Special Report: A life or death decision

Local News

EVANSVILLE, Ind.(WEHT)- There have been three officers involved shootings in Evansville since October of last year.Two of them deadly. After each one, the Evansville police department said the officers responsible reacted the way they were taught.

But what’s involved in the training? And how does taking a life affect the officer who fired the fatal shot? We checked to see what that training is and how using deadly force can affect the officer involved.

Face to face with a potential threat the men and women behind the badge have seconds to make a decision that could change their lives forever.

“Who wants to go to work and not come home,” Lt. Dave Kipper says

“Anytime you’re getting ready to make a decision that may cost someone their life, it’s extremely important to have been trained on all the ways to take other action. And in the event that you have to make that decision, you’re trying to make it quickly and save your own life,” Sheriff Dave Wedding explains.

It’s a feeling Evansville Police detective Kenny Dutschke knows all too well.

“This didn’t just happen,” Det. Kenny Dutschke says.
August 2017. Ricky Ard rushed the Federal Courts building in Evansville with a weapon.

“I was actually on my way to the gym here at headquarters and I heard the run come out and I saw the guy. So I went over there to help and when I got there he was actually approaching the building and some of the security guards with a baseball bat. And that’s when i tried to use the less-lethal on him,” Dutschke explains.

That less-lethal was a taser that didn’t work.

“So he turned and looked at me and swung his baseball bat at me so I had to backpedal and in that time I had to drop my taser draw my gun keep from getting hit and stop him from doing anything else,” Dutschke continues.

Dutschke shot Ard, killing him. Dutschke tells Eyewitness News the days following the shooting were a blur.

“The shooting at the courthouse, it really didn’t hit me until like one or two days later. Like hey like this just happened. Because people were out there protesting. They didn’t understand the whole situation. So it’s a traumatic thing. Kind of brings stuff into perspective for you like you were this close to not being here anymore. Someone else isn’t here because of this incident.”

He says in this moment he didn’t have anything going through his head he was concentrating on staying alive. To get a better understanding of that Eyewitness news Miranda Meister went through some of the shoot- don’t shoot training that police recruits go through before they hit the streets.

“We feel like it’s true to life. A lot of these situations are incidents our new officers, as well as our seasoned officers, might run into on the street,” Sgt. Nick Winsett says.

Using a projector and laser guns to imitate the real thing.

“In these situations, they’re going to fall back on their training. And they’re going to remember what they did in here and they’re going to do exactly what they did in here,” Winsett continues.

Sergeant Nick Winsett put the gun in my hand and showed me the situations officers are presented with during their training. Explaining and showing why they’re taught to shoot at the centermost part of a threats body.

“Statistically, police, in general, aren’t good marksmen. We can’t shoot a gun out of someone’s hand. We can’t shoot them in the leg. We just aren’t that good of shots.”

To learn more Eyewitness News traveled to Plainfield, Indiana to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy to see what recruits are taught.

“A lot of your actions can be based on what you’ve done in the past. Why do we do the simulation training with officers? Why do we do dynamic training? If you’ve already got it in their mindset of what’s going to happen it will help on what’s called reaction time,” Kipper says.

Teaching a mental process that’s universally shared.

“Your body can’t do what your mind has never been through,” Winsett says.

“And you’ve got to be able to have that mindset, ‘hey I want to go back home to my loved ones. To my family’,” Kipper explains.

Dutschke says after his life or death decision people questioned why it happened. He says it’s important to understand it doesn’t just happen.

“There’s two sides to every story. There’s a reason we get called there. There’s a reason why we’re there. And it’s more than what you see on the video camera or the body cam or security camera.”

Winsett says they push their officers, old and new, hard for a reason.

“You make several traffic stops a week, and 99 percent of your traffic stops are going to be the same thing. Just a ticket or a no ticket a warning or whatever. It’s just human nature, not just police, but if you do the same thing over and over, you’re going to become complacent. That is a good reminder to not become complacent because that could happen at any time.”

Officers aren’t sure what they’ll see when they pin the badge on and holster their weapon. But they hope they’re prepared when they have to make a life or death decision.

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(This story was originally published on Feb. 26, 2020)

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