Officer’s Fight for Life   9 Crucial Survival Lessons P3
copyright ccijax 2006

Charles Remsberg
Blood streaming down his face, the attacker grabbed again at Milovich-Fitzsimmons' semiauto. She beat him with it, directly on his wound, but he was unfazed. He shoved her against a row of garbage cans and fled across the alley into a vacant field, which soon became the third-and worst-scene of the progressive fight.

Milovich-Fitzsimmons holstered and secured her S&W, took out her cuffs and went after him. When she caught up to him, he'd fallen to his hands and knees. "I thought, 'Game over' and I moved in to take him into custody. Color me wrong.

"All I could see were his wrists-major tunnel vision. I heard that voice in my head, Wrist…cuff." But when she got close, the suspect tackled her and although she beat him with the handcuffs, he took her to the ground. The cuffs flew from her hand.

"We grappled all over the place," she says. "I was punching him, kicking him in the face and chest, twisting his balls for all I was worth. He never flinched…just got angrier." She drew her gun but couldn't get a shot. Seven inches taller and outweighing her by nearly 90 pounds, the suspect pinned her, smashed her in the face and fought again for control of her weapon.

"His hands were like hams," she says. "He was able to bend my wrist so the gun was pointing right against my throat. I got scratches from the muzzle." A weight trainer-"I'm stronger than I look"-Milovich-Fitzsimmons first managed to push the gun off target, then turn it toward him. She pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. The suspect was clamping the slide so it couldn't move.

The muzzle twisted back and forth as the officer fought desperately to save her life and the suspect fought to take it. "It seemed like an eternity. I fought with everything I had but I couldn't stop him. I was physically spent. I knew I couldn't hang on much longer."

Then the voice in her head came back. "Loud as day," three names echoed in her skull: Jake…Alex…Eddie. Her three sons.

"I can't give up!" she told herself. Despite her exhaustion, she continued to keep the muzzle away from her head and body until she glimpsed "my angel"-a man in a blue uniform shirt-running toward them from the alley. He was a responding officer whom her partner had sent in the direction he'd last seen her run as she pursued the suspect fleeing from the collision.

"Shoot this motherfucker!" she screamed. "He's got my gun!"

Almost at contact distance, the officer fired four fast rounds. One grazed Milovich-Fitzsimmons' right hand. Three hit the suspect. He collapsed, dead, on top of her.

"By then," Milovich-Fitzsimmons says, "I think I was slipping into shock. I could hear voices but I couldn't respond to them or move or even open my eyes. And I couldn't stop shaking. I was vibrating from head to toe."

From the moment she radioed in the foot pursuit until the backup officer called in the fatal shooting, only 1 minute 45 seconds elapsed. What happened during that brief time "changed me tremendously," says Milovich-Fitzsimmons, whose husband and sister are Chicago P.D. sergeants. She enumerates the mistakes she believes she made and the lessons she learned:

"When we were fighting in the alley and I shot, I should have kept shooting. When I had firearms training in the academy, we shot once, holstered and waited for the next instruction. We talked about two to the chest and one to the head, but we didn't do it. You perform like you train. My greatest regret is that I didn't light him up in the alley when I had the chance. I won't stop short like that again. If I'm justified in shooting, I'll shoot and keep shooting and not look so much to other avenues."
"When I reholstered my weapon, I deescalated prematurely, going for my cuffs. I should have made a greater effort to grab my radio and get help. I should have anticipated that the fight might not be over yet."
"When we were fighting, I used constant verbal commands. Yelling at him took a lot of energy, exhausted me. We're required to give verbal commands, but I would limit them more and concentrate on physically overcoming my adversary."
"Would I carry an extra gun? Absolutely not. I was in the fight of my life to retain just one. What if I'd had a backup gun in an ankle holster when I kicked him and he'd grabbed it? It's hard enough to hold onto one gun without having to keep track of two."
"The first thing I said when I finally went off duty that night was, 'I want a different gun, a .45.' I went to the range and tried several weapons. I ended up selecting a Sig-Sauer 9mm. It's light, with an easy trigger pull. I shot a tight group the first time I fired it. I'm going to the range more often now. I want to feel more comfortable with a gun. It wasn't second nature to me when I needed to use it."
"I find myself less tolerant to resistance from suspects now. If someone gets jumpy, I throw the cuffs on them. I'm not going to play anymore. I find myself analyzing people and situations a lot more closely. I will never, ever allow myself to be put in that situation again."
"After I had some time off and then went back on duty, I felt like I was coming down with the flu one night. I asked myself, 'If I have to get into something tonight, can I defend myself?' I decided to stay home. Before, I would have brushed it off and gone in, full of bravado. Now I know I need to be on top of my game when I'm working. I can't imagine going through the kind of fight I had feeling sick."
"At the station, some cops were talking about my incident, and one of the females said, 'If that had been me, I'd be dead.' Others nodded in agreement. I went off on them. 'Never give up!' I said. 'The minute you think that way, you've lost! If you're thinking you can't survive, you won't, and you'll be just another officer on a mass card.' I try to talk to other officers about what happened, because I want them to see what can be learned from it."
"I've become more involved with fitness. Sometimes I work out 10 times a week now. Before the incident, I could bench press 110 on a good day. Now I've set a goal of 238, the weight of the guy who attacked me. I'm already up to 160."
Officer Milovich-Fitzsimmons teaches a psychology workshop for recruits at the Chicago Police Academy. She knows something about motivation. She keeps a Polaroid of her assailant's body, decorated with gang tattoos, at her gym.

"He was in my life such a short time, but he altered so much of me," she says. "I look at that picture, and it gets me very angry. It pushes me to work harder."

Charles Remsberg