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In Buffalo alone, 470 officers injured on the job in four years

Officer Jasmine Olmstead was pulled from her police vehicle and beaten in a life-and-death struggle with a drug-crazed man who kept trying to take her service gun from her holster.

Officer Anthony Fanara tackled a teenage robber who then pulled out a handgun, shoved it to the officer’s chest and pulled the trigger twice. The gun did not discharge.

Two people attacked Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Clark and nearly choked him to death before a passerby stopped and freed him from the death hold.

Those are the extreme attacks on police officers that made the headlines. But dozens more occur every year in Erie County, usually without such media coverage.

In Buffalo, more than 470 officers have been injured in either direct physical confrontations or in chases over the last four years. That averages to 117 officers harmed each year.

Indeed, two incidents on Thursday show the danger police officers face.

A Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Transit Police officer fired his weapon at a fleeing motorist shortly after noon. The driver had been pulled over for illegally parking in front of a bus stop and then tried to flee, apparently trying to strike a backup officer who was standing near the front of the vehicle, according to George W. Gast, NFTA chief of police.

A couple of hours later, two Buffalo police officers were hurt trying to break up a domestic incident involving at least three family members at a Carl Street home. Both officers were taken to Erie County Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries.

The spate of recent high-profile physical attacks on police has attracted public attention. But the physical injuries in less-publicized incidents also can take weeks or longer to heal. Officers say the psychological effects can last much longer.

And while many officers accept injuries from violent encounters as part of the job, it takes a psychological toll.

Behind every badge is a human being, and violent confrontations leave their mark in more ways than one.

“Psychologically it is hard for me,” Olmstead said. “I’m kind of tough and I can deal with the physical pain, but it’s these flashbacks. They just pop into my head, like when something is moving on the side of me. I’ll just turn and look.”

'The Walking Dead'

Olmstead likened her encounter with Elijah E. Davis to a scene out of the zombie television show “The Walking Dead.” She had responded to a call of shots fired at about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 8 on Main Street near Best Street, where she spotted Davis lying in the road, bleeding.

Though Olmstead thought he might be dead, she called out from her opened driver’s side window, “Sir, are you OK?”

“He was on the ground and popped up faster than those zombies,” she said. “He used both of his hands like he had a gun and started shouting, ‘pow, pow.’ I grabbed my gun, but I saw that it was just his hands clasped together and pointing at me. As I locked my gun back in its holster, he jumped up on the hood, before I could even put the car in park.”

[RELATED: Officer survives attack from man high on synthetic drugs]

With the vehicle still moving, Davis made his way to the open driver’s window and reached in and punched her, Olmstead said. She could have hit the gas pedal hard and then slammed the brakes and sent him flying, but the officer said she was concerned for his safety.

“I started driving with my right arm, and I was swinging back at him with my left arm,” she said. “He dived through the window and his whole upper body was in my lap and his feet were hanging out of the window. He had the advantage of having both his hands and that’s when he had a grip on my gun and was trying to pull it out. I couldn’t see out the window and I couldn’t control the car.”

As she fought him, Davis made weird noises and said, “yeah, yeah,” each time she hit him, she said. It was at this point, she remembered something she had learned at the police academy.

“They had taught us how to fight when we were on our backs. I started doing maneuvers with my hips to pull the gun farther away from him. Then I started lifting my legs to get them up onto the dashboard,” said the 28-year-old Olmstead, who is 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighs 140 pounds.

“I had to take his hits awhile, but I had one hand on my gun and with my left I was trying to hit him to stop him from getting all the way in the car,” she said.

Her training paid off.

She held him at bay until other officers arrived and pulled him off.

The aftermath

More than three weeks later, Olmsted is recuperating from nerve damage to her left arm and back. She said she has received support from her fellow officers and Central District Chief Joseph A. Gramaglia.

“The chief has been very helpful and checks on me a lot. He gave me some advice on if I needed to talk to someone,” Olmstead said.

And while she is still struggling with flashbacks from the attack, she said she does not believe she needs counseling.

“It feels good to know I did the right thing. It definitely could have gotten crazy if I hadn’t reverted back to my training and he had gotten my gun,” said Olmstead.

But she downplayed the trauma she suffered.

“Lots of officers get assaulted, and it’s like another day at work. We don’t make a big deal of it,” she said.

Her goal now is to “be back to work very, very soon, as soon as the doctor clears me.”

Trying to kill officers 

Officers on a special force that specializes in taking guns out of the hands of criminals were in the Schiller Park area late on the night of June 15. A man flagged down one of the officers and said a teenager had just robbed him at gunpoint.

Officers Anthony Fanara and Joseph Acquino spotted Andre Fuller running across Doat Street and chased him. Fanara saw a .45-caliber handgun on the 19-year-old as he closed in and tackled him in the backyard at 92 Stewart Ave.

[RELATED: Safety on gun saves officer from being shot in chest]

On the ground, Fuller jammed the loaded Hi-Point handgun against Fanara’s bulletproof vest and tried to fire the gun twice, but it jammed. Acquino knocked the gun away from Fuller, and Officer Bradford Pitts handcuffed the teenager.

Fuller later gave a statement saying, “he wished he’d killed the officers.”

Fanara, who is in his sixth year on the police force, says he has given considerable thought to what would have happened if the gun had fired.

“It’s kind of like the what-if factor. What if it went off? You think about it often enough, what could have happened. It could have gone right through the vest, a .45-caliber bullet at point-blank range,” he said.

But the 30-year-old officer says that his military service in Iraq in 2007 put him in a better position to cope with the what-ifs.

 

Buffalo Police Officer Anthony Fanara, a member of strike force, outside the Buffalo Police Headquarters. Last year a foot chase ended in a confrontation in which the suspect pointed a loaded pistol at his chest and pulled the trigger. Luckily, the safety was on and the gun did not fire. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

 

“I’ve kind of conditioned my head to deal with situations and luckily for me it is easier than it might be for other people,” Fanara said.

While in Iraq, Fanara came under enemy fire several times and was awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat valor.

Fanara was sent to Romania in 2008 for a joint training exercise, and while there, he and several other service members went out to dinner at a local restaurant. A street gang was waiting for them with guns.

“Basically a street gang targeted myself and the other guys I was with. We were in civilian clothes, and two of the gang members pulled out pistols and started shooting at us, maybe 20 rounds. I was grazed twice on the side and hit in the chest. The bullet went seven inches into my chest muscle. I was rushed to hospital and it was removed,” Fanara said.

The gang was arrested that same night.

Those experiences prepared him for street work in Buffalo.

After his encounter with Fuller, Fanara was given the opportunity to take off a few days. He declined, explaining that work was a better therapy to get over the failed attempt on his life.

“I don’t know if it is a gift or a curse for me, but I can get over things very easily,” he said. “By working, it reassures me that not everyone wants to harm me. Most days you’re going to go to work and help out people or make an arrest. You’re not encountering these crazy situations,” he said.

Threatened to kill

Sammy Abdellatif vowed to kill Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Clark last July after the deputy made a traffic stop and ticketed his girlfriend, Brittany Ashley-Graser.

Then on the night of Aug. 24, while Clark was questioning the occupants of a vehicle at a hotel on Grand Island’s East River Road, a car drove by twice and a passenger in it yelled threats and obscenities at the deputy. Clark pursued the car.

[RELATED: Grand Island man accused of trying to choke deputy]

When he pulled it over, Clark saw Abdellatif and Ashley-Graser inside.

Abdellatif was the passenger and he closed his window on the deputy’s arm. Clark broke the glass to free himself, but Abdellatif and Ashley-Graser got out of their car and attacked the deputy. Abdellatif was choking the life out of Clark and might have succeeded if a passing motorist, Peter O’Brien, had not stopped and joined in the struggle. Clark staggered away before collapsing in a ditch along East River Road. O’Brien was credited with saving the deputy, who has since returned to work.

Increasing danger

Retired Amherst Police Detective Lt. Rick Walter said he has seen the level of violence against police increase steadily over the years.

“Thirty years ago, when I first got my badge, it was a different time. There was more respect for police officers. I think it is cultural and societal. It’s the whole gangster mentality. The police are always wrong,” said Walter, who retired last month.

 

Retired Amherst Police Detective Lt. Rick Walter said he has seen the level of violence against police increase.

 

Something as simple as a shoplifting call can turn into tragedy, he said.

“We had one of our best officers almost killed. It happened because a shoplifter resisted arrest and fled from the police,” he said.

He was referring to Officer Corey Brown, who was off-duty the night of Nov. 22, 2014, but heard the shoplifting call over his radio and responded.

As he ran to assist outside the Walmart at Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue, Brown was struck by the passenger side of a trailing patrol car. He suffered neck and spinal injuries and still is recovering.

Another perspective

In an era of social media and cellphone cameras, officers have become more diligent in reporting attacks against them, suggested Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, a local spokeswoman for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“Are they being more proactive to protect themselves and their communities from lawsuits? It also may be to show the reality of what they go through out on the beat. Maybe it was just always like this,” she said.

But with high-profile cases of citizens have being mistreated or dying in encounters with officers, Martin-Bordeaux said, “it would seem to make sense that blacks would be more submissive because of their heightened awareness and perception of possible bodily harm or demise.”

So what about individuals who are simply prone to violence and think nothing of attacking a cop?

“You need to be prepared to go from zero to 100 and react to the level of violence,” Walter said. “There are just some people who are violent and nasty individuals because of life circumstances.”

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda looks at those 470 instances of his officers being injured on duty and worries that it could have been more serious.

“Each and every day, our officers put their lives on the line for this community,” Derenda said. “We are very fortunate that one of our officers has not been killed in these recent attacks and thank God that has not happened.”

 

 

 

 

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