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12-28-2001, 12:11 #1
Cop shot to death in SWAT training
EAST PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND -- A police captain was shot to death Thursday during a training exercise that was not supposed to involve live ammunition.
Police Chief Gary Dias said the captain was shot by an officer with a rifle as a 12-member SWAT team took part in a hostage drill in a parking lot. The name of the captain, a 16-year veteran, was not released.
Dias said the officer was sedated and taken to a hospital, apparently because of shock.
Dias called the shooting an accident but called the state police and the state attorney general's office to investigate.
"Hopefully, you have the safeguards in place to prevent these accidents, but nothing is foolproof," he said. All of the SWAT team members, he said, are veterans of the force."Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter."
12-31-2001, 00:18 #2onlyme Guest
Here is a more complete story of what happened.
EAST PROVIDENCE -- East Providence police Capt. Alister C. McGregor was impressed.
In just 14 seconds, the dozen officers in his SWAT team seized control of a delicate hostage situation on a school bus and grabbed a "suspect."
All Thursday morning, McGregor, a 16-year veteran and SWAT team commander, put his officers through imagined scenarios of schoolchildren being held hostage, said Police Chief Gary Dias. They moved all over the Laidlaw bus storage lot at Commercial Way as McGregor called out plays, changing the scenarios to keep the SWAT team thinking, Dias said.
After the last run, McGregor turned to Sgt. Tom Rush and told him he was pleased with the team, Dias said.
Then he asked the SWAT team's sniper, a young officer in his 20s who has not yet been named, to get a rifle that had been left at the police station. The sniper was going to be about 70 yards away, and McGregor thought the rifle's scope would work better than binoculars, Dias said.
And that's when everything went wrong.
Thursday was a routine training day for the SWAT team, and no live ammunition was allowed. They checked their weapons to make sure they weren't loaded before beginning the day's exercises -- a standard practice, Dias said.
The rifle that McGregor asked the sniper to retrieve is kept in a locker at the police station, Dias said. The weapon is used solely by the sniper, he said..
By 1:30 in the afternoon, McGregor was in the front of a flat-nosed school bus parked facing Commercial Way. He wore a camouflage suit, black boots and black gloves, and thick body armor covering his chest.
The sniper had returned with the scope rifle. He was about 70 yards away when he lined his sites on McGregor, Dias said, intending to "dry fire" -- meaning to fire an unloaded weapon.
There was no clip in the rifle, but the young officer didn't realize there was still a live round in the chamber, Dias said.
The sniper pulled the trigger. McGregor's body dropped over the driver's seat in the bus -- a single bullet wound in his forehead.
Sergeant Rush was the first to reach him. The young officer burst over to the school bus. When he saw the body of his mentor, the officer collapsed.
DIAS WAS on his way to Providence when he heard Sergeant Rush screaming over the police radio for rescue.
"Commercial Way!" Dias said he heard the sergeant say. "A police officer was shot!"
The chief quickly pulled his car over to the side of the road. He listened, not wanting to interrupt the radio broadcasts, and thought carefully. Commercial Way. He'd run by there an hour before and noticed the SWAT team training in the bus storage lot.
That's when he knew what had happened, he said. "We'd shot one of our own officers."
Two ambulances sped to the scene, but there was nothing the rescue crews could do for McGregor, Dias said. Instead, they tended to the distraught officer who had shot him and brought him to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was heavily sedated, Dias said.
The stress team visited him Thursday night, as they had the other SWAT team members, but the young officer was unable to talk, Dias said. He was released last night to the care of his family.
The officer was in the military before joining the Police Department five years ago, Dias said. He was one of many in the department who admired and respected the patrol commander, who was the father of five boys, Dias said.
"Words cannot describe how he feels," Dias said. "He's a good, young police officer."
The state police and the attorney general's office are helping East Providence detectives piece together what happened. When the investigation is complete, the evidence will be brought before a grand jury. Dias couldn't say yesterday whether anyone had checked the rifle before it was fired.
"My firm belief is the officer did not know the gun was loaded," Dias said.
The officer is now on administrative leave. "I'm not sure what will happen to him," Dias said.
THE IRONY is unavoidable to those who knew McGregor. The rugged East Providence native was an expert throughout the state on police use of deadly force. He was the head of training and planning at the Police Department, and he ran the SWAT team.
In February 2000, McGregor and another East Providence officer were cleared by a federal jury in a negligence lawsuit from 1995, when they'd shot and killed an armed man. The federal court judge also threw out complaints alleging the officers violated the man's constitutional rights by using deadly force.
At the time, Dias said the verdict showed the officers acted reasonably in a difficult, tragic situation.
When the Rhode Island Select Commission on Race and Police-Community Relations had questions on how police are trained in using deadly force, McGregor and East Providence Patrolman Ray Blinn were the ones who explained their methods.
Last month, Blinn demonstrated a firearms training simulator bought by the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust insurer to train police officers in using deadly force. No ammunition, just a video screen. It was the kind of training the Select Commission wanted police departments to use -- based on the advice they'd heard from McGregor.
To civilians, McGregor was bright, opinionated, and passionate about his family and police work. To fellow officers, especially younger officers, he was a mentor and a role model, Dias said.
Although McGregor was killed during a training exercise, SWAT team training would continue, Dias said.
"It's an unfortunate event, but accidents do happen," Dias said. "They're preventable, but they do happen.
"Believe me," the chief added, "I wish it never happened here yesterday."
THE DARK news spread.
By late Thursday afternoon, the word reached Hinsdale, N.H., where a former East Providence major is serving as the little town's police chief.
Wayne Gallagher had left East Providence two months ago after serving 29 years, and McGregor was promoted to captain shortly after he left.
Gallagher was thinking about his former colleagues as he left work that day and decided to call the station.
"You heard already?" the dispatcher said. "Heard what?" Gallagher asked.
"I'll put you through to the lieutenant," the dispatcher quickly said.
That's how Gallagher learned that McGregor was dead.
Gallagher had known him for years. McGregor had been an Eagle Scout in East Providence, then joined the Air Force, where he worked as a dog handler. When McGregor was discharged, he took a job with the Reno, Nev., police force.
But he wanted to come back home, Gallagher said. He gave up his job in Nevada and overcame a knee injury so he could join his hometown's police force 16 years ago.
That's where he met his second wife, Brooke, a 15-year veteran and a detective corporal. When they had their two young sons, the couple devised a work schedule that would allow at least one of them to be home with the boys, Gallagher said.
McGregor was also very close to his three sons from a previous marriage, Gallagher said. Although the ages of his five sons range from 2 to 18, McGregor found ways to share his love of the outdoors with them.
They went fishing from a canoe he'd bought from Gallagher. They went camping and hiking in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, Gallagher said.
The stocky, 43-year-old officer was also a tough goalie for the East Providence police/fire hockey team. He'd play in the morning, then leave his sweaty hockey pads hanging on a nearby fence to dry -- making everyone tease him about hanging out his dirty laundry, Gallagher remembered.
The Police Department is a close-knit place that few people leave after fewer than 20 years on the job. It has a family atmosphere, a camaraderie, Gallagher said, and all 96 officers know each other.
Gallagher knew the young man who shot McGregor, and said he was probably taking the death hard.
"I think what's going to happen is they're going to lose two police officers," Gallagher said.
EARLY YESTERDAY morning, an East Providence man stopped by the station to pay his respects to the officers. He didn't know McGregor, but he wanted the officers to know they were appreciated.
"Everyone I know loves them," said Michael Jones, an electrical engineer. "It's sad it took Sept. 11 for people to realize how important they are."
Black bunting was draped outside the station. Inside his office, Dias picked up a handwritten list of about 20 police chiefs who'd called him since hearing of the shooting.
They offered their condolences and their services. He talked to some of them, particularly Providence Police Chief Richard T. Sullivan, the head of a department where the memory of an officer's death is still fresh.
Almost two years ago, off-duty Providence police Sgt. Cornel Young Jr. was shot to death by two fellow officers who thought he was an armed suspect. The Providence Police Department and the city are still dealing with the aftermath.
Now, Dias said, he'll use Providence's experience to help his department deal with McGregor's death.
He spent Thursday night comforting fellow officers and McGregor's family. He returned to McGregor's home in Barrington again yesterday morning to talk to McGregor's wife about the funeral arrangements.
LATE THURSDAY morning, just two hours before McGregor was shot, Dias was talking to The Journal about a recent survey of his Police Department.
The survey by Salve Regina University students found that residents overwhelmingly approved of their police officers and felt safe in their neighborhoods.
Dias was proud of the results. Even the few complaints of crime were small, mainly traffic problems and quality-of-life issues.
Dias was surprised residents were more concerned about traffic than the criminal problems, such as bank robberies, break-ins, and assaults, that the police usually think about.
Then again, he said, the makeup of East Providence keeps the crime rate down, he said. The city feels like a small town, with generations of families settling in, the chief said.
"I think the crime rate is low because people look out for each other," Dias said, pointing out that many of the officers live in East Providence. "And, they do a good job."
Yesterday morning, he was reminded of that conversation.
His eyes turned bright. He paused before answering.
"I wish my only problem was traffic right now," Dias said.