Derek – Sacrifice Of Service – Power Of Family

I have been a fan of the podcast and been wanting to share my never quit story for sometime now. I woke up this morning thinking there is no better day to share my story than today (March 17th) and you will soon understand why.
My never quit story started when I was a 19 year old college kid attending Junior College and spanned over the the first few years of my adult life. I became a sworn Police Officer at the ripe age of 20 years old and excelled over the first few years of my career. Within my first two years I was selected to be a canine handler and earned my spot in the stack on our SWAT team. I went from being a 19 year old college kid, to a Police Officer, Husband, Father, Home Owner and professional badass (joking) practically over night.
On January 9th 2005 I was involved in in a critical incident that took the life of Ceres Police Department Sergeant Howard “Howie” Stevenson. Howie was working as my patrol supervisor and was also my SWAT team leader. Howie was not just my supervisor; he was a coach, a mentor and more importantly friend, husband and father.
Moments before Howard was killed I was with him and another officer on a call on the other side of town. Dispatch broadcasted a series of calls for service, however no units were available to respond. Unbeknownst to us the original reporting person was the perpetrator who would end up killing Sergeant Stevenson. This first call to 911 was the beginning of well executed attack. It was first reported that a subject was following the RP (Reporting Person) and he requested an officer to drive through the area. No officers were available to respond and the call sat in pending. The suspect fired a single shot into the ground in anticipation it would generate other calls for service. All officers were busy and the call continued to sit in pending. This promoted and perpetrator to go into a nearby liquor store and display an SKS rifle.
The liquor store owner called the 911 a and reported the incident. Two officers were dispatched to the call and I too prepared to respond. Sergeant Stevenson stopped me and told me to continue too help the other officer with his investigation. Howard said he was going to respond to the call and I again displayed my eagerness to go. Sergeant Stevenson refused to let me respond being the other officer had several people in custody and needed assistance with his investigation.
The suspect in the this shooting was later identified an AWOL Marine who was a member of a criminal street gang. It is believed the perpetrator had joined the Marines to get tactical training to benefit the gang and carry out this attack against local law enforcement.
A training officer and his trainee arrived on scene and encountered the suspect. The officers gave him verbal commands show his hands. The suspect concealed himself behind cover, produced SKS rifle and tactfully stalked his prey. The suspect shot and wounded the training officer and started to stalk him like a wounded animal. Officer John King who had recently discharged from the United States Army arrived and disrupted the suspect’s plan and engaged him in a gunfight. This prompted the suspect to retreat and an emergency call for service was broadcasted. Officer King provided cover as the trainee pulled his training officer away from danger.
While I was responding Officer King had broadcast he could not see the suspect however still heard gunfire coming from somewhere in front of the business. Not knowing any details of the incident or where the suspect was firing from, I was at a complete tactical disadvantage. I recognized our disadvantage and needed to get the odds back on the good guys side. I stopped a short distance away from the scene and coordinated incoming offices at set up an inner and outer perimeter. Tactical teams from surrounding agencies were contacted and responded. After the initial response responding officers found Sergeant Stevenson who had sustained numerous fatal injuries. After several hours of tactical planing the suspect presented himself and engage officers in another gunfight. The suspect was one the receiving end of fatal injuries and no other officers sustained any physical injuries.
As this was unfolding my beautiful wife was home with our three year old daughter. My wife was pregnant with my son (the fist grandson of the family) and due in the coming weeks. Our son Zachary Justice was born on February 23rd which helped mask the emotions of our recent loss. As the following weeks unfolded we knew something was wrong with Zachary and took him to his Pediatrician several times. As young parents we were told we were being overprotected and our child was healthy. We took Zachary to his Pediatrician on March 17th and again were told we had a healthy child.
Several hours after we returned home Zachary’s body slowly started to shutdown and he went unresponsive. Medics were contacted and he was transported to a nearby hospital with lights and siren activated. Being a believer in the health care system I initially did not believe we were in danger of losing our little man. Being a first responder I started to recognize a few things as we arrived at the hospital and knew Zachary was in trouble. When we arrived at the hospital there was a sea of doctors and nurses waiting for him and he was rushed into a trauma room. I was greeted by a staff member who ushered me to a nearby quit room. I knew this was the room where families are delivered bad news on a regular basis. When my wife arrived she was directed to the quite room and I did not have the heart to tell her what normally occurs in this room.
Emergency room staff did not know what was wrong with Zachary and he was transported to a children’s hospital by helicopter. As we arrived at he children’s hospital we were contacted by his Doctor who said Zachary had SVT, however he was not responding to treatment. Zach spent ten days in the hospital and it was an emotional roller coaster for all. Zachary’s brain was deprived of oxygenated blood for some time and doctors were uncertain of what his future would hold.
Doctors were able to control Zachary’s SVT for the first two years of his life with medication. Z-Man has grown into and amazing child. He is brilliant, extremely athletic, charming and my best-friend. Z-Man recovered from this with no long term lasting affects and is now a healthy twelve year old stud.
These events caused stain on my marriage and it did not really effect me until about a year later. As we celebrated Horward’s life on the anniversary of his death I found myself doing some self evaluation and reflecting on my life journey up until this point. I started to realize life was short and I missed out on many experiences most young adults do in their twenties. So I didn’t want any good 24 year old American boy would did and did them. There were so many things that I wanted to do but refused because I was a Police Officer and had an images to uphold. There was invisible wedge being driven between my wife and I and there was little affection towards each other.
Sometime later I reached an ultimatum and needed to figure out this whole life thing. At no point during these experiences did I ever stop loving my wife or family. I was confused and needed to set my priorities straight and repair my crumbling home life or start a new one. After many conversations, tears and hurt feelings my wife and I both admitted our faults, fixed them and repaired our relationship. We got caught up in the routine in life and did not set time aside for us. Marriage is difficult and it’s something you have to work on everyday.
As the years progressed I had the unfortunate opportunity to be involved in other in the line of duty death incidents. When Zachary turned seven he started to have SVT episodes and eventually had to have a catheter heart ablation when he was nine years old. Every time I hear about an in the line of duty death or Zachary had an SVT episode it took (or takes) me back to that very dark time of my life. My wife is my “ride or die” my family is my outlet and the TNQ podcast keeps me in the fight. Thank you guys for your service and your work outside of your duties as badass Americans!

Author: Derek