As the nation prepares to honor its fallen law enforcement officers at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, we're hearing for the first time details of the night Clay County Detective David White died from his colleagues.
The unit's commander, Barry Abramowitz, and Detective Matt Hanlin were by White’s side when he was killed. Hanlin was also shot, but recovered and is back on the job.
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The night before the nation honors its fallen law enforcement officers at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, we're hearing for the first time details of the night White died from his colleagues.
It was February 16, 2012. The narcotics team acting on tips people were cooking meth at the house were in their second day of undercover surveillance.
“So we sat on the house for a little while saw a couple people coming and going and we made contact with the actual homeowner of the house, who lived in Jacksonville,” Hanlin said. “They said no one was supposed to be in the house. It was in foreclosure.”
That night, the team of officers met at a church down the road, assigning everyone of their responsibilities. Then they went to the house to do a “knock and talk.”
“It’s a very low-keyed contact with the person or people at the house, where we just introduce ourselves as law enforcement” said Capt. Abramowitz. “Usually, when they open the door, there's going to be a chemical smell, giving us probable cause to do what we have to do.”
White, Hanlin and Abramowitz all went to the front door and knocked. Instead of the door opening, someone in the house sprayed the front door with bullets.
“The bullet went into my arm on the top side, just above my elbow, and then came out underneath and struck me in the vest. After that, I ended up falling back over top of Dave, and I don’t know if he was struck before me or after me or what, but he was already on the ground or going to the ground.”
“Dave fell right at my feet,” Abramowitz said. “I dragged Dave out of there and I realized I was checking the wounds and realized how bad the wound was.”
Realizing he’d been shot, Hanlin went to the side of the house, put his gun down and waited for someone to see him. He has memory of bits and pieces, like Abramowitz calling out for help.
“I remember my lieutenant at the time yelling, 'Somebody get on the radio,' and so I let go of my arm and pulled the radio out of my vest and, you know, radioed in that we had two officers shot and I just threw my radio down.”
Hanlin couldn’t see the front of the house from where he had laid down. Detective Murphy made it over to help.
“I knew something was bad just by the way everybody was acting and I asked Murphy, I said, 'Who got hit?' He shook his head, and I said 'Who is it?' And he said, 'It’s Dave.' And I said, 'Is he alright?' And he said, 'No.'”
As Hanlin was rushed into surgery, he begged the surgeon to tell him how Dave White was doing. He was told White didn’t make it.
“I just went to sleep for a long time,” Hamlin said. “I’ve never really told anybody about this before, so it’s kind of hard. The first time that I woke up in the hospital, you know, you kind of think for a minute I was maybe dreaming, or maybe that didn’t really happen. And my wife had the TV on and saw Dave’s picture on TV and pretty much lost it.”
White's death shook the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to its core. It’s been a very long year of grieving, of coping and of trying to understand. Their top priority throughout was caring for and being there for the White family.
“Seeing his family, just knowing that he’s not going to have the opportunity to know his kids, and he should be here with them, said Abramowitz
Abramowitz has since been promoted to captain. Hanlin is back on the streets as a narcotics officer – something he did think thoroughly about.
“I had a talk with my wife and kids, you know, and I thought about getting out and at least doing something else,” Hamlin said. “And you know, to me, the biggest thing was what I put them through. You know, not necessarily what I went through, but you know, you picture them at home and getting the news that Jennifer got, and you don’t want them to have to do that.”
But Hanlin says to quit now would be an injustice to White. White’s partners from the narcotics unit are with the White family for Police Week in Washington. They're going to a series of events honoring America's fallen law enforcement officers wearing matching shirts that say “Team Regular Guy.”
The central event of the week -- the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Day Service -- will be held at the west front of the U.S. Capitol at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The service will be carried live on News4Jax.com.