I take no pleasure in showing footage of an incident where a human being was killed. I link to this footage primarily to hopefully educate people as to what they might expect to encounter if they are ever in such a scenario.
In January 2015, there was a shooting incident at a Waffle House in Fort Myers, Florida. The incident was ruled a justified self-defense shooting, and the shooter had a valid Florida Concealed Weapons Permit.
After thorough investigation, the police have determined that the shooter acted appropriately, so that’s not really up for debate here. All I’m looking at is the facts of the case regarding what weapon the shooter used, and what happened to the person who was shot. We can get some details from the official Lee County Sheriff’s Office police report.
As to the weapon used, it’s a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson SD40, probably very similar to this model. It’s perhaps considered between a compact and a full-size handgun; it’s about the same size as a Glock 23. With a 4″ barrel, it packs the same power as a Springfield XD40 Service, which is considered to be a full-size pistol; however, Glock lists their 4″-barrel models as “compact” pistols, and the 4.6″-barrel Glock 22 would be what they consider a “full-size” pistol. With 14 rounds of .40 S&W in the magazine and a decently long 4″ barrel, the SD40 used in this incident was certainly no lightweight pocket pistol.
No indication is given in the police report as to what ammo was used. What we do learn from the police report is that there were three hits on the deceased’s body, and that only one of those bullets exited the body. That bullet hit in the arm, so it only passed through the bicep and exited. The other two bullets ended up in the chest and abdomen, and did not exit the body. It’s reasonable to assume that these were some manner of hollowpoint rounds as commonly used for self-defense.
The bullets hit in the arm (which passed through), in the chest (with no indication of it having done substantial damage to the body) and in the shoulder. The shoulder bullet traveled through the shoulder into the chest, where it did substantial damage before coming to rest in the abdomen. This bullet hit the spleen and kidney, but it also hit two major circulatory organs, the Inferior Vena Cava (the main vein leading back to the heart) and the Iliac Aorta. It is the autopsy doctor’s opinion that this bullet was the cause of death, due to “massive internal bleeding.”
As near as I can tell, this case exemplifies the conventional advice on self defense shooting. The defender had a gun, exercised restraint before using it, and when he used it he shot until the threat stopped. He did not shoot prior to being rushed (he’d even been punched in the face already, but did not shoot yet); he shot while under attack and stopped shooting once the attacker fled. Considering how fast the events took place, it should be observed that his shot placement was quite good, in that all three shots hit, and two shots ended up in center mass. The attacker fled, which resulted in the desired outcome of stopping the attack; unfortunately the assailant did die later of his wounds.
So — if it’s all “textbook”, why are we talking about it? Because there are two or three things I’d like to point out about this case. Even though the end result was a successful cessation of hostilities, there are still a few things that went quite differently from how people seem to think things should have gone.
Don’t Count On Someone Being Dropped By A Bullet
First — notice that the attacker, Mr. Dakota Fields, didn’t fall on the floor. He didn’t collapse. Even though he was shot with a high-power handgun (no pocket pistol here!) the attacker didn’t even really slow down, did he? He ran out of the restaurant at about the same speed that he ran into it. What does this mean for you? It means that people may not stop just because they’ve been shot, and handgun bullets are lousy stoppers. Fortunately for the defender here, the attacker CHOSE to leave. He obviously wasn’t incapacitated, he could have continued to attack, he was physically able to; he just chose to run.
Now, as far as the self-defending citizen is concerned, either outcome is good — whether the person is incapacitated or they turn to flee, either way, the attack is stopped, and the purpose of being armed is to stop attacks against you. So that part still works, but — it should be eye-opening for those who want to think that “a double-tap center mass will stop anyone.” Even though this person was mortally wounded and would shortly die from his wounds due to massive internal bleeding, he still wasn’t immediately incapacitated!
Handguns Are Lousy Stoppers
They just are. Handgun bullets, even though they can be fatal, really don’t have the power to knock a man down or drop him in his tracks (without a perfectly-placed shot on the central nervous system, that is). You don’t know what someone might do after they’ve been shot — they may turn and run, as happened in this case. Or they may not. Mr. Fields could have chosen to continue fighting with the defender here. There are no guarantees, and there is no way to predict. Once again, you simply must be prepared to shoot until the threat stops.
You’ve all heard the mantra; the three most important factors in any defensive shooting are “shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.” Well, looking at this case… it’s not what you’d think, is it? The bullet that did the damage was the one with (supposedly) lousy shot placement!
Again, going to the autopsy report, one of the bullets fired was to the “center of mass”; that bullet hit the left side of the chest, just below the nipple. Right where you train to hit, right? Right in the center of mass. Yet, other than breaking a few ribs, the autopsy doctor doesn’t even bother to say what other damage the bullet did, only that it was found in the left chest.
The bullet that did the worst damage is the one that hit the attacker in the shoulder. Yes, the shoulder. Now, you’d think a shoulder shot would be lousy shot placement, right? Well, here’s the thing — it doesn’t matter where you place the shot, what matters is what damage the bullet does. And in this particular case, that shoulder shot did a lot of damage.
Watching the video, it looks like this bullet must have been the third (and last) bullet fired, and that Mr. Fields had started to turn away by the time this bullet impacted. It appears to have been a sideways shot; the bullet must have hit the side of the shoulder because (again, according to the police report) this bullet:
“traveled at a downward angle striking ribs at the lower left chest. The projectile then ricocheted off of the ribs and traveled across the body coming to a rest in the lower right abdomen. This projectile struck the spleen, a kidney and severed the inferior vena cava (main vein leading back to heart) and the Iliac Aorta (aorta section leading from abdominal aorta to femoral artery).”
That’s a lot of damage, and a lot of distance for a bullet to travel. I hear people on my YouTube channel all the time making comments like “my heart is only 4″ deep, why would I want a bullet that goes more than 8 or 9 inches?” This gives a pretty good example — not all shots are going to be front-on at an unobstructed sternum! Some will. Some won’t. Some will go into the chest and do nothing. Some might enter through the side, through an arm or shoulder. Some might need to bounce off some ribs before hitting something substantial. You don’t know. But the experts do — there are many good reasons why the leading experts in the field of terminal ballistics put the bare minimum acceptable penetration depth at 12″ of travel!
But, again, even with a bullet doing exactly what the experts advocate a bullet needs to do (disrupting the major circulatory organs), do keep in mind that Mr. Fields was not stopped by the power of the bullet. Even though he was bleeding massively internally, he still managed to run out of the restaurant to the car, and he could still talk as he did so.
Self Defense Calibers Start With A 4?
You’ve probably heard it said, “any serious self-defense caliber starts with a 4″ (meaning .40 S&W, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, or .45 ACP). And in this case, the defender was using a “4” round, .40 S&W. So does this prove that rule? Hardly — if you look at the footage, it seems reasonable to conclude that the attacker disengaged because he was being shot at, not because of the overwhelming power of that “4” bullet. While we can never know for sure, just looking at the footage makes me think that Mr. Fields would have disengaged whether he was being shot by a 9mm, a .380, a .45, or a .38 or any other common handgun bullet. Along the lines of the discussion in my previous article Does Caliber Even Matter?, this may be a case where the caliber of the bullet may or may not have been a factor in the attacker’s decision to disengage.
What is undeniable, however, is that in this scenario, the bullet had sufficient power to do damage that resulted in the assailant being rapidly rendered unconscious due to the drop in blood pressure (testimony of Mr. Fields’ friends show that he quickly succumbed to his injuries once in the car). So if Mr. Fields had chosen not to break off his attack, he would have soon been forced unconscious due to the injuries he’d sustained, because the particular gun and ammo combination chosen by the defender were sufficient to cause enough injury to vital circulatory organs, and because the bullets themselves managed to hit those organs.
There are many lessons that can be learned from this footage. A few of them would be to keep alert, be armed, don’t instigate, move away from danger, shoot until the threat stops, and use as much gun as you can comfortably carry and accurately shoot. Simultaneously, don’t believe the hype and nonsense about “stopping power” and “hydrostatic shock” and one-shot stops. Use ammo that can penetrate deep enough and expand large enough that it can (with proper placement) damage the vital organs of your attacker to bring about rapid incapacitation, in case your attacker doesn’t voluntarily disengage. And hits count a lot more than misses do, and even sub-optimal shot placement can still result in fight-stopping damage.