Crime & Courts

Richmond Co. | Columbia Co. | Aiken Co. |

Teams help officers deal with trauma after police shootings

Coping with trauma

  • Follow Crime & courts

Deputy David James never saw the gun that almost killed him.

Back | Next
Richmond County Deputy Terry Skinner (left) and Cpl. Ryan DiGiacomo stand at the roadside memorial for Deputy J.D. Paugh.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Richmond County Deputy Terry Skinner (left) and Cpl. Ryan DiGiacomo stand at the roadside memorial for Deputy J.D. Paugh.

It was a dreary day in March 1990. A light rain had started to fall when James parked his Richmond Coun­ty sheriff’s Crown Victoria in front of the house at Augusta’s 2904 Belwood Drive and went to speak to two young men there – one in a car and the other on the front porch.

He didn’t know the 16-year-old on the porch was armed with a .25-caliber pistol.

“I went to the trunk to get my rain gear, and that’s when he shot me,” James said. “I never saw him. That’s how quick it happened.”

The first shot caught James in the left temple, destroying his eye. The next four bullets went into his back. He managed to call for help on his portable radio before losing consciousness.

Unlike many officers who endure such traumatic experiences, James talks about it without hesitation.

“That is what has helped me cope with it over the years,” he said.

Experts are working to help officers who live through such shootings or witness the death of a colleague get through it and get back on the job. That’s the driving force behind the Crisis Incident Support Team, a volunteer unit with the Georgia State Patrol that comes to the aid of officers and agencies across the state.

The group was formed in October 2010 in response to a series of officer deaths around the state, but the concept has been in place since the late 1980s when the FBI would bring in “shooter teams” to debrief agents after an officer was killed, said Lt. Andy Carrier, the state trooper who heads Georgia’s team.

One of the biggest obstacles the group faces is overcoming the stoic police culture. You don’t discuss the horrible things you see or the feelings that accompany that, and you certainly don’t ask for help, said
Martin Teem, an employee relations specialist with the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

“The old paradigm is if it’s too hot, then get out of the kitchen,” Teem said. “If you can’t handle it, find something else to do.”

Teem said the results of this macho attitude are apparent in the often grim statistics that go along with a career in law enforcement.

“They are twice as likely to die from suicide as they are in the line of duty,” Teem said. “It’s part of the emotional load that comes with a career in this occupation.”

Over the years, the crisis team concept has been refined into a model that uses established techniques to assist officers experiencing emotional trauma. There is even an organization – the International Critical In­ci­dent Stress Foundation – that sets standards for training, certifies members and provides resources for teams across the nation.

The teams are critical for opening the door to counseling and getting psychological help for officers, Teem said.

“We are trying to recognize that these careers are potentially damaging and to do something about it,” he said.

Coping with trauma

Teams in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina were instrumental in helping Georgia establish its crisis incident organization, said Teem. He said they worked closely with Eric Skidmore, the program manager for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assis­tance Program, a joint effort of four state agencies that began in 1997.

Skidmore, an ordained Presbyterian minister and former police chaplain, said the core principle to the model is peer counseling – bringing police in to talk with police. It provides a shared experience and a sense of credibility that those outside law enforcement don’t have.

Police are reluctant to talk with anyone about the things they experience on the job, especially the death of a partner or colleague, Skidmore said. The object is to get them to open up and deal with some of the things that might be bothering them. Seeing someone else in uniform reassures officers that what they need to say won’t be misunderstood.

“As a police officer, I need to know that you understand what it is I do,” Skidmore said.

A former power-lifter, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound Carrier doesn’t come across as a hand holder. He also has 22 years’ experience in uniform, which he says is what makes him more effective at helping other police officers deal with bottled-up emotions.

“I hear from some officers who say, ‘If you can talk about this, then I guess I can, too,’ ” Carrier said.

In the case of officer deaths, Carrier said the crisis team comes in for a “debriefing” with the permission of the local agency and gathers all those who responded to the event and who were close to the fallen officer. Crisis team members introduce themselves and tell their own stories, the images they saw, the emotions they experienced and how well or poorly they dealt with those things to let others know they aren’t alone. Each officer, in turn, is expected to say a few things about what they saw and felt,
gradually opening up as the debriefing continues.

Carrier participated in such debriefings after Richmond County Deputy J.D. Paugh’s death in October, and in Aiken for the deaths of Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson and Master Cpl. Sandra Rogers, which were organized by Skidmore and SCLEAP.

Skidmore describes what they do as “psychological first aid.” He said police are by and large good at coping with a lot of things they see on the job, but sometimes, they need help.

“By definition, if a person has been exposed to a ‘critical incident,’ then their coping mechanisms are overwhelmed,” he said.

After he was shot, James lost all vision in one eye and part in the other. He uses adaptive equipment to help him read and do his work at the sheriff’s training facility in south Augusta.

His experience is part of a talk he gives to cadets who are training to be police officers. He keeps a black three-ring binder on his desk that is filled with police documents, newspaper articles and photos of himself from that day. He has a cassette recording of the frantic radio call he made that saved his life.

“I think I struggled at first after the shooting because so much was taken away, like playing sports,” said James, who had played baseball and softball his whole life. For a while he tried to numb himself to escape the pain.

“I struggled with alcohol,” James said. “It was kind of my way of getting any rest.”

He said the turning point came when another officer who had survived a shooting drove him back to Belwood Drive and persuaded him to talk about everything he remembered about that day. The more he talked, the better he felt.

“Sometimes you need to talk with another person who’s been through it,” James said.

Lt. Mike D’Amico has come to realize that as well.

Officer down

On Oct. 23, D’Amico was in charge of the Rich­mond County sheriff’s officers assigned to D-shift, working overnight out of the south precinct, when the call came over the radio that T-31 was down. He immediately recognized the call sign as that of a motorcycle officer – Paugh.

“I knew who that was because for years I was the motor supervisor,” D’Amico said. “J.D. was my friend.”

Seconds later, he heard a deputy’s voice calling for an ambulance. With years of experience listening to police radio traffic, D’Amico knew it was bad.

“I could tell by the strain in his voice, the words that he spoke,” he said.

He pointed his patrol car south and sped toward Bobby Jones Expressway.

“It gave me five or six minutes to prepare myself,” D’Amico said. “The first officers on the scene had no time to mentally prepare for what was there.”

Still, he was not prepared for the shock of seeing his friend lying mortally wounded in the grassy shoulder of exit 3A. An entire career in uniform wasn’t enough time to prepare for that, D’Amico said.

“In my 26 years, I have seen plenty of death, plenty of destruction, plenty of violent death, but never the death of a fellow officer,” he said.

D’Amico said that when he arrived, he could tell which officers were functioning well and which ones were having a tough time already.

“There were a few of them out there that night that I knew needed someone to talk to,” he said.

One of those officers was Deputy Terry Skin­ner, the first on the scene. He was the first to see the grievous injuries Paugh had suffered, shot nine times by an M4 rifle. He was the officer who found the shooter, Christopher Hodges, a few yards away with a bullet wound in his head. He was the officer who let everyone else know T-31 was down and needed help.

Skinner still refers to it as “that mess up on Bobby Jones.”

“People will ask me and I’ll say, ‘Yes, I was in that mess up on Bobby Jones and I don’t want to talk about it,’ ” he said.

Skinner was lauded by supervisors for his composure on the scene and his swift actions to secure the area and call for help. It was afterward that the day’s events seemed too much to take, Skinner said.

Many on D-Shift didn’t sleep that day before having to return for roll call at 6 p.m. Sgt. Scott Redmon said he kept it together until he pulled into the parking lot at the south substation that afternoon.

“The first person I saw in uniform, I broke down,” Redmon said. “I don’t even remember who it was. I just saw that uniform and lost it.”

Skinner said he couldn’t help but think that he was the officer who should have been there first, that maybe if he had gotten there before Paugh, things would have turned out differently. Maybe not, he said, but he couldn’t get the idea out of his head.

He wasn’t one to share his feelings. However, Skinner said the debriefing with the crisis team has helped him work some things out.

“It helped to see that everybody else thought and felt the same things I did,” he said. “I came out of there with a little sense of relief. I felt that I was normal.”

Comments (27) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 02/18/12 - 05:41 pm
0
0
Violence is traumatic for

Violence is traumatic for citizens too.

I'm Back Again
307
Points
I'm Back Again 02/18/12 - 07:43 pm
0
0
Great article.
Unpublished

Great article.

jackrussell
219
Points
jackrussell 02/18/12 - 11:40 pm
0
0
Patty-P, police are citizens.

Patty-P, police are citizens. If you're speaking about non-law enforcement, as I believe you are, I must say you come across a bit selfish. The article is not saying, or alluding to, that the general public doesn't experience trauma. It is letting those who are not in law enforcement have a small peek at how an officer-friend-coworker's death affects those who do the same job. Officers leave their family every shift knowing they may not return because of the career they chose. Their risk is exponentially greater than the average citizen's. And when they do suffer such trauma, they don't get to take time off, to let their minds process what they saw, to DEAL with things before returning to work. They must remain stoic, stand strong, put the uniform on, and keep going, even after seeing the God awful damage that an assault rifle did to their friend, after performing first aid on him and losing him. After literally washing his blood off their hands just to turn around and protect the crime scene and investigate the atrocity they just witnessed, and after assisting with the scene, having to keep a straight face and stay calm as they break the news to his family. So please, let them have this one. Quit trying to make it about something else.

seenitB4
90795
Points
seenitB4 02/19/12 - 06:27 am
0
0
My heart breaks while I read

My heart breaks while I read this article.....so much damage done to men just doing their jobs........we have to get stronger laws & deal with punks even attempting to harm a police officer.....the same thing is going on in schools...if they don't respect the teacher--they won't respect anyone else...
We need to deal with the trash...& forget the pc.

GaStang22
910
Points
GaStang22 02/19/12 - 06:45 am
0
0
Our officer are not paid
Unpublished

Our officer are not paid enough. Its sickening some government leeches make more than our officers!!! I wonder what happened to the punk that shot officer James and what his record has been like since.

GaStang22
910
Points
GaStang22 02/19/12 - 06:49 am
0
0
You got that right seenitb4.
Unpublished

You got that right seenitb4. I'm sick of this pc bleeding heart nonsense. The only thing it does is create more people incapable of taking care of themselves, or refusing to, and enables criminals!!!

seenitB4
90795
Points
seenitB4 02/19/12 - 06:51 am
0
0
Gastang....I agree with

Gastang....I agree with you....If & when we get tough again in schools with the punks......we might change some of this crap......but in todays world of pc it is an uphill battle......if I had my way some punks would get a flogging they would never forget----& some parents too.

JohnScott213
10
Points
JohnScott213 02/19/12 - 09:41 am
0
0
Excellent post, jackrussell.

Excellent post, jackrussell.

bigc
1
Points
bigc 02/19/12 - 10:40 am
0
0
I have the honor of saying I

I have the honor of saying I was trained by both David and Terry and served under Lt. D'Amico. I have always felt that if I or any other deputy becomes half the officer that these men are a career will be successful. After "that mess up on Bobby Jones" I became a firm believer. My life goal is to be a fraction of the man, friend and officer JD was.

Cdr4500
20
Points
Cdr4500 02/19/12 - 02:14 pm
0
0
I'm tired of people thinking
Unpublished

I'm tired of people thinking that just because cops, soldiers, fireman, etc put on a uniform to go to work everyday that they are automatically deserving of praise and hero worship. I'm sorry but I will never think that way. I will never praise or say anyone is hero just because they are doing the job they VOLUNTEERED and SIGNED UP to do. Nor will I just respect them because they wear a uniform. Respect is earned not just given away freely. Also cops, soldiers, policeman, firemen, EMTs, etc are not better than me or anyone else. They are humans and their lives are no more valuable than mine or yours. The blind worship of these people is almost sickening to me.

Not to say the recent men and women killed in the line of duty aren't heroes or worthy of praise. They are. But using these sad incidents to paint entire police departments as heroes is naive and foolish.

I fail to see how soldiers(or cops or firemen), by and large, are heroes. There may be heroes among them. War/emergencies do foster moments for heroics. But in reality, soldiers/cops/firemen etc are humans in a terrifying situation. Being a person in uniform does not automatically make you a hero. Being a veteran doesn’t automatically make you a hero. Being injured in a war or line of duty doesn’t make you a hero. Killing someone in battle or line of duty doesn’t make you a hero. Soldiers/cops/firemen as a whole don’t heroically save people from terrorists. They don’t all courageously charge into a hail of bullets or a raging fire to protect a scared child. Individuals do; soldiers/cops/firemen as a whole do not. Saying that EVERY soldier/cop/fireman is a hero or should be considered as such is foolish and diminishes the value of real heroes.

Cdr4500
20
Points
Cdr4500 02/19/12 - 02:35 pm
0
0
I also wish people would get
Unpublished

I also wish people would get over this "Most dangerous job in the world" mentality about cops. They wear bullet proof vests all day everyday. They have a gun on their waist, and a bigger gun in their trunks. If those aren't big enough, they just have to grab their radio and they can have whatever gun you need delivered in a matter of minutes.

People also must realize, any animosity cop face from "civilians" is due to so many police officers abusing their power. Do you know why you have to worry about being shot everyday? It's because cops have been known to shoot the wrong people. There have been cops who admit to falsifying evidence to put people away when they couldn't make their cases(Case in point: the recent case in Richmond county of the officer falsifying breathalyzer tests). Just the other week I read about a cop up north who stopped young women and raped them. Sorry but people aren't going to blindly trust the police anymore. While most of them are decent men and women on the up and up not all of them are.

Lastly, if being a cop is so hard, if a policeman or woman really can't handle it and its really all that rough that they can't do it without making mistakes, DON'T DO IT. Simple. I can't feel any sympathy when they (cops in general) CHOSE this career VOLUNTARILY. I'm pretty sure most cops chose this profession of their own free will. And they chose that profession knowing the dangers ahead of time. So "laying their life on the line" is 100% their CHOICE. Like I said, I don't wish harm on cops, but this hero stuff has got to stop.

Also if you honestly think being a policeman is the most dangerous job in America try googling "the most dangerous jobs in America", and you'll see being a policeman(woman) rarely cracks the top 10 on any site you visit. Gas station clerks are more prone to be killed on the job then a cop is...

citizen0226
0
Points
citizen0226 02/19/12 - 03:28 pm
0
0
gastang, seen it, in the

gastang, seen it, in the prophetic words of jackrussel, "Quit trying to make it about something else."
Police officers pay (although low) is appropriate. It simply speaks the value of an education. Being a police officer does not require a college degree (now before one of you misconstrues this, yes I am well aware that many police officers have degrees of one kind or another and are compensated for that), and if you take some time to look at the Richmond/Columbia County public salary records you will see that some sheriffs deputies are among the best paid civil servants. Bottom line, don't get into law enforcement for the pay.

Also take a look at the deficits at nearly every level of government. We simply cannot afford any more officers (especially of the kind who are making 90/100k). We need those in government to get with the times. Think about the BILLIONS we could save by making drug crimes less serious (and I mean things like marijuana). Just a thought...

citizen0226
0
Points
citizen0226 02/19/12 - 03:30 pm
0
0
amen cdr4500. well said.

amen cdr4500. well said.

seenitB4
90795
Points
seenitB4 02/19/12 - 05:45 pm
1
0
I have been around policemen

I have been around policemen & firemen most of my life....I can tell you from a personal level how thankless this job can sometimes be.....sure there are some bad apples here/there like every job......
But it takes guts/courage to do it....lot tougher than posting on a page.

KSL
134445
Points
KSL 02/19/12 - 08:17 pm
0
0
Cdr, do I detect an attitude

Cdr, do I detect an attitude of superiority because you are a computer programmer?

KSL
134445
Points
KSL 02/19/12 - 08:39 pm
0
0
Theway, you said what I was

Theway, you said what I was thinking.

Cdr4500
20
Points
Cdr4500 02/20/12 - 12:09 am
0
1
So because I don't hero
Unpublished

So because I don't hero worship all men and women in uniform I'm an evil person with a superiority complex? Okay then...

Go ahead and blindly worship cops, firemen, and soldiers if it makes you feel better. Just don't expect me to do so.

manda252
0
Points
manda252 02/20/12 - 12:44 am
0
0
citizen0226- im not sure if

citizen0226- im not sure if you have seen the paycheck of a cop... but im sure ALL of them would like to know where you think they make 90-100k... no "cop" makes that much. but you are right, no one gets into law enforcement for the money. They do it because of their character. which brings me to my 2nd point ---

cdr4500-oh you just dont know how your words make my blood boil. yes, to become a police officer is voluntary... but none of them seek "heroism." you may not see thej as a hero... but you also do not see what the job calls for. you may not praise them for what they do, but you do not see what they do just for you. you do not see everything that goes on behind the line to keep our community, and YOU safe. they are expected to be perfect which no human is. they are expected to be a teacher, a confidant, the deliverer of bad news, and the protector. they are expected to be everywhere at once. of course no one wants to see the cops... but if you are scared of them or feel animosity toward them, then you must be guilty of something. no one wants the police until they are needed... and let me say this. EVERY DAY an officer loses his or her life to spare someone elses. in our county, just a few months ago, one of richmond county's finest gave his life UNKNOWINGLY (not "voluntarily") and saved countless others. so if that is not YOUR definition of a hero, i'd like to see what is. No one should worship anyone or anything other than our Lord above, but our police officers, firefighters, and men and women in service ARE and will ALWAYS BE HERO'S!!! even if YOU dont think so! just remember who you are going to call next time you are in trouble!!

sincerely - a policeman's wife.

ps, he comes home late to ME just so he can protect YOU..... would you be willing to share your spouse with everyone else??

thewayitis
15
Points
thewayitis 02/20/12 - 12:47 am
0
0
I just lost a lot of respect

I just lost a lot of respect for the Chronicle. Deleted for telling the truth. Once again, becoming a police officer requires very high qualifications, particularly regarding personal character. If anyone doubts that then they should go ahead and try it. And disrespectful comments about law enforcement have no place following an article about police deaths.

citizen0226
0
Points
citizen0226 02/20/12 - 11:33 am
1
1
manda, please get your facts

manda, please get your facts straight. As these public records show, there are many very well paid cops in Richmond and Columbia Counties.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/data/augusta-richmond-county-employee-salar...

http://chronicle.augusta.com/data/columbia-county-employee-salaries?appS...

As for your second point, you speak with great passion and I admire that. However, you might need to tweak your definition of a hero. Cops are people who do jobs, just like doctors, lawyers, engineers, preachers, etc. Nothing makes the job they do any better or worse or more/less admirable than any other job. As with any profession, respect is earned so this notion that putting on a uniform commands authority is kind of absurd.

Sincerely,
A medical student/son of a doctor/husband of a lawyer/brother of a preacher/grandson of a soldier

P.S. They all come/came home late to ME just so that they could protect YOU...get it?

MrClen1944
255
Points
MrClen1944 02/20/12 - 03:14 pm
0
0
Because of the blood of

Because of the blood of heroes, Cdr4500 and citizen0226 can say these things.

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 02/20/12 - 10:36 pm
0
0
jackrussell, you completely

jackrussell, you completely took my statement and twisted it to your liking. It had nothing to do with what I said.

older than dirt
0
Points
older than dirt 02/21/12 - 11:00 am
1
0
citizen - you are right when

citizen - you are right when you say that military and law enforcement are just people who do a job. Their character is what makes them heroes, not their job. They put themselves up as a defense against wrong doing to protect each and everyone of us. They give us the right to enjoy the freedoms we have. They leave their families, bleed, and yes - even die so you can make your opinions known.

As with any stats you can make the numbers to way what you want. Maybe you need to take a look at the "road patrol" salaries as these are the ones who for the most part are the first line of defense and the ones who come in contact with the the most dangerous situations.

With the exception of your grandfather - how many of your family members have been shot at while at work?

Get it?

manda252
0
Points
manda252 02/21/12 - 01:13 pm
0
0
To McClen and older than

To McClen and older than dirt, THANK YOU! it takes someone who know's what it is like to truely understand. and to Citizen0226, you are correct in your sttement that it is not the "job" that makes the her, but as i previously stated before, it is their CHARACTER that lets them do the job, and while im sure you took the time to search, copy and paste links about the pay of the richmond county sheriff's office, you have wasted your time. as the WIFE (as i said before) of an officer, i am well aware of how they ar paid. and to re-itterate what older than dirt has stated, the "road patrol" and the motorcycles unit, the DUI task force, the investigators, and anyone else that does not sit in a office all day, are the ones that work their tails off keeping you safe. it must be easy being the "son of a doctor and the husband of a lawyer" and not having to worry about money. being the wife of a police officer, i do. and being the son of a doctor and the husband of a lawyer, you also dont have to worry about them coming home at the end of the day... i do. it is not the money that get me upset, it is the fact that you would compare the pay to the job. just because there are many in the rcso that DO make good pay, it is not so much them out on the streets doing the dirty work. they have put in their time and earned the paycheck they have. most of them are retirement age and cannot afford to retire because it is still not enough to live on for the rest of their lives... again, the "son of a doctor and the husbnd of a lawyer," i dont expect you to underatend that. other than being the grandson of a soldier, i must wonder if you have any idea with it is like to wonder why the ones you love risk their lives everyday to protect and serve for a job that is not worth the pay. they do it because it is who they are, it is their character, and because they want to... not because of the pay.

sincerely, a cop's (and a soldier's) wife.

manda252
0
Points
manda252 02/21/12 - 01:18 pm
0
0
and citizen0226 you rae

and citizen0226 you rae wrong, the uniform DOES command respect! just like the doctor in your family, the white jacket commands respect. cops aren't just given a uniform when they get the job, they have to "earn" it. they do plenty to earn the respect and authority that they are owed. next time you see an officer in uniform, show him/her disrespect and see where that gets you. if you think that "putting on a uniform commands authority is kind of absurd," you try it!

manda252
0
Points
manda252 02/21/12 - 01:39 pm
0
0
also the granddaughter of a

also the granddaughter of a soldier, the daughter of a cop, the cousin of a preacher, and the neice of a lawyer and a doctor......

Riverman1
86916
Points
Riverman1 02/21/12 - 01:45 pm
0
0
I'm the great, great, great,

I'm the great, great, great, great grandson of a Confederate Army veteran. The son of a 4F, the cousin of a police chief, friends with a parole officer and daughter of a...wait minute...I'm getting confused.

manda252
0
Points
manda252 02/21/12 - 02:08 pm
0
0
hahaha, riverman i was just

hahaha, riverman i was just trying to prove a point...

seenitB4
90795
Points
seenitB4 02/21/12 - 05:06 pm
0
0
RM at your 1245p......you

RM at your 1245p......you are going to keeeel me yet.
LOLOL

Pu239
284
Points
Pu239 02/21/12 - 10:49 pm
0
0
I wonder if a doctorate comes
Unpublished

I wonder if a doctorate comes with any humility….

Back to Top

Top headlines

Upscale addiction treatment facility opens

The facility off Bennock Mill Road is a cutting-edge residential addiction treatment facility, combining evidence-based treatment and wellness approaches like diet and personalized exercise ...
Search Augusta jobs