Anatomy of a Bed-Sty Shootout

An off-duty Bedford-Stuyvesant cop is the toast of the town after foiling a robbery at a hair salon. I’m not so sure. I reckon the incident was only a bullet away from an avoidable tragedy. Obviously, I wasn’t there. Equally obvious: neither was the nydailynews.com. Less obvious: even the people who were there don’t necessarily know the truth. Tell you what: let’s assume the News got it right. I know that’s like suggesting that Erik Von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods deserves a place in your kid’s ancient history class. But there’s much for a concealed carrier to consider in the gunfight at Sabine’s salon on Saturday. For example, should Officer Feris Jones have discharged her weapon?

Police said the baby-faced bandit burst into the narrow Bedford-Stuyvesant salon Saturday evening and herded Jones – a 50-year-old off-duty cop who got her hair done there about once a month – and three other women into a bathroom at the back of store.

We’ve said it before: when an armed criminal starts herding people into a back room, you have to assume the worst. Execution. The time to make your move is before the bad guy or guys assemble the lambs for slaughter.

Again, I don’t know all the facts. But the general point is worth making: when the back room of death beckons, it’s time to unholster. In any self-defense situation you need to get ahead of your opponent’s decision process; make them react. In this one, you don’t have a choice. Unless you’re lucky, like Officer Jones.

As [Winston] Cox searched for the salon owner’s wallet, Jones pulled her handgun and told the women to lie down while she made her move, [NYPD spokesman Paul] Browne told reporters.

Officer Jones’ concern for the safety of her salon mates was laudable. She instituted a play from the one, two, three, GO! self defense playbook. Only in this case, Jones inserted a three-and-a-half: identifying herself as a cop and, presumably, telling the perp to drop his weapon.

She stepped out into the salon, aimed at Cox from just 12 feet away and identified herself as a cop.

Cox did not surrender. Instead, he fired four rounds, missing Jones each time. One bullet whizzed past her left shoulder and plugged the wall.

Given that Mr. Cox was holding a gun, Officer Jones’ survival—and the survival of the three women behind her—depended on her ability to shoot Mr. Cox in the split second before he could raise his weapon (which may have occurred during her verbal ID). And her ability to shoot Mr. Cox with sufficient precision so as to stop him from being able to fire back.

What are the odds? Pretty friggin’ low, even at twelve feet. As it turned out, Officer Jones made a losing bet. Cox fired four shots at Jones before she could get off a single bullet. Any one of those four shots could have killed her or one of the three woman in the bathroom. Or someone else.

Back it up for a mo’. Now, a cop kinda sorta has to give the bad guy a chance to give up before gunning him down. At least that’s how it goes down in the movies. You, not so much.

An armed civilian in this situation should seek some sort of concealment or cover and wait for the bad guy to walk towards the back room. And then shoot the perp before he brings his weapon to bear. If, instead, he walks out of the store with loot in hand, so much the better. The best gunfight is the one you don’t have.

That’s the ideal. That said, this “wait for it wait for it NOW” plan is pretty much the same one that Officer Jones chose, save the warning command. Tactically, well, um, let’s just put it this way . . .

If an armed civilian shot and killed an armed criminal who’d herded four people into a back room, doing so while the criminal’s back was turned, the civilian shooter wouldn’t necessarily face prosecution. More to the point, that civilian shooter would have had a much better chance of living to face prosecution than if they’d waited for an OK Corral moment.

Unfazed, Jones shot the gun right out of Cox’s hands.

She hit his right middle finger and grazed his left hand, cops said.

Jones fired five shots total. One round hit the knob of the front door, locking it, Browne said.

Unfazed? There is no way that Officer Jones aimed at Mr. Cox’s gun hand. If she was that good a marksman A) should would have aimed at his heart and shot him dead B) the other four shots would have also struck Cox’s center mass (instead of missing and heading out into the street).

Officer Jones hit Mr. Cox’s hand because she experienced a well-known gunfighting phenomena: tunnel vision. Her eyes instinctively focused on Cox’s weapon. So she shot it. This is an entirely understandable reaction—for an untrained shooter. For a police officer, Jones’ shooting performance at 12 feet was too little, too late; woefully, dangerously sub-par.

Trapped, the out-of-ammunition punk started screaming and ranting as he grabbed his black bag with two wallets inside.

The round that locked the front door was, of course, sheer luck. Bad luck. Officer Jones’ lack of shooting skills trapped an animal inside a small space; a man who’d demonstrated his willingness to commit murder. Flip it around: Jones and her fellow customers were also trapped. I’m thinking she’d placed herself up excrement creek without a paddle.

Drilling down a bit, Jones’ five-shot total indicates she was firing a snub-nosed revolver. If so, she was out of ammo. (If not, why’d she stop shooting?) There’s no talk of reloading. No surprise there: most people, even off-duty cops, don’t carry spare ammo. Another fundamental mistake.

He kicked through the glass on the lower portion of the door and crawled out of the salon on his hands and knees, Browne said. He left a trail of blood down the street.

How lucky was that? Lest we forget, Mr. Cox supposedly fired four rounds from the gun shown above. I make that a six shooter. Unless his gun failed (highly unlikely), Mr. Cox either forgot he had another two rounds ready to go or forgot to fully load his weapon. As I said, Officer Jones and at least one of her fellow customers were only a bullet (or two) away from tragedy.

This entire incident proves the old adage that it’s better to be lucky than smart. On the downside, luck can work against you. Even if an armed civilian does everything right in a self-defense situation, events beyond their control can result in their extinction. On the upside, an armed civilian can be both lucky AND smart. That depends entirely on their level of training.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

One Response to Anatomy of a Bed-Sty Shootout

  1. avatarTTACer says:

    If an armed civilian shot and killed an armed criminal who’d herded four people into a back room, doing so while the criminal’s back was turned, the civilian shooter <del>wouldn’t necessarily face prosecution</del> would be crucified in NYC

    Corrected. Incidentally my uncle, retired NYC police officer also shot the gun out of the hands of a robber running down a street. We joked that it was an amazing shot considering he had both eyes shut.

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