Another Real-Life Shooting Incident — The Waffle House Shooting

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.

Shot Placement

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.



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15 thoughts on “Another Real-Life Shooting Incident — The Waffle House Shooting

  1. waldengr

    OFS !!

    great work, as always. even though your analysis is quite good, unfortunately the “4” and up guys, the one-shot stoppers, the energy dump people will not be persuaded (well, maybe a few). the real value is the clear evaluation of an actual event, and the results. the more you write, the more convinced i am to flee any threat , rather than stick around to see if my SD/EDC will rule the day.

    1. Brian Fortin

      That reminds me of the advice of this famous knife fighting trainer whose name I cannot remember because it’s not my topic. He said when two men who know how to use a knife fight, they are both going die so the smart thing to do is run away. This kinda applies to gunfights too. Because the majority of handgun injuries are going to take too much time to incapacitate, a determined opponent can take you with him.

  2. pinetreebbss

    Great discussion. This YouTube interview of a Chicago policemen with with actual gunfight experience further supports your conclusions. Excellent information for anyone carrying for self defense. The interviewer is Massod Ayoob, a noted self defense writer. The policeman’s description of his first of more than a dozen gunfights is hair razing. It’s long, 50 minutes, but worth hearing.

    Thanks again fr all you do.

  3. PeteDub

    This particular self-defense shooter placed at least one .40 S&W round on target COM, yet did not accomplish a physiological stop even though the attacker suffered fatal wounds.

    Shot placement clearly was not the problem — the COM round did about all the organ damage a COM round could. The actual problem is that a .40 S&W will not reliably cause a physiological stop even with a COM hit.

    Like the .45 ACP, however, the .40 S&W simply does not deliver the Kinetic Energy required to incapacitate a human Central Nervous System reliably without a direct hit to the CNS. Among popular handgun roundsshot out of 4″ barrels, the .357 SIG, .357 Mag and 10mm deliver 600 ft-lbf of Kinetic Energy, the amount necessary to achieve a physiological stop reliably according to scientific studies on the issue.

    Any round that delivers less than 600 ft-lbf necessarily forces a self-defense shooter to rely on either psychological stops like the one in this incident, or head shots for reliable direct hits on the CNS. The self-defense efficacy between a .22LR and other popular handgun rounds (except .357 SIG, .357 Mag and 10mm) actually is fairly negligible because in the vast majority of defensive gun uses (DGUs) the mere presence of a firearm or a psychological stop is sufficient to stop an attack. But in those rare occasions when a physiological stop is needed, 600 ft-lbf is needed..

    The best use of .40 S&W is to prepare a self-defense shooter to step up to the recoil and muzzle flip of the .357 SIG round.

    1. waldengr

      i think STB already tackled the concept of energy dump (impact) as regards effective stops. would be really interested in whichever study you were referencing, as it is opposed to studies STB identified. this could be quite a discussion.

      1. Shooting The Bull Post author

        He’s most likely referencing the work of Courtney & Courtney, who wrote a paper entitled “Scientific Evidence of Hydrostatic Shock.” In it, the Courtneys promote several ideas as to how a “ballistic pressure wave” can cause remote wounding. Other ballistic experts have cast serious doubt on the findings. The Courtneys reported on a Swedish test where they shot pigs in the thigh, and measured electrical disruption in the pig’s brains, etc.

        As far as I know, there is not a single case of any human being being shown to have suffered cerebral damage due to being shot in the thigh, with any caliber of pistol. It’s entirely possible that the impact and temporary cavity of a high-energy pistol round might cause some pressure in some remote capillaries that would cause some minimal amount of bleeding, but to then argue that such damage is somehow causing instantaneous incapacitation due to “hydrostatic shock” is something that no other scientist that I know of, other than the Courtneys, is willing to endorse.

        To me it seems that their final recommendation seems to contradict their entire premise — or, at least, it flies contrary to what the proponents of hydrostatic shock seem to think it says. Hydrostatic shock advocates usually argue that penetration is not a key determining factor in a bullet’s success, they instead seem to insist that “transferring the most energy”, quickest, is key. And that leads them to support fragmenting rounds that disperse instantly — which, generally, results in insufficient penetration according to the FBI/IWBA standards. Rounds such as the Glaser Safety Slug, or Magsafe Defender, or frangible rounds like Extreme Shock or DRT, generally do not penetrate deeply, but they certainly do “transfer” their energy more rapidly than other types of bullets. But the Courtneys, in the summation, seem to reject the notion of going with shallow-penetrating frangible rounds, and seem to acknowledge the benefits of a proper-penetrating round. Here’s their conclusion:

        The FBI recommends that loads intended for self-defense and law enforcement applications meet a minimum penetration requirement of 12” in ballistic gelatin.[8] Maximizing ballistic pressure wave effects requires transferring maximum energy in a penetration distance that meets this requirement. In addition, bullets that fragment and meet minimum penetration requirements generate higher pressure waves than bullets which do not fragment. Understanding the potential benefits of remote ballistic pressure wave effects leads us to favor loads with at least 500 ft-lbs of energy.

        So, read that carefully — they’re saying (effectively) that “we agree, you need loads that meet the FBI minimum.” After you’ve ensured that you’ve got that penetration depth, then they say that in their opinion, a bullet that fragments generates higher pressure waves than one that doesn’t, and that they prefer loads with at least 500 ft/lbs. Which is hard to argue with — I mean, anyone would be well-armed (for a handgun) if they had 500 ft/lbs of energy, because — really — there’s only three calibers in (relatively) common use that can fit that requirement: 10mm, .357 Magnum, and .357 Sig. Is anyone going to argue that those are ineffective calibers? I wouldn’t. But I’m not buying into the idea that they’re magically more effective simply because of some ballistic pressure wave; heck, the FBI are who developed 10mm in the first place, in an attempt to design the most-effective handgun round for a semi-auto pistol, and the standards they employed had nothing to do with pressure waves.

        I disagree with PeteDub’s comment related to 600 ft/lbs being “needed”. Many, many, many, many people have been incapacitated with conventional handgun rounds, practically all of which develop less than 600 ft/lbs. And even the Courtneys say that there is no guarantee, regardless of the # of ft/lbs, that a bullet WILL stop someone. To quote from their paper:

        With a handgun, no wounding mechanism can be relied on to produce incapacitation 100% of the time within the short span of most gunfights.

        To elucidate the point, they’re saying you simply cannot count on a handgun to immediately incapacitate someone — including if your handgun delivers 600 ft/lbs of energy! It just isn’t possible (unless, as the IWBA and FBI clearly point out, you manage to hit the central nervous system, which immediately incapacitates someone, or you damage their major circulatory organs, which requres a bullet that can penetrate a minimum of 12″ of gel in order to reliably be able to reach deep enough in the body to damage those organs regardless of angle of shot or presence of intervening arms). Whatever benefits the “ballistic pressure wave” may or may not bring to incapacitation, you cannot rely on it to immediately incapacitate the attacker, no matter how many ft/lbs of energy your handgun cartridge delivers.

        The way I look at it — I discount and discard any claims of “hydrostatic shock”. The most recent FBI paper says it flat-out: “stopping power is a myth.” I do not deny that there may be some benefit to hydrostatic shock; and heck, if it happens, I’ll take it — but I will not COUNT on it. I will not make my ammo choice based on the notion that one load delivers “more” hydrostatic shock than another. I do not believe it to be a significant factor in incapacitating human targets. In general I do prefer more powerful handgun rounds — and I do like the 10mm. I don’t select the 10mm because of its potential to create hydrostatic shock or ballistic pressure waves, I select it because of its ability to reach and damage the vital organs that may help bring about the most rapid incapacitation possible and thus save my and perhaps other lives in the process. IF there happens to be some hydrostatic shock effect also, well, that’s a bonus. I’ll take it, I’ll take anything that helps stop a violent person from dealing me imminent death. But it is not a factor I rely on, or even necessarily believe in, so — like the Courtneys, I say choose a round that meets the FBI standards, and practice practice practice. And if you can handle a more powerful caliber, hey, go for it.

        1. Brian Fortin

          Well said. The majority of the work I’ve read on terminal ballistics says kinetic energy doesn’t hurt your potential for wounding, but it cannot be relied upon to help much. I have to agree with this. Having the temporary wound cavity bloom out has to add to the pain and shock of the event, but it’s really a bug on the windshield when talking about the car crash that is the permanent wound cavity. I also don’t buy the hydrostatic shock argument that blood is forced to your brain like a milk jug being shot. If this were so, all manner of such shocks would render us unconscious (falls, collisions, fights) and we would have been eliminated through natural selection. There’s no lights out from kinetic energy, however extra power behind the bullet does extra damage provided the bullet meets with resistance. It’s idiotic to rely upon pixi energy arguments that may or may not add to wounding when you have actual energy driving that bullet through a body in a very violent fashion. Let’s give these people a choice. You can be shot with a high velocity .22lr, creating a huge temporary wound channel because of the kinetic energy, or I can impale you on this 1/2 inch rebar and spare you the horror that is hydrostatic shock. Which would you choose?

  4. To Old To Run

    I think this video pretty much sums up things that STB has been trying say about caliber and the so called ‘one stop bullets’.

    There are a few things in this video and police report I took note of:
    1) He seen there was going to be trouble and informed the staff that he needed to get out of there as soon as possible, I also would be looking for the exits.
    2) When approached and asked to shake hands, he refused. Now I don’t know if this was an up yours attitude for the racial slurs he was being called, or the fact that he wanted to keep his hands free and away from the confrontation.
    3) He hit a moving attacker while moving himself, and stopped shooting when he thought the threat was over. Even with a 14 round magazine, only shot 3 times.
    4) I think this was the one thing that really got my attention the most, he had the presence of mind about him to tell the 911 operator that he would be lying on the floor unarmed when police got there.

    My take away from this was, he had a legal C/C permit, had a gun and had to use it. He did all the right things, not so much what gun he was using, or caliber, or bullet.

    Just my thoughts, I’m not an expert.

  5. turbo6

    The new S&W SD series guns really ain’t bad. For ~$300 you get a new gun with 2 mags, warranty and it goes bang every time. Not really compact, but this guys SD40 served him reasonably well.

    Thanks for the article and look forward to new posts soon!

  6. Tim

    This says a couple of surprising things to me. I’m fairly new to self-defense carry and have been wondering about the best way to go about implementation of something that would be effective.

    The first is situational awareness issues. I’m gay, and I bring that up not to make that a subject of discussion (please, really let’s not — you live your life and I’ll live mine in peace with no ill will towards anyone). But I am a member of a community that has frequently been targeted for hate crimes. The gentleman at the counter (I.e. the defender) in the video represents a situation that is frequently encountered by targeted minority communities.

    I take a small issue with the defender’s approach towards the provocation. It’s something that gay people have to deal with frequently; young males with too much testosterone and alcohol. What the defender did was basically stand his ground. He was entitled to do that since all he wanted to do was go out and have a meal in a venue that serves the public. My first reaction towards the situation would have been early intervention. Specifically, I would have asked the wait staff (Waffle House, fairly empty, and drunks equal what … 2 or 3 am?) to call the police and try to get an ETA. I might have also asked for a container, boxed my meal, left enough money and departed hopefully without being followed out the door.

    In other words, one is always entitled to just keep doing what they have every right to do in peace. But sometimes the better part of valor is to turn the other cheek and withdrawal from a potentially ugly situation. So here is my issue and the trap I hope never to fall into: how much of the defender’s attitude was formed by the knowledge that he was packing and wasn’t going to bow down to anyone? Retreat with everyone continuing to live is still the best approach no matter what firepower you are carrying. I think it could well have worked in this situation because the attacker wasn’t armed and obviously mainly interested in “beating the crap out of that nigger” for entertainment and cultural conditioning.

    Second issue are the technical facts presented by this video and how it informs the decisions I need to make as I consider the best self defense approach. I live in a city and what I am mostly trying to defend against are teenagers hunting down victims on the streets for armed robberies. Typical situations are for packs of two or three male teenagers targeting someone they want to rob, approaching by foot or from car, presenting a gun, and demanding that you give up all your belongings.

    In most of the cases only one of the pack is armed and while some of the victims have been pistol whipped or “knock out” punched, none have been shot — yet. So it is not known whether they are using an actual functioning handgun. When the police catch up to one of these crews, the functional status of the gun they are using is never reported. The reports only ever say that the gun was recovered. I suspect that a number of these teenagers are using pellet guns but who knows?

    In defending against this scenario, the armed individual is obviously your primary target. All of these events are done in very close quarters since you do not have an “actionable” threat until they are close enough to rob you. It seems that you only have two options; either dropping them quickly with one or two shots or relying on the psychological stop of this guy is fighting back with deadly force. If those are the parameters, wouldn’t a .22 cal be as good as anything for self defense?

    To drop the perp on the spot you’ll just about need a CNS shot or a S&W 500 body shot. Most people can’t carry around a magnum platform of some sort. So a head/neck shot is your best bet which, at 5 yards, should be realistically doable with a collapsed two handed grip. A .22 is going to give you more shots under better control since there is next to no recoil. You can get four .22 shots off towards the head/neck in the time it would take you to get two COM shots off in 9mm. Since a .22 isn’t going to have that much in the way of legs, potential collateral damage is minimal. If you miss or even hit with a magnum load the environment is a big consideration in a city. A magnum load can easily go whizzing out into someone’s front window with enough velocity left to kill someone. A scenario that actually happens with some regularity when gun fire happens in the streets.

    For a psychological stop, a .22 bang is going to make your ears ring sufficiently. Maybe not to the degree of a larger load but enough. Perhaps that should be a design goal of firearm and ammo manufacturers! How noisy can we make this .22?!?!

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  8. RGVShooter

    I am by no mean’s an expert on the subject. and as a holder of a conceal carry license myself, but this man deserves praise as he demonstrated a text book example of when/how to use justified deadly force in self defense.
    The video is also a clear example of the “21′ rule”. mr. field’s came charging back into the restaurant at full speed and had he had a knife or club he would’ve had contact with the defender. That makes wonder what the outcome would’ve been had he carried a .380 instead of a .40… I’m glad I sold my .380’s…

  9. Nik

    Actually it seems that there were only two shots that impacted the deceased; seems that the first one penetrated the arm and then impacted the torso near the nipple, fractured a couple of ribs and penetrated about 4″ or so into the torso. The equivalent standard gel penetration would probably be on the order of 13-14″ making it highly likely that indeed an expanded JHP of some kind was involved. The second (shoulder) JHP penetrated a lot more soft tissue in the torso since it did not impact the arm prior to impacting the torso and did not fracture a couple of ribs (after it expanded).

  10. Nik

    It’s quite clear from the video that the first shot fired, at 1:19 in the video, penetrated the left arm AND THEN entered the chest at the nipple level. That’s why it penetrated only about 4″ into the torso, after fracturing a couple of ribs. It seems probable that a second shot was fired at 1:20 and missed; the third shot, fired at 1:21, was the fatal shoulder shot. It seems highly probable that some kind of JHP was used and it did expand, limiting its penetration in the body to the equivalent of about 13-14″ in standard gel. Obviously, the penetration caused by the first shot was inadequate to physiologically incapacitate in a reasonably short time frame.


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