A Wichita police officer narrowly escaped serious injury when a suspect opened fire as the officer was getting out of her patrol car minutes after a restaurant was robbed Thursday night, Police Chief Norman Williams said.
The officer suffered minor cuts and scratches when a bullet shattered the glass of the passenger door window as she was exiting the car to approach the suspects, Williams said.
“Let me say, very clearly, this was a violent assault on our police officers,” he said.
The suspects then fled a church parking lot and drove to the parking lot of the Governeour Manor apartment complex at Lincoln and Governeour, where they ran from the vehicle.
The man suspected of robbing the Kentucky Fried Chicken at 1251 S. Woodlawn at 7:25 p.m. tried to blend in with the crowd surrounding the complex’s swimming pool, Williams said, but residents of the complex pointed him out as the one who had run from the gray Monte Carlo that had just pulled into the parking lot.
The 55-year-old convicted felon was arrested just after 7:31 p.m. without incident.
“We’re very fortunate we didn’t have a situation at the swimming pool, because he was still armed” with a large-caliber handgun, Williams said.
Several adults and children were in the pool area at the time officers arrived, but no one was hurt. Help from the residents was vital in identifying the suspect, he said.
Officers ran the license plate of the Monte Carlo and drove to the owner’s residence in the 1200 block of South Terrace, Williams said. The second suspect, a 49-year-old man, was arrested at Boston and Terrace at about 11:30 p.m. as he approached his home on foot.
Given the course of events, Williams said, the city and police department “are very fortunate that neither one of our officers was seriously injured or killed.”
The two officers had just worked another case in the area of Harry and Woodlawn when a restaurant employee reported the armed robbery, he said. The robber then got into a car driven by a second man.
Residents alerted the officers to the robbers’ Monte Carlo, and they immediately began pursuing it north on Woodlawn with lights flashing and siren activated.
The suspects turned right into the parking lot of Woodlawn Baptist Church at 960 S. Woodlawn and stopped. The pursuing officers turned in behind them, and as the officer in the passenger seat opened the door and began climbing out the passenger in the Monte Carlo stuck his left arm out of the car window and fired three times.
One shot hit the right front fender, another shattered the passenger window, and the third struck the hood and possibly deflected off the windshield. The officers used their patrol car as cover as the Monte Carlo sped away, exiting the parking lot through a gap between a cedar tree and a wooden fence.
Moments later, the Monte Carlo turned into the apartment complex parking lot. Just six minutes passed from the time the robbery was reported until the arrest of the armed suspect, Williams said.
The incident is the first time this year someone has fired at Wichita police officers, Williams said.
“It’s extremely disturbing,” said Williams, who has been involved in four shooting incidents over the course of his law enforcement career. “Somebody has placed our officers in danger, and to me that’s unacceptable, because we’re here to protect and serve our community.”
The officers who were fired upon were placed on administrative leave per department policy pending a review of the incident. Neither officer fired at the suspects.
The driver of the patrol car just graduated from the academy in October and is still in field training, Williams said. The officer in the passenger seat has been with the department for more than six years.
A third person who was briefly detained at the apartment complex had no connection to the robbery, Williams said. He approached officers and told them he had a gun and had a conceal-carry permit for it.
Following questioning, he was released.
Williams praised the assistance provided by residents, saying it was crucial in helping officers identify and apprehend the suspects.
“Because of their actions, two suspects are in custody,” he said.