HAMILTON, Ohio – Years of continual training saved the life of a veteran police officer Saturday morning when he confronted an armed man.
"Shooting a firearm, putting your hands on a suspect, any kind of a use of a weapon . . . that's a perishable, physical skill," said Hamilton, Ohio police officer Brian Buchanan. "If you don't do that at regular intervals how good are you going to be when you are literally at your worst?"
Buchanan is the training officer of Chad Stafford, the Hamilton cop who took a dispatch call about a man shooting a rifle into the air.
When Stafford arrived at 11th Street and Sipple Avenue at 7 a.m. all his training kicked in when 18-year-old Brandon Keeler opened fire on the officer's cruiser with an AK-47.
Stafford leapt from his vehicle to escape being pinned down, as Buchanan trained him to do, according to Hamilton Police Chief J. Scott Scrimizzi.
In the process the 16-year veteran received a grazing bullet wound to his head.
“Within another inch, the officer could have been killed,” Scrimizzi said.
Within minutes, Stafford fired two rounds back at Keeler after he was injured. The exchange ended with the young Hamilton man being pronounced dead at the scene.
"I have a 17-year-old son,” Scrimizzi said. “It's a shame that it had to come to this.”
After being stopped, a handgun was also found on Keeler.
Scrimizzi related how a witness said he was amazed by Stafford’s resolve during the exchange. Bleeding profusely from his head, the witness said Stafford never lost sight of Keeler.
Stafford is one of about a dozen firearm trainers with the department himself. He also worked as a K-9 handler and with the SWAT team in the past.
The 44-year-old officer called in his own injury to dispatch. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s Air Care helicopter was called to the scene to transport Stafford.
At the hospital, Stafford received staples for his wounds and was released in the afternoon to his family.
While in the hospital, Scrimizzi said Stafford contributed solid training and “muscle memory” to his survival.
Buchanan explained that process.
"Get your information. What you get before you get there, you're role playing and running a scenario, multiple scenarios, through your head. 'What if this happens? What if that happens? What I will do when this happens?" Buchanan said.
Scrimizzi said Keeler had a juvenile record, but due to Keeler’s age at the time, details of incidents could not be released. The chief confirmed Keeler lived in the neighborhood where the shooting took place.
The last officer-involved shooting occurred in Hamilton on April 25, 2010. Chief Scrimizzi said he could not remember the last time a Hamilton police officer was shot in the line of duty.
As far as motive was concerned, Scrimizzi could not begin to speculate what caused Keeler to act.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said.
WCPO reporters Shannon Kettler and Jay Warren contributed to this report.