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Shoot, don't shoot? Suspicious persons scenario

Sheriff's Office invites News4Jax reporters to see if they would pull the trigger

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STARKE, Fla. – To take a life or possibly lose your own -- it's the most critical decision an officer has to make. It's also one of the most difficult in an environment where every second counts.

The Bradford County Sheriff's Office offered to take four people -- News4Jax reporters Heather Leigh and Vic Micolucci, News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith, and local NAACP leader Rev. Larry O'Hara -- and put them into real-life scenarios that officers find themselves in all the time. All four had to decide if their lives were in danger and if they should pull the trigger.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES IMAGES: Shoot, don't shoot scenarios

The participants used real guns with training rounds but had no idea what to expect until they got into the police cruiser. They participated one at a time in the exercises and could not watch the other participants before they went through a scenario.

SCENARIO TWO: SUSPICIOUS PERSONS CALL

In the second scenario, two suspects were spotted looking in house and car windows. Neighbors also noted in their calls to police that one man was carrying a bag.

O'Hara went first, pulling up to the two suspects.

O'Hara:

"You guys have any identification?

Suspects:

"What do you need our identification for?"

O'Hara:

"I ask the questions, sir. Please pull out your identification."

Suspects:

"We're just walking down the street. What are we doing?"

O'Hara:

"Follow my orders. Put the bag down slowly."

The two men became very agitated and defiant. One suspect came toward O'Hara, who quickly told him to back away. That's when O'Hara pulled his gun.

But not long after, O'Hara lost control of the situation. The two men picked up the bag and walked away. O'Hara yelled at the men to stop. Seconds later, one man pulled a gun out of the bag and shot O'Hara.

O'Hara's gun jammed, and he was unable to shoot back.

"My initial thought was when they turned around and walked off, someone was going to turn around and shoot," he said. "I was prepared to shoot. But when he turned around, my gun jammed. He shot me in the arm."

Mueller said what happened to O'Hara is something officers must be ready to handle.

"You may end up having to fight for your life or someone else's and God forbid your gun doesn't work," Mueller said. "You have to be tight enough, trained enough, that while this guy is shooting at me, I have to get cover, tap my magazine and work the action."

Next up was Smith, who successfully kept the situation at bay. Neither the suspects nor Smith shot their weapons, although Smith pulled his out when one of the suspects charged him. Smith instructed the other man to drop the bag. Both complied with his commands.

"I didn't know what was in the bag, and I didn't want them to get anywhere close to the bag. That's the main thing," Smith said.

Leigh arrived to the same scenario next. She got one man to drop the bag and step away from it but said she focused so much on him, that the other man caught her off guard.

He ended up stabbing her with a knife but not before she fired off one round that hit the suspect in the rib cage.

"I kept my distance this time. When I told him to move the bag, he eventually did. The other guy was like, 'Yea, move the bag dude, move the bag,' which was a little deceiving because I was like, 'These guys are good guys. They're doing alright,'" she said. "Then all of a sudden they came at me, and I shot. I realize what goes into being a police officer and how quickly things can escalate. It's very scary, and I don't think I could do it."

Micolucci also lost control of the situation after the two men became agitated.

Just like O'Hara, Micolucci didn't successfully stop the men from grabbing the bag and walking away.

 Suspect: "C'mon let's go. You don't need to worry about him."
Micolucci: "Don't turn your back. Put that bag down."

One of the men grabbed a gun out of the bag, turned around and shot. Micolucci returned fire and shot the man without the bag.

"I saw him reaching in there, grabbing for something and then I saw the gun and I knew it was a gun even from way back there and it was time for me to start shooting," he said. "It's a tough job. It is not easy; it is not clear cut. Every situation is different; every situation is dangerous." 

MORE: Scenario 1: Domestic dispute | Scenario 3: Traffic stop