Hutchinson officer becomes peer mentor after fatal shooting
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Josh Long’s home life deteriorated. He paced around the house at night while his children and wife slept. Panic attacks became the norm.
The Hutchinson police officer remembered feeling content at work, but at home he struggled to cope with killing a man in the months following the deadly shooting.
Long had become a welder, working at Mega Manufacturing after graduating from Buhler High School. But he knew the plant job wouldn’t last, so he started looking for another career. He watched his future in-laws in law enforcement and saw the comradery. He decided to give it a whirl.
“I was 21. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life,” Long told the Hutchinson News . He went on a ride-along with his wife’s aunt at the Hutchinson Police Department. “It was a blast,” he said.
Long added his name to the HPD waiting list.
That was before a white officer shot and killed a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, sparking a national debate and scrutiny of law enforcement.
The HPD had a waiting list upward of 50 when Long applied in the mid-2000s. Today, the HPD has several positions it can’t fill.
Long worked as a jailer with the Reno County Sheriff’s Office and waited for a call from the HPD. He called Sgt. Robert McClarty — now the McPherson police chief — every Friday to check on the application.
Long got the call he had been waiting for in less than a year. He joined the HPD in 2006.
Within two years, Long had become part of the Reno County Emergency Response Team. It carried perks, notably training with tactical weapons and responding on the “big calls.”
Long had drawn his weapon on calls before, but for 10 years he never fired until June 23, 2015.
Halfway into a 12-hour shift, Long heard the call over the scanner.
It was shortly after midnight.
The caller told dispatch that 22-year-old Jonathan Perser-Wilson confessed to the murder of 38-year-old Mary Ann Arnett.
Arnett’s decomposed body was found the day before, face-down in a creek near the intersection of 43rd Avenue and Riverton Road, south of Nickerson.
She had a stab wound on her leg and cords wrapped around her neck several times.
The caller also said Wilson had three children in his home. The dozen-or-so deputies and HPD officers had the house surrounded by the time Long arrived.
Long parked down the block and moved onto the property with a police-issued AR-15. The 5-foot-8-inch officer could stand upright under the branches of a tree near the edge of the corner lot home.
Long leaned against the tree and covered officer Jim Wilson, who stood a few feet from the partially open door trying to convince the suspect to let the children free.
“I could see him in the window. He would put his hands up like this,” Long said, making fists with his hands and putting one up in front of the other, near his face. “Mimicking a gun.”
Long could see the suspect through the windows and the screen door since the front door was partially cracked.
He couldn’t see the children.
He remembers the suspect throwing knives and other objects at the windows.
Wilson continued to talk with the man for about 20 minutes before officers decided the children needed to come out.
The man agreed to the let the children go.
Perser-Wilson moved the children into the sight of officers, facing them on a couch a few feet from the front door.
With ballistic shields pressed against the windows, officers tried to persuade the children, ages 1 to 6, to come to them.
“The kids wouldn’t come,” Long said. “They were scared. They were little kids ... I don’t blame them. Nobody is going to a guy in the middle of the night, holding a rifle; people shouting.”
The children belonged to the man’s girlfriend, Jamie Hatfield, who dated the deceased woman. Hatfield was later sentenced to 13 years in prison for her involvement in the murder.
Officers told Perser-Wilson to move into a room while they came in, Long said. The room was on the other side of the kitchen in an open area of the 942-square-foot home.
A kitchen countertop doubled as a buffer between Perser-Wilson and the children about 15 feet away. Long and deputy Richard Jennings, now a detective, went in side-by-side to put themselves and others between Perser-Wilson and the children while other officers came in to grab the children.
“It’s called sponging because you are going to soak it up,” Long said. “Whatever is going to get thrown, shot, whatever. You’re the shield.”
Officers didn’t know what weapons were inside.
Perser-Wilson started to yell at officers and kept peeking out of the room. Officers could only see the upper half of Perser-Wilson’s body.
“We just kept telling him stay there, stay there ... Stay in that other room so we could get the kids,” Long said.
Perser-Wilson peeked to his left, out of the doorway at officers and chucked a glass mug from his right hand. Long thinks it shattered against Jenning’s shield before small pieces hit him.
Long said Perser-Wilson popped out, again. This time with a long kitchen knife.
“You could hear it,” Long said, making a whistling sound effect and motioning over his right shoulder. “It went right between me and (Jennings).”
A third time, Perser-Wilson looked out and motioned to throw another object.
Long fired. So did HPD officer Tim Williams.
Long estimated they fired 11 shots in all. Long didn’t know which of them shot first.
“It just goes silent. You’re listening for a thud. You’re listening for movement,” Long said. “There’s nothing, just complete silence.”
The suspect stammered out of the room toward the officers.
“You could see it in his face, he’s dead,” Long said. “He was a walking dead man.”
Long and Williams left the home. Long sat in the front seat of a patrol vehicle, digesting what happened, while officers searched and secured the home.
Long later learned that the children were out just before the shooting and that officers found a knife by where Perser-Wilson had been. Long had been in the home less than a minute.
Long went back to the law enforcement center to have his photo taken and give a statement. And he called his wife, Erica.
He kept telling Erica the same thing: “I’m OK.”
“And then he started bawling,” Erica said, adding after a pause he said: ”‘I was in a shooting. I’m OK.’”
Long barely slept that night — or the next.
He couldn’t talk to other officers about the shooting. Not until the Kansas Bureau of Investigation interviewed him on a Friday morning — two days later.
“I just wanted to talk,” Long said. “I was really isolated.”
Long didn’t fear being prosecuted since he felt the shooting was justified. Talking with the KBI agents took a weight off his shoulders.
He passed a mandatory psychological evaluation to return to work, but he already had a week of vacation after his five-day administrative leave for the shooting.
“I felt like I was in a haze,” Long said. “I couldn’t sleep, didn’t want to eat.”
He finally returned to work. Going from call to call distracted him. The constant scanner chatter helped as well.
But at home, Long couldn’t unwind.
His wife and children would go to sleep, and Long’s mind would start to wander.
Long would watch TV, tinker around in the garage and pace up and down the hallways.
On Aug. 5, 2015, less than two months after the fatal shooting, Long responded with the ERT team to an early morning standoff, roughly a quarter-mile from the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
Joseph Roman was barricaded in a garage with a Remington 870, sawed-off shotgun. Roman fired a hole in the garage door and then stuck the barrel through the hole to shoot at officers.
Long said several officers fired back, including him. Roman was hit at least twice, but survived.
“It felt like I had some kind of black cloud around me,” Long said.
A 2016 study by the National Police Research Platform found that 27 percent of officers have fired their service weapon. The study doesn’t indicate whether those 8,000 officers surveyed shot anyone in the incidents.
Male officers were more likely to be involved in a shooting (30 percent) than female officers (11 percent). Non-white officers (21 percent) and nonveterans (26 percent) were less likely to fire their weapon than their counterpart by 10 and 6 percentage points, respectively.
One day that fall, Long woke up sweating and gasping for breath. He was home alone during the day, resting for the night shift.
He didn’t know what hit him.
Long said he paced around the house, his heart racing. Eventually, he drove around town then walked around Lowe’s until things went back to normal.
Long said he later Googled what happened and aligned the symptoms with a panic attack.
He didn’t tell his wife or coworkers.
“Everyone starts tiptoeing around you whether they know it or not,” Long said. “They looked at me a little different. They talked to me a little different.”
Some weeks were worse than others, Long said, but 90 percent of the panic attacks occurred when he was by himself at home or while riding in the passenger seat.
Long, usually soft-spoken, started to become easily irritated. Erica noticed the changes in his behavior but didn’t know what she could do.
It took Long snapping at the children on the way back from a BHS football game about a year later for things to come to a head.
Long told Erica about the panic attacks, and she decided it was time for help. Erica told him to talk with Josh Radloff, who was Long’s lieutenant at the time.
Long had a good relationship with Radloff, now a captain, and admired him professionally. Radloff told Long about options for counseling.
Long didn’t feel comfortable talking with a stranger.
“It goes back to a pride issue,” Long said. ”(Officers) all act tough, but what toll does that take? Was it really worth it to bottle it up, no it wasn’t.”
He did plan a doctor’s appointment with his longtime family practitioner, Dr. Stanton Barker. Long told the secretary it was for a checkup.
Long said he shies away from even taking aspirin and didn’t want to take any medications for the panic attacks. He just wanted to talk with someone he felt comfortable with and have confirmation that he experienced panic attacks.
Long noticed dieting and exercise “seemed to help a little bit.”
Lt. John Taylor later told Long about a weeklong training opportunity in Hays. Long attended the April 2017 peer mentor training and heard from other officers involved in shootings.
He learned the panic attacks were “a normal reaction to an abnormal event.” And the panic attacks lost the sting they used to have.
As a peer mentor, Long now can give other officers involved in a traumatic situation someone to talk to. Conversations officers have with Long are protected by state law.
Officers wouldn’t need to remain silent the way Long did.
A few officers have since talked to Long as a peer mentor, but the HPD plans to expand the program.
After Chief Jeffrey Hooper joined HPD in October, he approved the peer mentor program a month later. The policy is still being written.
“A lot of times officers won’t reach out to mental health professionals or counselors,” Hooper said.
Hooper hopes to have at least one other officer trained as a peer mentor and offer the services to other Reno County agencies, including dispatchers, and even spouses. Hooper said he knew of the program from his time in Riley County.
Long still has good and bad weeks, but the bad are fewer and further apart than they used to be. Erica feels she has more of her husband back.
“He’s never gonna be the same as he was before the shooting,” she said. “But I would say now it is pretty close to what it was.”
Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com