On June 24, 2017, the SWAT team of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department responded to a serious shooter incident, landing at a house. The front door was open and the suspect was right there in the doorway with a handgun and extra magazines on his gun belt. But he soon shut the door and fired two rounds inside the house.
A little 4-year-old girl was inside that house.
The girl’s mother, injured from two gunshot wounds, had left her, escaping to the neighbor’s house.
Jacob Werner, one of the SWAT team members responding, said the suspect was fairly committed to trying to kill one of the SWAT team members or his daughter if officers came near him.
This hostage incident, while very dangerous, ended up having an outcome that Werner and the rest of the SWAT team were rewarded for.
Werner, a 2004 Alexandria Technical and Community College graduate, earned a Medal of Valor in September at the Best of the Badge Awards. The Medal of Valor is the highest honor for public safety officers, comparable to the military’s Medal of Honor.
Two others on his team who were major parts of the rescue also got the award. The rest of the team got the unit Medal of Valor, a similar award that is distributed to the entire team.
A dangerous incident
The suspect had shot maybe a dozen times, Werner said, when the SWAT team entered the house, with Werner trailing right behind a few other team members. Officers started breaking off and took areas of responsibility.
It was difficult to figure out where the suspect was shooting from.
“I remember the drywall, just the dust,” he said. “As the rounds would punch through the drywall, I could see it – the whole puff of smoke from the dust.”
Once the team found the shooter located in a bedroom, they engaged him in gunfire. The 4-year-old was sitting in the room with an electronic device that Werner thought looked like an iPad.
“I remember seeing her face glowing from the screen light. She had no clue that (her father) had just shot at us over a dozen times.”
But her face acted as a beacon for Werner. He just focused on her glowing face and grabbed her, bringing her out of the house to safety.
Outside, he asked if she was OK and checked to see that she wasn’t shot or scared. She wasn’t showing any signs of fear, Werner said. The girl was fine and as calm as could be.
This could mean she subconsciously blocked the bad memories from her brain or forgot what happened.
How ATCC helped him succeed
Werner had only been on the SWAT team for three months at the time of the 2017 incident, and it was his first hostage rescue. He admits he was a little nervous before entering the house, but not scared.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were going to do the right thing, make the right moves in the house, how we dominate the structures,” he said.
Werner was proud of the whole team. There’s a lot of planning, intelligence that needs to be gathered and things have to evolve very quickly during an incident like this one. “It’s not just running into the house, crazy,” he said.
Werner has since been involved with more than a dozen hostage rescues with the SWAT team in the past two and a half years.
He was a police officer in the same department for nine years prior to joining the SWAT team, and an officer in Perham, where he grew up, for three years before that. ATCC laid a great foundation for where he is now, he said. And he doesn’t forget where he comes from.
“A lot of credit goes back to Alex and the training that they provide,” Werner said. “It set a good moral compass.”
Werner had two classes at ATCC with Duane Wolfe, who was a hard instructor, a no-nonsense type of guy, Werner said. It’s instructors like Wolfe that he credits with helping him get to where he is today.
“He was a good student. Worked hard, had a good sense of humor,” Wolfe said.
In 2012, Wolfe was on a ride-along in Las Vegas during a week-long training when he ran into Werner at a local jail. Wolfe had forgotten Werner worked on the force there and they both were surprised to see each other.
“It was just crazy,” Werner said.
Unfortunately it was Wolfe’s last night in the area so their conversation of catching up only lasted 20 minutes and they went their separate ways.
But Wolfe was still happy to hear his former student was doing well back then and is happy now, hearing via social media that Werner is continuing to be successful.
“(The Medal of Valor) doesn’t get awarded very often,” Wolfe said.