LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Behind the badge: Officers under attack


They're shot, beaten and forced to fire in self-defense. It's the dangers of the job police officers across the country face on any given day.

Thursday, a California police officer was ambushed in the parking lot outside his police headquarters, shot and killed during a botched robbery. His story is one of dozens from this year, of the men and women who've lost their lives in the line of duty. A Texas sheriff's deputy was shot and killed while pumping gas. A Georgia police officer was shot point blank by a man with an assault rifle. Four New York City police officers were shot and killed within an 11-month period.

These violent attacks on police officers are not just a problem in someone else's town. It's happening in Kentuckiana, and some officers are only escaping death by the most fortunate of circumstances.

A WHAS11 Exclusive investigation uncovered eye-opening information about who is attacking Louisville Metro Police officers and how often it's happening.

On Officer Lamont Washington's chest, you'll find a map of the night everything changed. A scar reminds him of just how close he came to being killed in the line of duty. A suspect's bullet tore through his badge and his vest, before heading into his body.

"Shots fired!" LMPD Officer Lamont Washington yelled.

"Okay, shots fired," Dispatch repeated.

"Shots fired, 4-59! I'm...I'm hit!" he said.

Washington responded to a home invasion nearly four years ago, on Feb. 24, 2012, but revisiting the scene near Churchill Downs makes it feel like yesterday.

"I ended up going along the side of the house, and when I came on the back porch that's where the shooter was. We took over running through this alley here," Washington said. "He jumped a fence. I jumped a fence. When I was coming down, he had pulled a gun that he had out of the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and fired at me. The first round hit my gun hand and took that out of play. The second missed. The third went through my badge and through my vest and into my chest."

It missed his heart by inches.

"The badge slowed it down. The vest stopped it the rest of the way," Washington said.

"I was going to protect somebody that I've never met before and knew nothing about and I got hurt doing that," Washington said.

Dozens of Louisville Metro police officers are attacked on the job every year, but who's attacking them may change your next conversation about violent police encounters.

According to LMPD, in the last five years, the majority of the suspects were black men, who attacked white officers (1,231). The next largest demographic of suspects were white men who attacked white officers (1,078), followed by white women who attacked white officers (276).

The numbers of attacks on officers took a dramatic shift from last year to the present. Through November 2015, suspects have faced 371 charges of violence against officers. That's a steep decline from just last year when LMPD filed 581 charges against suspects. This year is also dramatically less than any of the last 5 years, beginning in 2010. This follows a national trend that also shows the number of assaults on officers on the decline.

"It's going to take some time and probably more reflection a year from now to fully understand why certain numbers are down versus up." Sgt. Phil Russell, an LMPD spokesperson said.

Russell says there's a good possibility some of the decline in assaults is related to the initiation of body cameras in Louisville this year. WHAS11 viewers have questioned whether events from Ferguson, Mo. affected the way officers do their jobs. LMPD would not say whether there was a direct link.

We took a deeper look into how these officers are attacked. The majority isn't staring down the barrel at the attackers. In fact, the weapons most used by these criminals are their own fists, followed by attacks involving a car. The majority of offenders are between 18 and 35-years-old.

A bullet is visible in an x-ray taken of Det. Jody Speaks almost 6 years ago. He was shot in the back during an undercover operation in Dec. of 2010.

"There's definitely sights and sounds that take me back to that time. My heart starts beating a little bit faster the hair stands up on the back of my neck," Speaks said.

Speaks and his partner were dispatched to a man with a gun, whom they found on a street corner in the Portland neighborhood.

"As soon as we stopped the truck, we didn't have a chance to put the lights on or anything," Speaks said.

Another bullet targeted at a police officer.

"I saw him pull the gun out, saw him shoot me," Speaks said. "There was a split moment of panic, I would say, a little bit of freaking out and then I pulled myself out of that."

That's not the only time Detective Speaks faced violence on his beat. Months after returning from his injuries suffered in the shooting, a man beat him on a sidewalk among a crowd outside Beecher Terrace.

"He immediately flipped me on my back and started punching me." Speaks said. "At that time, my radio fell off. My flashlight fell off. I was in a vulnerable spot."

The physical injuries were one thing. Watching the crowd's reaction after Speaks called out for help hurt worse.

"They all started videotaping on their cell phones and cheering for the guy while we were in a fight," Speaks said.

Under fire by citizens who could care less than to help a police officer, Speaks walked away with a broken nose and a concussion.

"It definitely makes you take a second look at everything you do. For me, it makes me that much more vigilant about how I prepare myself each day," Speaks said.

He also knows what it's like to fire in self-defense. Working with the Viper unit a few years ago, Speaks approached a murder suspect in a car.

"He pulled out a gun and pointed it at my partner," Speaks said.

Despite what we know, these officers continue to put on the uniform every day, knowing dangers await. In the majority of cases, attacks happen during disturbance calls, from loud noise complaints to fights in the street.

"We are somewhat guarded at times when we approach a vehicle or a situation because we have in mind that it could go bad. It could turn into something that could be very violent or God forbid deadly," Sgt. Russell said.

A handful of men in the Commonwealth have paid the ultimate price to protect us. Bardstown Officer Jason Ellis, ambushed in May of 2013. Kentucky State Trooper Joseph Ponder, shot and killed in September of this year during a traffic stop. Most recently, Richmond Police Officer Daniel Ellis, shot and killed in early November while searching an apartment for a robbery suspect.

"You never know what's going to happen. You don't know what you're walking into," Washington said.

"The police department's like your family. When you see someone get hurt, it hits you deeply," Speaks said.