This is a good story written by Mike Boger. On April 15, 1996, he was serving as Chief of Police in the small farming community of Oakboro. It was just after 5 p.m. and he and his wife were on their way to dinner when he heard one of his officers dispatched to a domestic disturbance call just a few blocks from the police station.
Because he was close by and knew the subject, he decided to back up his officer. His wife, who worked at a bank, was accustomed to riding along with her husband and even assisted the department in training exercises from time to time. On many occasions, the Chief had discussed with his wife what she should do if she was ever with him when he was forced to take police action.
The reasons why the below story are good for Police Officers to read are numerous. It talks about officer survival, training and having a plan. But the below story is important for civilians to read also for many of the same reasons. You never know when you and your family will be somewhere and tragedy may strike. Having a plan is VERY VERY important. You can’t plan for everything but thinking about what you and your family would do is a start.
It’s a bit long, so grab some java and enjoy:
April 15, 1996, started out as any other day, with all the normal routine of a small farming community where I served as Chief of Police.
At about 5 p.m., my wife, who worked at a bank just a few blocks from the police department, called and agreed to meet me there to go out to dinner. As I waited for her, I heard a voice on the radio inquiring of the “Oakboro Car 10-8.” I heard Officer Damon Smith identify his unit 403 and advise communications to go ahead with the radio traffic. The call came out “10-91” (domestic disturbance) at a certain residence. They advised that the subject was assaulting his wife and that the call was coming in from a small child who was still on the line. This call was not unusual because we had been summoned to that residence several times in the past on similar calls. However, we knew the husband, and he had always left the residence prior to our arrival. Smith advised that he was en-route and I radioed that I would be responding to assist. As I was going out the front door, my wife, Amy, was coming down the sidewalk. I told her to come with me, we had to go back up Damon on a domestic. She agreed and got into the patrol car with me.
I have always felt that it was very important for officers to have pre-made plans with their spouses should enforcement action become necessary so the officer can function without having to worry about the spouse. This pre-planning and the fact that my wife had assisted us so much in training exercises are the things that saved us on this day, I am quite sure.
The location of the call was less than four blocks from the back door of the police department, and I figured that we would be there for about 10 minutes, then on to our evening plans. On the three-minute drive there, I was able to think about the suspect, and the fact that he is a rather large individual. I also considered that if he had assaulted his wife, we were by state law going to have to arrest him. I was planning on how we would be positioning ourselves at the residence, and the fact that we might have to use a chemical agent such as pepper spray to take him into custody. The suspect really was no great threat to us though, because we were friends. He worked near my home, and he and I talked on a regular basis at the business or across the street from the police department each morning before work. In fact, I had just talked with him that morning, only eight hours earlier.
As I crossed the railroad tracks, about two blocks from the residence, communications advised us that the suspect was armed with a knife and the child was screaming that her mommy was bleeding. At this time, Officer Smith was turning onto Rock Church Road — one block from the residence. I told Smith I was about two blocks away and he acknowledged my radio transmission. I was at this point thinking, “I hope we don’t have to shoot the suspect,” thinking that he might charge us with the knife if he was angry enough to have used it on his wife. As I turned onto the street below the residence, I saw Smith pull up just past the house and exit his vehicle. He did not see me at that point and inquired as to whether I wanted him to proceed to the residence. I told him yes, that I was in fact right there with him. He had pulled past the house to allow space for me to park below the residence. As I was pulling up about 40 feet south of the residence, I watched as Smith walked behind his patrol vehicle past the trunk area and toward the house and up on the small front porch where he knocked on the door.
It’s strange how one’s mind works at incomprehensible speeds when something strange and terrible happens. Next, seemingly in slow motion, I saw Damon step back and reach for his chest. I also saw the screen of the window blow out a little, and heard a dull pop. The windows were up on my patrol car so the sound was muffled. Damon was now backing away from the house a step or two and I noticed he had his weapon in his hand. I told my wife at that point to get down and drew my service weapon while still seated in my vehicle. Amy, who is a tiny girl, got down into the passenger side floorboard, and I exited my car. I felt I was going to have to shoot the suspect, and I didn’t want her to see this.
As luck would have it, I did not put the car in park when I pulled up and I think this also helped save my life. I saw Damon reach down and take his portable radio from his belt, and he spoke to me. He called out “403 to,” and as he was doing so he looked into my eyes from across the yard. He never finished the sentence, unbeknownst to me the round had penetrated his right lung and he was not able to move enough air to speak. It was the strange look he gave me that told me immediately he’s been shot. He staggered a few steps and collapsed in the front yard. I did not see him go all the way to the ground as the struggle between life and death then came to me.
I was watching Damon and still looking for the suspect, when I saw the barrel of a rifle coming from the front door of the house to my right. It first came out at a low angle and then the suspect was standing on the porch, a look of anger and hate on his face. I was standing outside my vehicle 40 feet away, looking into the suspect’s wild eyes. I knew at that moment, that he was going to shoot me, too.
We all knew each other, but now I recalled the suspect to be one of the best shots in the county, and I knew he was going to be able to hit me at this distance with no problem. The rifle barrel came up in a flash, and I actually recognized the weapon to be a .30/30 lever action rifle. Without thinking, I was coming around to bring my 9mm Beretta pistol onto target. As this was happening, my car lurched forward about an inch, and then I saw the flash of the muzzle and heard the ear-splitting sound of the rifle. I felt air rushing into my face and the concussion of the round rocked me just a little.
All sorts of thoughts go through your mind when something like this happens, thoughts like “I’m hit and I’m going to die,” or maybe even “this is not happening.” I have thought for years that to survive in this type of encounter, one must have a plan and that you must never be caught thinking this is not happening. My plan has always been that no matter what else happened, if I were ever shot, I would return fire at the person shooting me. Even on lonely nights in my patrol car, I had prayed not to die without engaging the person who was trying to take my life.
In that moment when I was struck, I was able to raise my weapon and fire at the subject who had shot me. It was not easy. I knew by the feeling that my arm was damaged severely. However, I was spurred by the realization I was in a fight for both Damon’s life and my own. I knew that I had to fire my weapon with my best hand, this being my right. I literally said to myself “you have got to use this arm,” and to my surprise, it worked.
I then fired three rounds and saw the suspect lunge back into the house. I then got back into my car thinking, “I have got to stay conscious and go on.” From the intense pain and the immediate swelling of the arm, I thought the round had destroyed the joint and maybe torn through the artery. I was concerned that I was bleeding internally and could not apply pressure to control the bleeding. I could also feel a lump inside my shirt on my chest and did not know if it was a serious hit or not.
I got back into the car and considered my position and whether I could withstand repeated fire from inside the house. I knew the first round had gone through the windshield and that the vehicle was not going to be good cover. I laid down in the seat, placed the vehicle in reverse and rolled back about 50 feet. I had not surveyed the area consciously when I arrived and now I found my patrol unit stuck against a parked car down the street from the house. While I was out of the line of fire without the suspect exposing himself, I could not defend Damon from this position.
I knew I had to move and move fast. I told Amy to stay down, that I had to go get Damon and would be back in a few minutes. She said okay, and I again left the vehicle. As I stood up, I contacted communications and advised “Signal 25, officer down and shots fired.” The suspect again appeared on the porch looking for me. He raised his rifle and fired again. As he did, I fired several rounds into the door facing he was using for cover.
He then moved back into the house, and I saw my chance to move. I ran about 70 feet toward the suspect’s location and across the street from him. I wanted to get a 90-degree angle so that I could cover Damon and stop the suspect from shooting. As I crossed the street, the suspect again fired at me from 60 to 70 feet away. I heard the round strike a car in a driveway near me.
I had made it to an oak tree, which from across the street had appeared to be very large and sufficient for cover. But after reaching this position, I realized I was nearly as wide as the object I had chosen for cover. However, this was about the best place to defend my wounded officer lying on the ground 20 feet from the front door of the assailant. I then did a tactical reload of my Beretta 92-G. I saved the partial magazine and was back in the fight with a fully loaded weapon.
As I looked around the tree and called out to Damon, a shot was fired from the front door toward me. It struck the edge of the tree and sprayed bark all around. We continued to exchange fire. At one point, I lost visual contact and he fired from a different angle almost striking me again. Then from 70 feet away, I heard my wife call that he was now shooting from a window further down the house. He had changed his location, trying to bracket my position and hit me from there. I saw the muzzle flash as he fired again and saw the window screen move outward. He apparently was standing back in the living room where I could not see him and was firing from there. I fired another burst into the area of the muzzle blast, and now I saw the suspect’s face for the first time since the shooting began. I was approximately 25 yards away from him so I could see him clearly in the picture window. He appeared to be trying to break the window by striking it with the barrel of the gun. At this point, I tried for a head shot. The round went through the window, he fell and then there was no more shooting from the house.
I began to size up my situation and get to my officer. I felt for some reason that my shots had not been effective, and began thinking what I would do if I were the suspect — he had possibly killed one officer and wounded another, and he may have killed his wife. I thought he might try to exit the rear of the house to flank me or just charge out shooting and running toward my position.
I called out to my wife to leave my vehicle now, feeling that the fight might be about to move outside, and I covered the house while she left the car and ran down the street to the corner behind a large truck and trailer.
As she arrived there, a First Responder arrived with our medical van.
It had now been about seven to 10 minutes since the first shots were fired, and the first law enforcement officers were arriving to assist as I got word from the communications center that the suspect’s wife was on the phone requesting an ambulance for him. He would not shoot any more, she said, because he was on the floor bleeding and had possibly passed out from blood loss. I had communications explain to her what needed to be done and that I wanted the suspect to come to the door and throw the gun out into the yard. She said he could not move and brought the gun out herself. As she threw out the gun, I asked other officers to enter the residence to take the suspect into custody. I felt that I should not go directly to him.
I was then, for the first time, able to move up to my officer and check his status. As I approached him, I could tell that he had succumbed to his wound.
The suspect was then brought from the residence and placed in a vehicle from another agency. While I was setting up the crime scene and making assignments, I was dragged away to a waiting ambulance, where I was met by my wife.
At the hospital, I was treated in the room next to the suspect. He had fired approximately 12-15 rounds of .30/30 ammunition over the 7-10 minute shootout. I had fired 19 rounds of 9mm. I hit him twice in the abdomen and groin; he struck me once in the shoulder. We were both treated and eventually released without permanent injury.
Looking back on a deadly shootout
In my several years as a law enforcement trainer, I’d done my best to convey proper tactics, training and mindset to students. It’s my opinion that had my officer not been killed by the first round of the confrontation, he would be here today helping me to write this report. If that round had not killed him, I would have been able to defend him. This was my goal under fire, no fear of dying, no fear of injury or even the thought of killing the suspect. I set small goals — to keep my officer from being shot anymore and to stop the rifle from shooting. I succeeded and that is what saved me.
To win in a gunfight, the top concern should be your mindset. You must set attainable goals and strive to achieve them. You must have a plan. Statements like “don’t quit” or “never give up” are useless without a plan. The larger concerns will take care of themselves if you just keep your head, set goals and have a plan.
My wife and I had pre-made plans. When the State Bureau of Investigation’s agents asked her if she ever got on the radio during the incident, she gave them a reply that they were not even ready for. She told them that the gunfight had gone as I had said it would. They asked what she meant and she told them our plan.
Our plan is that no matter where we are, if trouble starts, my wife is to immediately do what I tell her to do, without question. Then, she is to do her best to distance herself from me so that I can deal with the danger without having to be concerned about her safety. And lastly, I had always told her that if we were ever together and there was gunfire, I would probably be hit, but it would be in the shoulder and I would be okay.
She then surprised me by telling them that she was watching me during the shootout and that she was planning what to say on the radio if she needed to contact communications. They thought that she was concerned about getting me more help, but she told them she felt if I went down or passed out, she was going to need to let other officers know not to come up the street where I was because they too would be entering the kill zone.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why this incident occurred, nor why I survived and my officer did not. I do know though, that I continue to train and learn all that I can to protect myself and others on a daily basis.
Oakboro Police Officer Damon Smith, 29, had been on the job only one year when he was gunned down April 15, 1996, by Terry Klutz. The murderer claimed the insanity defense and was sent to a state mental hospital where he remained until October 2004. At that time, he lost his appeal to remain hospitalized and pled guilty to first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Officer Smith was an Army veteran and left behind his wife and their three-year-old son.
Former Chief Boger, who was 38 at the time of the shooting, has fully recovered from the gunshot wound to his right shoulder. The bullet passed through his shoulder into the upper chest where it exited and went through the right wrist and exited near his palm, striking his gun.
Boger, now 46, left the Oakboro Police Department after serving nine years as Chief. In 2003, he became a full-time Instructor Trainer for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office where he was working as a part-time instructor when the shooting occurred. He told Newsline he resigned as Chief because he was “tired of small-town politics.”