The Peter Soulis Incident
* Brian McKenna
* Law Officer Volume 4 Issue 12
* 2008 Dec 23
Officer Peter Soulis was monitoring traffic from a service station parking lot when he spotted a Toyota pull onto the lot with its lights off. The driver drove to a spot directly in Soulis' line of sight, turned the Toyota toward the street and stopped. Ignoring Soulis, he sat eyes straight ahead, focused on the small strip mall across the street. It was almost midnight, and the only business still open in the mall was a sandwich shop.
Soulis decided to investigate. The lot was dimly lit, so he left his headlights off as he pulled forward and stopped behind the Toyota. After angling his car to the left for cover, he logged out on his MDT, grabbed his heavy-duty flashlight, and stepped out into the cool night air. The driver never took his eyes off the strip mall.
Soulis, a safety-conscious, 38-year-old officer with 11 years on the job, worked for a large metropolitan police department in a city with more than its share of violent crime, but the driver didn't look like a trouble-maker and appeared only to be drunk. Still, Soulis knew better than to take anything for granted. Waiting to turn the flashlight on until he got closer, he cautiously moved to a spot about 10 feet behind the Toyota.
Suddenly, the driver lunged to his right and down. Without conscious thought, Soulis drew his gun—a .40 caliber Glock 22—as he moved to his left and shined the light into the car. "Show me your hands!" he shouted.
Slowly and without looking at Soulis, the driver sat up and raised his hands. He didn't say a word as he kept his eyes riveted straight ahead.
At Soulis' command, the man slowly exited the car with both hands in full view. Soulis was now standing well off to the left of the Toyota with his flashlight aimed into its front seat. Glancing past the driver, he spotted a beer lying on its side on the floorboard, its contents foaming out onto the carpet. He relaxed a little at the sight of the open beer, but kept his guard up.
Soulis kept his light on the driver as he reholstered and ordered him to come to him. Obediently, the driver stepped forward and handed Soulis his driver's license. After frisking the man for weapons and finding none, Soulis checked the license and identified the driver as Tim Palmer, a 27-year-old from a small town located many miles from there.
"What are you doing on this lot?" Soulis asked.
Palmer started fidgeting as he replied that he was waiting for some friends and had stopped to use the station's pay phone. Soulis knew that was a lie. Palmer had never gone near the pay phone.
He decided to run him for warrants but suspected he might take off on foot. After ordering Palmer to return to his car, he walked backwards to his cruiser, sat down, and tried to run him on his MDT. But NCIC was down, so there wasn't much he could do. He decided to ask for permission to search the Toyota and take it from there.
In the meantime, he noticed Palmer was nervously glancing around in every direction as he sat waiting in the Toyota. Although not particularly alarmed, Soulis didn't like what he saw. Becoming increasingly convinced that Palmer intended to run, he lit up the car with his spotlight, headlights and takedown lights.
At first, Palmer turned away from the blazing light, but then he adjusted his inside mirror and fixed his eyes on Soulis. Now even more distrustful of Palmer, Soulis opened his door to start his approach, only to see Palmer's door also swinging open. Moving quickly to make contact before Palmer could run, Soulis stepped out of his car and started forward.
He'd gone barely 10 feet when the alarm bells went off. No fear or panic, but his senses were crying out for greater caution, and he changed his approach. He circled around the back of his cruiser and moved up to the passenger side of the Toyota.
As he stopped alongside the car's right-rear fender and looked inside, every instinct told him Palmer was armed and waiting for him. The man was sitting behind the wheel, hunched forward with both feet firmly planted on the floorboard, his eyes glued to the mirror and his right hand thrust between his legs. His left arm was locked straight down along his left side, pressed down onto the floor next to the open driver's door as he readied himself to spring into action.
Soulis' first thought was to go back to his car and call Palmer out, but he would have to retreat across open ground to do that. Confident his position gave him a solid tactical advantage, he drew his gun as he shouted, "Show me your hands, and get outta the car!"
Soulis had planned to shoot through the back window if Palmer drew a weapon, but for reasons he still doesn't fully understand, he moved forward and to his right, stopping alongside the passenger door, not more than two feet from the window. Instantly, he realized he'd made a grievous blunder. Grinning with blood lust, Palmer lunged across the seat and shoved a Smith & Wesson Sigma up into firing position. Before Soulis could react, the S&W barked flame, driving a 9mm solidly into the center of his chest. The impact knocked Soulis back slightly, but his vest stopped the bullet.
Palmer was out of the Toyota a split-second later, firing the gun at him over the roof. There was no other cover nearby, so Soulis went down onto one knee behind the front fender to put the Toyota between them. But, at the same instant, two rounds crashed through his left arm, one just above the wrist and the other dead center on the forearm. Another struck him in the left thigh, although he wouldn't become aware of it until later.
Soulis was shooting back now, pumping rounds through the windshield into his assailant. Palmer went down immediately, and Soulis used the opportunity to seek better cover. The only decent cover nearby was his patrol car, so he started backpedaling in that direction, Glock at the ready and eyes scanning for Palmer's return as he moved. Then, spotting the cruiser out of the corner of one eye, he turned and started to sprint toward it. He had barely completed the turn when Palmer opened fire again. One round missed, but another tore through his left shoulder and exited his left bicep. He kept moving until he reached the back of the car, where he dropped to one knee and got back into the fight.
Palmer was scurrying back and forth down the driver's side of the Toyota, shrieking with rage and stopping sporadically to fire, but Soulis was more patient. He held his fire, waited for Palmer's head to pop into view, and then took a shot each time it appeared. Although Soulis knew he was getting hits, Palmer seemed impervious to his gunfire.
Soulis was also becoming apprehensive about his wounds. The bullet hole in his left wrist was an ugly, swollen mess that made him wonder if he would have enough dexterity to reload, and the one in his thigh was spewing blood all over the back of his cruiser. Believing his femoral artery had been hit, he pressed his left hand down over the wound, but that only caused the blood to shoot out another, previously unseen bullet hole. He feared he would bleed out before he could stop Palmer.
Soulis also heard a woman screaming across the street, leading him to believe he may have hit a bystander. He later learned she'd only been screaming in fear, but at the time he could only think of having hurt one of his citizens, and the idea angered him. It also had an unexpected effect—it made him focus on the importance of stopping Palmer before someone else got hurt.
With these thoughts came an unexpected calm, followed by a new resolve. Up to this point, he'd been fighting a commendable, though primarily defensive battle. But now, infused with the realization that Palmer had to be stopped and that only he could do it, he went on the offensive. Now the predator, he resolved that Palmer would never leave the parking lot, even if he had to take more hits to stop him.
Soulis' gun wasn't empty yet, but he knew better than to take the offensive without reloading. As he ejected the partially empty magazine and slapped in a fresh one, he saw something he hadn't expected. Apparently, Palmer had seen the ejected magazine hit the ground and assumed Soulis had either collapsed or run out of ammo. He left the cover of the Toyota, and advanced toward Soulis. Unaware that he was approaching a conscious and fully armed police officer who knew how to capitalize on an opportunity like this, Palmer walked toward the cruiser. Soulis waited patiently, tracking the man's approach by watching his feet under the cruiser.
Palmer hesitated when he reached the cruiser's right-front fender, as if to consider moving over to the driver's side. Soulis knew he'd have trouble tracking Palmer if he came around that way, so he decided to make his move without delay. He lunged out from behind the car, thrust the Glock up into firing position, and opened fire. His first two rounds hit Palmer center chest, rocking him back on his heels. Palmer flinched as two more rounds hit center mass, and then started backpedaling toward the Toyota. He was still holding his gun, but never raised it to fire.
After reaching the car, Palmer dove over the trunk and dropped out of sight. Soulis paused, and then cautiously started forward again. As he moved closer, he spotted Palmer crawling up into the Toyota's front seat and starting the engine.
Soulis stopped and fired two rounds through the back window. The first missed, but the second hit Palmer in the upper back, driving his head forward into the steering wheel. That seemed to have done the trick, but then Palmer sat up again, dropped the transmission into reverse, and started backing up. With no time to ponder how Palmer had absorbed so many hits, Soulis took aim and emptied the magazine into his assailant.
Palmer rolled over to his right and dropped the gear shift lever into drive, causing the car to lunge forward into a chainlink fence a few feet away, where it came to a stop. After watching Palmer long enough to make sure he didn't get up again, Soulis called for backup and waited for help to arrive.
Remarkably, Palmer had taken 22 hits from Soulis' .40-caliber Glock, 17 of which had hit center mass. Despite the fact that the weapon had been loaded with Ranger SXTs—considered by many to be one of the best man-stoppers available—Palmer lived for more than four minutes after the last shot was fired. His autopsy revealed nothing more than a small amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. Although Soulis could not have known it, Palmer was wanted for murder in a neighboring state.
Soulis made a full recovery and returned to work less than a month later. He has since retired, and now works for a national railroad as its principle special agent for counterterrorism. He also serves as an adjunct instructor for KFD Training & Consultation and Policecombat.com, which provide cutting edge training for police officers in advanced close quarters combative tactics and officer survival skills.
Discussion & Analysis
Soulis is quick to point out that he made a grave error when he moved up next to Palmer's passenger door, but he courageously overcame that mistake. Motivated by an unshakable commitment to winning and a warrior spirit, he went on the offensive and turned an almost certain defeat into an impressive victory.
This incident included many other important learning points—life-saving lessons purchased with Soulis' blood. We owe it to him to learn as much as we can from them.
An in-depth analysis of this case reveals many other crucial lessons related to officer safety, including how to respond to danger signs, how to handle suspicious persons, the hazards of allowing a motorist to return to his vehicle, what to do when you suspect a subject may be armed, resilience to gunfire and how to win even in the most desperate situation.
A thorough analysis of this critical incident is below. Before you read it, however, review the discussion questions below and work through your own answers.
Note: The incident recounted here is true, but the suspect's name was changed to ensure his family's privacy. In order to preserve confidentiality and clarity, some facts have been altered slightly, but the essential elements of the story remain unchanged.
1. Officers often fail to react properly to danger signs. What can you do to alleviate this problem?
2. Suspicious-person calls are more dangerous than many officers realize. How does this affect the way they handle them? Discuss ways to handle suspicious persons safely.
3. Should you ever permit a motorist to return to his vehicle? If we tell the motorist to remain outside his vehicle, what tactics can we use to maximize our control of him?
4. It's very dangerous to order someone to show you his hands if you suspect he may be armed because it gives him the opportunity to produce a gun. I recommend that officers issue the command, "Don't move or I'll shoot!" instead. Do you agree? Why or why not?
5. Subconscious thoughts sometimes cause officers to do things that increase their vulnerability. What can you do to correct this problem?
6. How can we prepare for the possibility that our gunfire may not stop an opponent immediately? What should our attitude be if we're hit by gunfire?
7. What can this case teach us about how to win in the face of a desperate situation like the one faced by Soulis?
8. In what ways did Soulis' attitude and actions exemplify winning mindset and warrior spirit?