Hello. My name is Robert D. Cubby. I’m a retired police captain in the USA from the Jersey City Police Department. If any of your members need someone to talk to as a peer who has been through something like this, I’m available here on FB.
“Just help my wounded officers. I wasn’t wounded. Boy was I wrong. You don’t have to bleed to be wounded”
When we report in for duty, how many of us ever think that that shift, that date will change our lives forever. It was a warm sticky humid July night. It felt like it was going to rain and that would be nice because that keeps the number of calls down. I went about my normal routine of getting ready for my shift and started my patrol. But this time I decided not to go the route I normally take, but go the opposite direction. That would change my routine and sometimes change is good. I see a man lying on the sidewalk, his possessions strewn about. I called off and he said he was hit by a car. I call for a unit and an ambulance and as they arrive I resume patrol. One of the benefits of being the City Commander is I could delegate any job to anyone in the department. While awaiting the police unit I received a call from dispatch to call the control desk at the radio room. I told them as soon as I clear from this call.
Upon resuming I call on my cell phone. They tell me that the car that was wanted in a shooting 10 days ago was spotted parked and unoccupied. The plain clothes unit has it under surveillance. I knew the alarm on this car and the heinous nature of the shooting. The gunman shot the victim in the stomach point blank with a shot gun leaving him in the middle of a busy roadway to die. No motive to the shooting such as robbery. Seemed possibly a thrill shooting. I tell dispatch to make the notifications to the appropriate commanders and we’ll set up a command post at the West District where we can coordinate this investigation and possible arrest.
I met with the lieutenant and his squad at the West and we mulled over possible scenarios. Until I ascertained more about this situation, I wanted it treated as if the car was just parked and the wanted gunmen were in the area still. We set up perimeters with all available unmarked and plainclothes officers and had the tactical team on stand by in tactical gear. They would stage 2 blocks from the parked car. We gathered as much intelligence as we could muster and found that the car had been parked there several weeks and hadn’t moved for the last few hours. Viewing the hour of the night, I determined that the target was in fact cold and put in place a plan for a minimal surveillance of the car to gather further intelligence. I had the plainclothes units stand down as well as the tactical unit, but remain on stand by.
Further investigation revealed that the owner of the wanted vehicle moved the vehicle reliably every morning at the exact same time to avoid street sweeper tickets. The male on the CCTV footage appeared to be the wanted male. We now had our target and the time that the arrest would be made. A simple surveillance until the next morning where then the necessary officers would converge on the area and make the arrest. He clearly didn’t have the shot gun with him when he moved the car so this should be a pretty simple straight forward arrest. I was wrong.
The lieutenant asked permission to start making reliefs for bathroom breaks and coffee. Working surveillance in my career I knew how hard that detail can be so permission was granted. The squad was one lieutenant and 4 detectives. It was now down by half. It was getting toward quitting time for me. I logged out at headquarters as I normally do and said good night to the computer section people .
I will never forget the God awful screams into the radio at that moment, “ we have two individuals in hoods approaching the car, send us back up. He’s got a gun. SHOTS FIRED SHOTS FIRED. ASSIST PATROLMAN. OFFICER SHOT. OFFICER DOWN. HE’S LOST HIS GUN. HE’S LOST HIS RADIO.” I knew in an instant who it was and ordered a city wide assist to their location. I drove like a man possessed praying to God that the officer wasn’t wounded badly. Radio traffic was impossible at this point so I called the lieutenant by cell phone. Officer OK shot in the leg, grazing wound. He was ordered to the hospital by me. Everyone knew where to park and what perimeters to set up. The gunmen fled into a large multi family apartment house and it was immediately surrounded.
I needed to know what happened, what went wrong that we didn’t plan on or anticipate The male female duo approached the target car way earlier than anticipated. They were wearing long robes worn by a monk. A confrontation took place to apprehend them and the male produced a combat style shotgun and opened fire on the officers. Their car afforded cover but the one officer was hit in the leg from a pellet from the shot gun . He returned fire and was sure he hit him. We now clearly had a high risk apprehension in a building where we have no idea what apartment they disappeared in and the potential of hostages being held.
Incident command was set up and all our training kicked in. All contingencies were planned out and met. Occupants evacuated and a room by room search now under way. Search and clear the apartments then post officers so that no one could enter them once searched. Some activity reported on the third floor rear apartment. Entering teams to use caution. “entering third floor rear apartment now” the tactical commander states over the radio.
The next series of sounds still ring in my head, still wake me in the middle of the night, heart racing unable to sleep in peace anymore. A fire fight was under way. The amount and duration of the shots being fired seemed endless. In fact it was over in about 1 ½ minutes. Then the dead silence. What the hell happened I’m saying to myself. Please something over the radio. Screams over the radio “ send EMS officer shot.” One time then a second, then a third and fourth. I’m sick but I know that that scene is still hot and not cleared so let the evacuation teams come to EMS “ no one allowed in the building, hold your positions” I bark into the radio even though every fiber of my body wants to run in and render aide to a fallen comrade. I was starting to come apart.
One body then the second, the two others walking wounded. One officer now down had a serious wound to his head, the second shot in the throat. Triage training kicks in and we go for the viable patient first ,the throat wound. A sergeant starts CPR on the head wound officer. What the hell did I do? I’m seized by doubts and starting to question what I decided to do. The process of PTSD was kicking in but I didn’t know it. The deputy chief wanted to enter the building to inspect the crime scene. He was not in uniform but I was so I accompanied him. That was a serious error for me.What I saw still haunts me everyday until now.
The hallway was dark, no lights on, electricity cut as part of the operation. The fire alarms were screaming from the smoke of the gun battle that was still lingering. It choked you and burned your eyes. I couldn’t see clearly but the floor was slippery. I took my flashlight and there was blood everywhere. Innumerable bullet holes in the walls and two bullet ridden bodies of the gunmen sprawled on the couch and floor.
Afterwards I was given time off to rest and stay home until I felt better. CISM spoke to me and offered support as did the chaplain. But I told them to go to hell I didn’t need any help. Just help my wounded officers. I wasn’t wounded. Boy was I wrong. You don’t have to bleed to be wounded
Weeks passed. No sleep. Continued nightmares and flashbacks. Uncontrolled crying. I couldn’t deal with anything at all nor could I talk about it. But I was always OK, fine when anyone asked. But I wasn’t. My wife, God bless her, insisted I get help call someone. I knew a psychologist I had used in the past and within 10 minutes of the interview she said those fateful letters PTSD. It was a relief to know I wasn’t losing my mind , that these crazy thoughts had a name and a way of treating it. Afterwards my psychologist, after I demonstrated I could handle it gave me a set of instructions to use whenever the symptoms flare up again. I decided to take those instructions and as part of my therapy, help others going through this hell. That and my writing my feelings in stories has been my therapy.
Robert D. Cubby