Crime & Courts

Law officers train for the worst

Before Richard Lyons allegedly lured Deputy Brian Etheridge to a farm house and shot him in the back, he told several people he was contemplating killing an officer, says a source close to the investigation.

So far, the source said, investigators have found no record of anyone trying to report what Lyons had expressed before Monday's shooting.

All Etheridge knew shortly before noon that day was that he was being dispatched to a residence in the 3600 block of South Rock Road where someone wanted to report a theft.

Although Etheridge, 26, was a relatively new Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy, he had been trained to be ready for the worst — even when things appear harmless.

Sheriff's Lt. Mark Pierce, who was Etheridge's training sergeant, said he remembers telling Etheridge and his fellow recruits that although they have to be kind, courteous and professional, they should "have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

"Because you don't know — we don't have any idea — who we're dealing with," Pierce said.

It does not mean that officers are taught to be quick to use deadly force, he said. It means they have to be alert and prepared for instant action to defend themselves or protect others.

A day after the deputy was fatally shot, Pierce said, "I again recited that (have-a-plan) quote" to second-shift deputies in a squad meeting.

In law enforcement circles, Etheridge's killing — and a resulting shoot-out that killed Lyons — has become the new example of how routine can turn deadly.

Lyons, 27, had a violent criminal record including incidents in which he was accused of battering officers.

Sister speaks

Lyons "wasn't mentally stable," his younger sister, Cesly Coleman, wrote in an e-mail.

His mental state is "no excuse for his actions, nor am I trying to justify his actions," said Coleman, 20.

"Underneath all the pain, anger, and sadness in his heart... there was a heart of gold.... He would do anything for anyone, but he let the pain and rage overpower that...."

"I lost a brother who stole life from an innocent man... a man who was trying to do his job... a man who has a daughter that is now going to grow up fatherless... a wife husbandless.... I cannot begin to explain the hurt I have in my heart for Officer Etheridge's family."

About the shooting, Coleman said that, as far she knew, "no one saw this coming."

Always vigilant

Carl Enterkin, a Bel Aire police lieutenant, retired Wichita police lieutenant and 37-year veteran, said an older cop told him a slight variation of Pierce's advice years ago: "Be professional, be courteous and be fair. But have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

What it means, Enterkin said, is "you have to go from a compassionate, caring human being to being willing to kill somebody who's trying to kill you....

"You want to be ahead of your curve... constantly aware of your environment....

"You have to be assessing the entire environment you're in at every moment until you disengage contact and get back in that vehicle and drive away."

There's no indication that Etheridge could have had any clue what was around the corner of the farmhouse he had gone to, Pierce, Enterkin and others say.

Pierce was one of the first SWAT members to arrive after Etheridge had been shot Monday at the Lyons family home, just east of McConnell Air Force Base.

Since then, Pierce said, "I've walked through that crime scene. I've observed everything that I could observe."

He's asked himself over and over if there was anything more anyone could have done to train Etheridge for what he would encounter outside the farm house where he walked around to the backyard after getting no answer at the front door. Where Lyons allegedly hid with a .30-30 lever-action rifle — the kind often used to hunt deer. Where Lyons shot Etheridge in the back, through his body armor, then walked up to his prey and shot him in the leg, with the deputy's own gun.

"And Brian did everything right that day," even after he was gravely wounded and managed to call for help, Pierce said.

Pierce also decided, after soul-searching, that the training was not lacking, "not just by me but by everybody. Hundreds of people had a hand in his training," he said.

Etheridge died at Wesley Medical Center about four hours after he was shot.

Lyons died about six hours after he shot the deputy, at the same hospital, after he fired at officers in a field near the house, Sheriff Bob Hinshaw said.

Standard procedure

It started out so mundane. "This is a larceny report," Pierce said. "It's a courtesy call, to go out and investigate — in the grand scheme of things — a minor crime. But it's still part of our job."

For such a call, the county doesn't have the resources for more than one deputy to respond, Pierce said.

"It's just not logistically possible, I don't believe," he said.

Other law enforcement officials agreed that with any agency, a larceny report alone would draw no more than one officer. Some agencies wouldn't even send an officer; they would take a report over the phone. That would be it.

Research has shown that having officers work in pairs doesn't appear to reduce the number of officer killings, said Brian Withrow, a former Wichita State University academic who now is an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University-San Marcos.

Potential for harm

Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said the need for officers to always be on guard explains why officers might not seem particularly warm.

"We get complaints from citizens a lot of times about officers acting paranoid or unfriendly or stiff, or 'They're always looking around,' " Stolz said.

They appear that way because they have to be so alert, he said.

Even when taking a simple report, they will keep a safe distance from people they are talking to. They will habitually stand so that their weapon is away from the person.

As long as an officer is wearing a uniform, he is a potential target, Stolz said.

Every time a deputy comes into contact with someone, there is a potential for the deputy to be harmed. In Sedgwick County, a deputy responds to roughly one 911 call an hour, not including traffic stops and self-initiated contact with people, Hinshaw said.

Enterkin said Etheridge's shooting will draw close attention in police circles.

"You can guarantee that people are talking about this right now: How we can we avoid this in the future? Or, can we avoid this in the future?" he said.

Still, Enterkin said, "He did his job just the way he should have done it.

"He responded to a call... one of those calls that you would least expect to be ambushed."

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