The shot not fired

It was about 12 o’clock on the 28th of February, 2011 when the actions of a fleeing drug addict , now armed robber, changed my life….

I woke up that Sunday like any other Sunday, I slumped my way out of bed, took the dog for his morning walk and grabbed some breakfast with my wife. My RCMP issued blackberry rang and on the other end was my supervisor and unit commander looking for some assistance in investigating a copyright investigation at a local flea market near downtown London. Of course, like any young member, looking for experience and for the chance to prove his worth, I agreed and was set to meet my boss at the detachment for what I thought would be a short trip to the flea market and then back home for lunch with my wife and a little bit of overtime in my pocket for a rainy day.

As was the complacent nature of members in federal sections, especially those like myself who came straight from training to this style of policing, vests and use of force options were left behind In the surveillance vehicle because of course , nothing could go wrong on a pirated DVD seizure in the middle of a crowded flea market… Or so I thought.

I recall entering the flea market and conducting the pirated DVD investigation with relative ease. Two suspects detained and the DVDs already seized and loaded into the van. My sergeant and I were outside in the parking lot, about to release the suspects from custody when I heard a commotion near the entrance/exit of the building. I immediately saw a male running from the building and within arms reach we’re approximately 4-5 persons attempting to grab him. That’s when I heard it ” he’s got a gun” …. Time stopped.

I immediately yelled to my sergeant who appeared to be lost in the moment, ” gun gun gun” as I saw the black pistol being presented by the male running toward me. I screamed “police, drop the gun” and then saw nothing but innocent pedestrians at 50 yards, but could see their faces as if they were within smelling distance. My firearm was drawn….. I couldn’t shoot for fear of injuring or killing pedestrians who were in the way. I just started running toward him.

The male with the gun then swung around and aimed the pistol at the small group of unarmed pedestrians. At that point I thought it was all going to go south, that this guys want to flee safely would overcome common sense and that someone was going to get hurt. I immediately yelled again ” hey! Police stop!”. His feet kept moving but his arm swung around and there it was, the small black barrel of the pistol, pointed right at me, at a guy not wearing a bullet proof vest, at a guy not wearing a uniform, at a guy with no hope of survival.

I dove for cover behind a small car. I can still remember the cold bumper that I grabbed onto, looking for some form of security. He was still running and so were the pedestrians. I looked up and again challenged him with verbal commands to stop. He now had his hand on the door handle of a jeep cherokee. The pedestrians were still there , trying to open the car doors. I yelled at them to ” get back he has a gun”. I ran to the drivers side door of the jeep and attempted to pry the door open, one hand on the handle and the other with my pistol pointed at the window. What I heard and saw next would haunt my dreams for years…..” don’t you do it, don’t you fucking do it”…. I looked down to the window as I looked away from the pedestrian at the passenger door. The muzzle was there, perfectly round, hollow and pointed at my face. The crack of the windshield pierced my ears as my sergeant pummeled the butt of his pistol into it attempting to distract the driver from what appeared to be a desperate move to clear himself from all the drama.

The side of panel of the two door jeep never felt so secure. I had just escaped certain death and now the engine was in high rev. The front driver side wheels turned toward the sergeant. The vehicle lurched toward. I heard a crunch. I didn’t see the sergeant anymore. I couldn’t hear him or see him. The vehicle sped away toward the exit. He was almost free. I can only assume adrenaline was flowing through his veins at a blistering speed, I bet he thought he had done it, he was out of that parking lot without getting caught or killed. He should have thought again. The Sargent ran in front of my aim and approached the vehicle passenger door window and discharged one round into the cabin of the vehicle. The vehicle slowed, the sergeant fell to his knee with a pistol stoppage and then the vehicle hit Mach 5 and blasted onto the roadway with caution and was gone.

The first call made was to my wife, who I had been married to for almost two years. The line engaged and I was able to get out, “something happened but I’m okay”. The phone died. The battery had died and I didn’t have another one. I immediately called the RCMP dispatch which was located on a few minutes drive away in downtown London. I recall advising the dispatcher that there was a police involved shooting at the Gibraltar flea market and that backup was required. I recall telling the dispatcher to call my wife and to tell her that everything was ok. I could only imagine the fear and anxiety she must have felt, not knowing what “happened”.

It was a short time later that London police service vehicles arrived with sirens blaring and bright emergency lights shimmering off the puddles on the ground from the melting snow. The next to arrive were RCMP officers in plain clothes, from a nearby surveillance detail. All who arrived were in shock. This type of thing happened in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, not London, Ontario. Not at a family flea market where children, parents and grandparents went to walk through booths filled with antiques and used goods.

In the following hours, a house nearby would be raided by members of the London police services emergency response services and the male wasn’t found. A matching jeep would be located on the 401 highway near London and tactically approached by members of the Ontario provincial police’s highway safety unit and a 70 year old driver was scared out of his wits. The pistol toting robber had fleas the area and disappeared like a ghost.

A week later the integrated criminal intelligence unit received information that a young male by the name of Mark roman Sierkowski had received medical care in his home by a family friend with some training. The injury was consistent with that of a gunshot wound to his leg. It wasn’t long before a police surveillance unit was onto Sierkowski and were waiting their opportunity to make the arrest. Sierkowski had dropped off his girlfriend and a small child and was heading home when the team surrounded his vehicle. He wasn’t going without a fight. He rammed the vehicles attempting to box him in and sent two officers to hospital before being taken into custody. The hunt for Sierkowski was over.

Upon further investigation, a search warrant was executed on Sierkowski’s address and numerous illegal items were located including ammunition is various caliber sizes. The vehicle and weapon we never recovered and were suspected to have been burnt or discarded.

In court many months later, Sierkowski would plead guilty to robbery and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. His lawyer would later state at trial that his client never had a firearm and that the suspected pistol was a “cell phone case” and that it may have appeared to look like a pistol and was meant to scare those attempting to block his escape. He would later be sentenced to 3 years in correctional custody.

It didn’t take long before the dreams started. I was running toward the vehicle, I grabbed the door handle and then “BANG”. Church pews were filled with red serges and other police uniforms and a large photo of me was being held up next to a closed casket with the Canadian flag draped over it. My wife was there with my parents. All stunned and filled with tears. The dreams would differ from night to night but the final images were those of my wife, trying to be strong but with the look utter sorrow in her eyes and grief on her face. I couldn’t shake the dreams.

I became irritated at work. Obsessed with officer safety. No situation was safe enough for me. No matter how many officers were present and no matter how many scenarios were run, it wasn’t enough. Upon feeling that nobody, policing wise, cared, I became reckless. I became obsessed with putting myself in the line of danger situations so that others didn’t need to.

I recall conducting a surreptitious entry onto a suspected organized crime groups drug smuggling property with many unknown threats and risks and walking about the property without a care in the world, much to the surprise of emergency response team members who were acting as security for us investigators. After that night, I came home and sat in the dark and shook my head thinking ” what am I doing”. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating properly and I found myself leaving parts of my everyday life out of the reach of my loving wife. This wasn’t Mike Thompson. This was somebody else.

In early 2012, I decided I needed to push for a change of venue and a Change of career. I had only known federal policing, and before the incident at the flea market, I had been in my fair share of risky take downs and search warrants. But still I wanted more. I needed more.

In August of 2012, my wife, our little daughter and I moved to northern British Columbia to a small remote town called Granisle, population 120. I thought this would help, I thought the small town life would clear my head and clear the dreams. It didn’t work. It got worse.

From the time we arrived in Granisle, I became obsessed with my families security. I would insanely check doors and locks around the entire house numerous times. I would leave multiple lights on all night long and at one point found myself flashing lights into the dark front and rear yards when I got up to use the restroom in the middle of the night.

With being in general duty uniform policing, I thought that being in uniform and with all my use of force options securely strapped to my body, I would be feel safer, more confident. I didn’t. I felt vulnerable, insecure and hypertensive. I knew at this point that something had to change.

I finally spoke with my detachment commander. I for the first time, explained to someone that I had a problem and that I needed help. He was an open ear for the most part and suggested that I contact the forces medical response hotline for assistance. To be honest, I had been through one critical incident debrief after the shooting and it didn’t help. It was in a room in Toronto with an unknown psychiatrist with my sergeant beside me going on about how “we” were fine and how “we” were not involved in anything that he hadn’t seen before or could handle. When I was asked how I was doing, I was interrupted and blocked out. I had my reservations about the RCMP’s way of helping.

I came home that same day and sat with my wife at the dinner table. We started a brief conversation about work and then I broke down not tears. There was too much going on in my head. The dreams were getting worse and I wasn’t sleeping. I felt like I was losing that close connection with My wife, the love of my life, and feared I would become distant with the newest love of my life, my daughter. My wife agreed that help would be good and reassured me that she was there for me. To this point I had kept the dreams to myself and didn’t want to burden her with my stupid dreams and sleeplessness. Little did I know, My wife had noticed and it was affecting the closeness of our relationship.

In march of 2013 I had my first video session with a psychiatrist who specialized in post traumatic stress disorder and specifically with first responders. Even after all my apprehensive feelings toward the help provided in the past, I felt strangely at ease. We went over the incident again. It all came boiling back up again and the tears and frustration came flooding back. But after a good talk and some advice on exercises that I could practice, I felt at ease. That night I slept like a baby. Shortly afterward, I took my family on a vacation to whistler for a week and soon after that I began to sleep properly again. The dreams would come and go, but with the tools provided, I had a new coping mechanism.

Seeing that firearm pointed within an inch of my face, I knew at that point that it could have all ended. I made a mistake of burying the trauma that had scarred my mind for so many months. I wish I would have known then what I knew now relating to the need to speak up and to search out professional help when things got to be too much. I now know that speaking about these things don’t make us weaker or appear unstable, it helps us be stronger and more accountable.

That gun didn’t have to go off for there to be trauma to my body. I hope others that have lived through other such situations talk about their stories and get the help they need. If you need help, it is out there!

Cst. Mike Thompson
Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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