Sunday, February 25, 2024

Gunfight Anatomy: The Bruce Lua Incident

This is the first in a series of articles and accompanying videos demonstrating just how fast deadly encounters can evolve. I have heard people say, “there is no timer in a gunfight.” The statement is obviously silly – the timing of your opponent’s actions dictates how fast your reaction (your timer if you will) must be in a gunfight.

One of the challenges anyone faces in a reactive gunfight is their perception-reaction time. The time required to respond to a given stimulus varies greatly across different tasks and even within the same task under different conditions. It can range from less than 0.15 seconds to many seconds depending upon the type of stimulus, the observer’s circumstances, the environment, and the stimulus complexity.

In the discussion below, I analyze the actions of three individuals involved in a gunfight. Two were Chicago Police Officers and one was a run of the mill violent criminal actor.

The Background:

On 16 May 2021, Chicago Police began to receive 911 calls concerning shots being fired in a North Lawndale suburb of Chicago, IL. Simultaneously, the Chicago ShotSpotter system began registering gunfire (see note #1 below). Chicago police responded to the area and a bystander indicated that Bruce L. Lua might have been the shooter. The police (in a marked patrol car and on foot) followed Lua for several blocks; however, Lua did not acknowledge the officers and did not follow their instructions to stop.

Other officers arrived and encountered Lua walking down an alley toward their marked patrol SUV that was stopped in and partially blocking the alley exit facing Lua. Officers Garcia and Nakayama exited their marked SUV and ordered Lua to stop and show his hands. Lua ignored their commands to stop and continued walking toward the officers with his hands concealed in his hoodie pockets.

The Gunfight:

As Officer Garcia exited the passenger side, he drew his Glock 19 to a low ready with his right hand and continued to order Lua to stop as he approached him--Lua ignored his command and continued to walk forward. Officer Nakayama exited the SUV driver’s side and began moving to his left away from the vehicle into Lua's likely path but did not draw his pistol.

When he was within three yards of Officer Garcia, Lua began withdrawing both hands from his hoodie pockets just like the officers had commanded. Lua used his left hand to shield the fact that he had a pistol in his right hand as he fired one shot at Officer Garcia striking Garcia’s pistol and hand. Lua then turned to Officer Nakayama and fired five shots, shooting him in the right shoulder and left hip respectively with the first three rounds.

Gunfight Analysis:

Lua drew and fired his pistol at Officer Garcia in 0.60 seconds; however, Lua’s pistol was only visible to Officer Garcia for 0.52 seconds before Lua fired (see red arrow below).

The Moment Lua's Pistol Becomes Visible
Based upon a review of the body worn camera (BOC) videos and police reporting, I believe the bullet Lua fired at Officer Garcia struck the trigger guard of Officer Garcia’s Glock 19 pistol. The bullet then entered the pistol grip, damaging several rounds in the pistol’s magazine (and partially ejecting the magazine) before entering Officer Garcia’s right palm and exiting the back of his hand. 

Officer Garcia’s pistol fired when Lua’s bullet struck it and this bullet impacted the concrete at Lua’s feet (see red arrow below). In an instant, Officer Garcia’s primary pistol was rendered inoperable. If he had a backup pistol, Officer Garcia never attempted to draw it.

Officer Garcia's Pistol Fires the Moment Lua's Bullet Strikes It

Lua turned and fired his first shot at Officer Nakayama 1.28 seconds into the gunfight and within 0.68 seconds of shooting Officer Garcia striking Officer Nakayama’s right shoulder on his bullet resistant vest. Lua fired a second shot at Officer Nakayama 0.50 seconds after the first which likely missed. Lua fires a third shot 0.33 seconds later likely striking Officer Nakayama in the left hip which caused the officer to stumble backwards and ultimately fall. Lua fires fourth shot 0.25 seconds later and a final shot, both of which miss Officer Nakayama. Lua's fifth shot hits the ground. In the image below left, you can see LUA firing his first shot at Officer Nakayama in the below right, Lua is firing his third shot.  Notice, Lua continued to aggressively advance toward Officer Nakayama as this exchange of gunfire unfolded.

Officer Nakayama drew his pistol and fired his first shot one handed 1.74 seconds after Lua initiated the gunfight and 0.66 seconds after Lua’s first shot had struck him. Officer Nakayama’s first shot appears to have struck the ground—not surprising since he had just taken a hit to his primary shoulder. Even though it was on the vest, the hit likely disrupted his draw to a degree. Nakayama point shoots a second shot with two hands 0.38 seconds later which likely struck Lua in the shin because Lua begins to fall.

Within 1.70 seconds of initiating the gunfight, Lua had shot at and hit two police officers with the first four rounds he fired. The entire gunfight lasted 2.62 seconds. (see note #3)

Perception and Reaction -- Is There a Lesson Here?

Events happen very fast in deadly force encounters. Quickly recognizing what is happening and then rapidly executing a pre-programed response is the key to prevailing in a deadly force encounter.

The person who takes the initiative gets to start the fight—all they require is decisiveness. Lua initiated the gunfight which gave him a significant time-advantage over the police officers.

Although Officer Garcia had drawn his pistol, he had no indication that Lua was going to use unlawful deadly force until an instant before Lua shot him. It is unlikely that Officer Garcia could have successfully engaged Lua before he was hit.

Lua’s first shot transition to Officer Nakayama was likely much faster than Officer Nakayama could have drawn his pistol from a retention holster. Nakayama was in the process of drawing his pistol when Lua’s shot struck him.

If we look at this incident using Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) decision cycle from the officer’s and the Lua’s perspective, Lua has already passed through a full OODA cycle. He Observed the officers approaching, Oriented when they parked the car, Decided to engage them, and began Acting while the officers were still in the Observe stage.

The quicker the defender (in this case the officers) perceives what is happening (observe), the quicker the defender can act (i.e. execute a response) (see notes #3 and #4).

The defender is typically behind in the decision cycle because the violent criminal actor is usually in the act stage while the defender is still observing. This is true of police and the private citizen.

Mental awareness and mindset is a critical component to surviving any defensive encounter involving deadly force. However, mindset alone is insufficient. It must be coupled with awareness, proper training, and a willingness to act. The solution to this challenge is to develop mental models of if “X” observation, then “Y” reaction. This allows one to skip the intervening steps in the OODA cycle.

In this example, Chicago Police policy (G03-02-05) permits the use of OC spray against “active resisters.” I am not going to second guess these officers and I recognize the difficulties all officers face in today’s politically charged environment. However, Lua was clearly an active resister and the immediate use of oleoresin capsicum spray may have precluded his ability to effectively engage the officers with deadly force.

The same holds true for the private citizen. If an unknown contact is approaching and attempting to engage you, there are several immediate actions you can take depending upon the totality of the circumstances. The key is to have a set of pre-planned actions to execute in response to a given stimulus.

For example, if I am pulling into my driveway and a car stops at the driveway entrance with young men exiting, I have several options. If I am still in the car, I can simply drive away. If I have exited the car, I can take cover and covertly draw my pistol and challenge them. Going through “what if” scenarios based upon your daily activities and deciding what your action would be in each scenario will significantly speed up your reaction if you are suddenly facing unlawful deadly force.

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(1) ShotSpotter uses a series of microphones and sensors to detect and geolocate gunfire. 

(2) I base my time analysis on the FPS or frames per second of the videos the Chicago PD released which provides data to the 100ths of a second accuracy assuming the frame rates have not been altered.

(3) "Understanding that the simple elements of an officer’s response such as perceiving, deciding, and reacting take time, and understanding how much time is critical in assessing train-ing tactics and in investigating the dynamics of officer-involved use-of-force scenarios." Police Officer Reaction Time to Start and Stop Shooting: The Influence of Decision-Making and Pattern Recognition, William J. Lewinski, PhD; et al.; Law Enforcement Executive Forum, Vol. 14, No. 2 • June 2014

 (4) For an in-depth discussion of Boy’s concepts:

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