Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Gunfight Analysis: The Miami Grow House Incident

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Click Here for the Gunfight Video Analysis
** Warning: Graphic Pictures and Video. For Education Purposes Only**

Research has shown that the only shot that will instantly stop a fight is one that destroys the brain or severs the spinal cord thereby disabling the central nervous system. Shots that do not strike the central nervous system must rely on a critical level of blood loss to cause unconsciousness. Often someone who has received a fatal wound (or wounds) that reduces blood circulation will still be capable of purposeful activity for ten seconds or longer because the brain can remain sufficiently oxygenated. In other words, even if you inflict a fatal wound, your assailant may have a significant period of time in which they can still injure or kill you. There are many documented instances where someone continued fighting for much more than ten seconds after taking a serious wound to the heart or multiple wounds. 

In a gunfight involving Gerardo Delgado (the apparent operator of a marijuana grow house in Miami, FL) and police, Delgado opens fire on police as he emerges from a vehicle in the driveway of the grow house. The video shows several Miami Police Officers and an FBI Special Agent approaching Delgado’s grow house to conduct a “Knock and Talk.” You’ll notice that the first 2 officers pass Delgado who is seated in the car without even a glance; FBI Agent Raul Perdomo positions himself in the front of the house also without taking apparent notice of Delgado in the car. Delgado initiates the gunfight when he steps out of the car and points his pistol at Agent Perdomo to his immediate front—this is the first warning the officers have of his presence. 

Agent Perdomo initially sees that Delgado is armed and (based upon court testimony) yells for Delgado (who is pointing his pistol at him) to “put the gun down.” Agent Perdomo draws his pistol approximately 2 seconds after he sees Delgado and fires as he side steps to his left. From the video angle, it appears that his shot hit the tree.  Agent Perdomo then begins side stepping to his right as he continues to fire. 

Agent Perdomo’s shout alerted Detective John Saavedra who draws his pistol and opens fire on Delgado (approximately 2 seconds after Delgado exits the car). Detective Saavedra fires 5 shots in approximately 2.57 seconds and makes at least two probably fatal hits on Delgado from a distance of approximately 5 yards. Saavedra’s second shot likely hits Delgado center chest and exits his back without severing the spinal cord (see picture #1). 
Detective Saavedra's 2nd Shot
Delgado’s pistol was still pointed toward Perdomo as Saavedra opened fire; however, the video shows Delgado was transitioning his aim to Saavedra. As Delgado winces from the center chest hit he twists to his left. At that moment (four seconds into the gunfight), Saavedra fires a fourth round which enters and travels laterally through Delgado’s upper right side and exits his left side (see picture #2). 

Detective Saavedra's 4th Shot

This lateral wound subsequently exhibits a great deal of blood loss in a short period of time (see picture 3 which shows evidence of both exit wounds). Delgado physically reacts to the impact of both shots by hunching or wincing.

Delgado Experiencing Blood Loss
Approximately one second after taking two probably fatal hits, Delgado opens fire on Saavedra (for approximately 2 seconds). This is the first moment that Saavedra begins to move.  As he moves in a straight line away from Delgado, Delgado fires at least 3 rounds (difficult to tell in the video due to shadow) and hits Saavedra three times, one enters a gap in his vest as Saavedra turns away to his left, others hit him in the groin and thigh. Saavedra continues to fire as well although these shots are not aimed fire shooting what appears to be a total of 7 rounds. One (possibly both) of these shots likely pass close to Agent Perdomo as he moves away. 

Agent Perdomo reacts to these shots and takes aim at Saavedra; however, realizing it is Detective Saavedra he shifts his aim and continues to fire at Delgado who is essentially hidden behind the tree from 6-7 yards away.  Agent Perdomo then takes cover behind the red pickup in which Miami-Dade Detective Jorge Milan had just arrived as the gunfight started. Detective Milan has exited the pickup and taken cover behind it approximately 20 yards from Delgado’s position.

Delgado remains on his feet after firing at Saavedra and continues purposeful activity for an additional 14 seconds until Detective Milan fires a shot through a narrow “V” notch in the tree branches striking Delgado in the head and inflicting the stopping wound. Shortly before the head shot, you can clearly see that Delgado appears to be slowing down as a result of blood loss.1

Detective Milan Fires the Gunfight's Final Round

Dr. Ken Newgard, M.D2 stated that instantaneous neutralization is impossible with non-central nervous system wounds; that a gunshot wound to the thoracic aorta (such as that Delgado may have suffered) would cause blood loss and relatively fast incapacitation. However, Dr. Newgard’s analysis of case studies showed that even if the thoracic aorta were totally severed, it would likely take at least 4-6 seconds to suffer sufficient blood loss to cause unconsciousness. Vasoconstriction resulting from adrenalin dump, amphetamines, antihistamines, cocaine, or other drugs can mitigate this wounding effect and the assailant may remain capable of purposeful action for a much longer period. Delgado in this incident fired at least 3 shots after he had suffered two probably fatal circulatory and respiratory wounds. 

The man who takes the initiative gets to start the fight—all he requires is decisiveness, marksmanship, and the will to kill. Delgado had the initiative in this fight and his attack as well as the physical environment dictated the officer’s tactics. Saavedra faced a reactive event where the bad guy was already preparing to shoot him. Although he successfully drew and fired before Delgado began firing at him, Saavedra’s shots were not immediately effective--unfortunately no pistol round is guaranteed to be immediately effective.

Studies and countless OIS videos have shown that the initial reaction of many officers who are facing a lethal threat is to stand flat-footed, draw, and try to return fire—this is how most departments train their officers—stand and deliver. Square range training often conditions officers to respond to lethal threats presented at close range in this manner. However, to effectively respond using stand and deliver to beat your assailant, you will have to be at least twice as fast as the bad guy and hit the central nervous system—a daunting task.

Saavedra ’s options for direction of movement are all poor, particularly as Agent Perdomo’s shots are impacting on the tree and ground near Delgado. If Saavedra had moved laterally to his left he would have moved directly into Agent Perdomo’s line of fire.  Sometimes there are simply no good choices. Saavedra’s only viable option would have been to aim for a central nervous system shot when Delgado did not go down immediately with his first shots.

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1 The video frame rate or frames per second (fps) of available copies of the incident videos (30 fps) is clearly not the frame rate of the original recording (which was likely either 5 or 7.5 FPS) and the resolution of the various cameras is different. Unfortunately, as a result the, precise timing is problematic; however, the times are very close since there are time stamps on the videos. 

2 Newgard, Ken, M.D.: "The Physiological Effects of Handgun Bullets: The Mechanisms of Wounding and Incapacitation." Wound Ballistics Review, 1(3): 12-17; 1992.

3 Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels, in particular the large arteries and small arterioles.

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