fanned a gun at customers, hurled threats and demanded cash from tellers before speeding off in a silver Subaru with guns blazing.Hearing the call, the lawmen jumped in Rippy’s patrol car and sped toward the chase, not knowing the bank robbers had already shot one officer. Moments later, the silver Subaru raced over a Federal Boulevard hill toward the officers, the police report said. As Rippy made a U-turn to pursue, Ashley Johnson pointed her Ruger handgun out the back passenger window.”I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ ” Carlson said when he saw the gun. Johnson took aim, and with a flash of fire a bullet slammed through Carlson’s door.”It felt like someone took a hot wire and slapped it against your skin,” Carlson said, the bullet grazing him between his belt and the protective vest he wears when in uniform.”The people who are doing something like this don’t care if you’re a deputy chief or a brand new guy or anything else,” Carlson said. “All they see is a uniform.”A second bullet slammed through the windshield, ricocheted off Rippy’s steering wheel at chest level and plunged into the dashboard, the police report said. Still, Rippy and Carlson were determined to stop the Bonnie and Clyde-style duo and didn’t hesitate.Rippy rammed the Subaru, sending it spinning.The patrol car crashed into a guard rail, trapping Carlson inside and injuring his shoulder, he said. Officers then opened fire on Benshoof and Johnson, who were shooting back.In the 10- to 30-second gun battle, 10 officers shot 105 rounds at the Subaru, including 18 from Rippy’s Smith & Wesson and six from Carlson’s Glock, which he discharged while sprawled across the seat of the police cruiser, the police report said.Five months later, Carlson still calls the event traumatic.”It’s not like TV, like the movies,” he said. “You don’t holster your weapon and give high-fives.”The incident sent a “great ripple effect” through the department, their families and the community, Carlson said. “You can recover from it, but it’s pretty traumatic.”Some officers don’t, though, said Westminster police spokesman Trevor Materasso. “It can be career- ending.”The Westminster Police Department offers peer-support groups and professional help for officers traumatized by events on the job, Materasso said.Carlson views the showdown as a sad necessity.”I think it’s a miracle that nobody else got hurt,” he said.