Lessons to be learned from a fatal gunfight

In December last year, David Stokes died in a gunfight with police in Cleveland, Ohio.

The prosecutor’s office released two videos Tuesday of the encounter that took place in December during the drive and after Stokes’ arrival at the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland.

Stokes was taken there after being arrested during a traffic stop on an outstanding burglary warrant. Officers also found a bag of cocaine and heroin in his car.

The suspect was hand searched before he was handcuffed, the Metroparks Police have said, but managed to conceal the handgun inside a boot.

. . .

Moments later, as McLellan maneuvered the car into the garage, Stokes pulled the gun from behind his back and shot twice as the ranger dove from the moving car.

Schultz and McLellan opened fire. Stokes escaped through the car window and can be heard yelling “kill me.” He was gunned down and died the following day.

McLellan was shot in the bulletproof vest covering her right torso and recovered from the incident.

There’s more at the link.  Here’s an edited version of the video released by prosecutors.

There are several important lessons to be learned from this shooting.

  1. For police, the importance of thoroughly searching and securing suspects has been driven home once more.  Mr. Stokes should not have been able to hide the gun and get into the vehicle with it.
  2. Note how fast the action went down once it began.  There was no prior warning – just the sound of the first shots.  Many, perhaps most gunfights experienced by civilians are likely to begin the same way.
  3. Notice how many shots were fired.  All involved – officers and criminal alike – were not concentrating on their sight picture.  If they had been, and put their rounds where they would do the most good (or harm, depending on which side of the gun one was on), the encounter would have been over almost at once.  You can clearly see flying glass inside the car as the vehicle’s windows are shot out, but it seems few or none of those bullets hit the man inside.  He was still able to escape through a shattered side window and try to run for it.  Police marksmanship was very poor – but under the stress of a lethal force encounter, that’s not surprising.  Shooting for your life is much more sudden, and much more stressful, than shooting at the range.
  4. The blast and noise of the gunshots would also have been a factor, magnified as it was by the echoes in the underground parking lot.  I’m sure none of those involved were wearing hearing protection.  On the other hand, in the heat of the moment, they may not even have noticed.
  5. Officer McLellan was extremely fortunate to avoid injury, thanks to her bulletproof vest.  If she hadn’t been wearing it, or if the gunman had been able to aim at a part of her body not protected by it, she might not have survived.  The gunman’s handcuffs probably played a part in that.
  6. Note the determination of the gunman.  He shouted “Kill me!” as he exited the car.  He was absolutely determined to shoot it out with the police.  I don’t know what motivated him to be so fanatical, but there it is.  There was only going to be one outcome to that gunfight.  The police had no choice but to act as they did – just as you or I may have no choice if faced with a potentially lethal attack.

Folks, if you or I get into a gunfight, it’s likely to escalate just as quickly, and just as dangerously, as this one.  For another example of that, take the shootout with police in Dallas a few weeks ago, and how the shooting erupted out of nowhere.

If we’re unfortunate enough to get into a gunfight, either as innocent bystanders or defending ourselves, the speed of events, and the danger, will be just as real.  Watch, learn, and plan accordingly.



  1. Good lessons. Gunfights are generally short and brutal. Often, they're over in less than three seconds.

    re: Noise. Lessons from participants interviewed in other gunfights reinforces that often, the participants don't hear their own gun shots. There is this thing called auditory exclusion, where your body is rejecting all input that is not directly linked to staying alive. You'll hear other gunshots but not your own. Many times, survivors can't tell accurately how many shots they fired.

  2. Wow, so many things wrong… Why cuffed in front? Why allowed to flip and flop around??? Sigh. At least the officers survived!

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