Here at BlueSheepDog we are committed to providing our readers timely and pertinent information that will help them serve their communities better. We are active and retired police officers ourselves, and we fully understand and appreciate the need to be constant students of our art.
In this video, an officer stops a motorist that he is familiar with from previous contacts. The officer is aware that the driver failed to dispose of a previous traffic ticket and subsequently has an active warrant for her arrest. In addition, the failure to satisfy the traffic ticket has resulted in her driver’s license being suspended. As such, the officer knows going into this contact that a physical arrest will result. The resulting contact nearly causes serious injuries to the officer. We’ll break down the actions of the officer and suspect in this review to hopefully better prepare you for situations like this.
Auburn Hills, Michigan Police
Auburn Hills, Michigan is a city of nearly 22,000 residents, but don’t allow that number to fool you. Auburn Hills is a thriving suburb in the greater Detroit Metropolitan Area, and has a wide range of commercial, industrial, and residential areas; as well as, having I-75 (The Felony Freeway) run right through the city. The Police Department has an authorized strength of 53 sworn officers.
On October 23, 2015 at 0200 hours Auburn Hills Officer Mikolajczak (common pronunciation) conducted a traffic stop on a 22-year-old woman who he knew had an outstanding warrant and a suspended license. When he responds to the driver’s window he asks, “you’re Breianna right?” (the name of the wanted party). When he gets confirmation that the driver is the wanted party, he also asked her “did you know your license is suspended?”
At that point Officer Mikolajczak tells the driver, “alright, put your hands behind your back,” with the intent to place her under arrest for the violations. The video shows how this arrest quickly escalated into a near tragedy for the officer.
The two have a brief conversation, but it is clear the driver has no intention of compliance. When she gets out she is on her cell phone and already providing clues of resistance as she tells the person on the other end of the line she doesn’t know why she was pulled over, and the officer is harassing her. The officer politely asks, and then tells the driver to put the cell phone back in the car and to put her hands behind her back.
However, instead of complying the driver tells the male on the other end of the line that the officer is putting hands on her and “hitting me”, and asks the male to come to the store apparently to assist in her escape.
Officer Mikolajczak did a great job of identifying a wanted person driving the opposite direction at night. This takes diligence in remembering intelligence briefings and warrant notifications. The officer conducted a good car stop. He put out his activity and location over the radio before the vehicles came to a stop. He was quick to exit his patrol car, and he did an appropriate driver side approach. He used the B-pillar at the initial contact, and his verbal communication was very professional.
What may have set this course of action down the path it took, was a pre-conceived notion of how this contact would end. Officers have significant input into how a contact is initiated, and in the right circumstances can have a significant influence on how the contact ends. However, everything in the middle is an unknown. Despite using the very best tactical methods, verbal communication, and physical techniques, the suspect ALWAYS has a say in how the contact will play out.
The driver was verbally resistive of the officer from the beginning, despite exiting the vehicle as instructed. Despite being informed that her license is suspended, she doesn’t seem to believe that she needs to be arrested. From the moment the officer begins to attempt physical control, the driver begins physically resisting. When told again to put her hands behind her back, she responds, “no I’m not putting my hands back there”. That’s when things fall apart.
BlueSheepDog has reported before about the 10 most deadly errors that police officer make that lead to them being feloniously assaulted or killed. Improper handcuffing is #2 on the list. There are two other errors that Officer Mikolajczak unintentionally made. Bad positioning is #6 on the list. Getting very close to the suspect in the confines of the open door, reduces the officer’s ability at some control techniques. In addition, as happened in this scenario, the suspect has easy access back into the car – a place much more difficult to control their movements. Finally, after the initial struggle for control, the driver distracts the officer by making claims that he didn’t tell her why she was under arrest and he can’t touch her. The officer completely changes his tactics from physical control, to verbal communication. This is at the same time that she is still not complying or surrendering. This is an example of relaxing too soon, which is #4 on the list. Unfortunately, this happens again (2:27), when the female begins repeatedly threatening the officer “I’m reporting it”.
LESSON #1 – I’m going to insert something here that is of particular importance with the headlines of today. The suspect was a black female. The officer was a white male. The suspect used the race card (though not overtly), and played on the fact that she is a female (through accusations to her friend on the phone). I would assert that the officer was trying to keep this situation as routine and low-key as possible. I understand and applaud that hope. However, picking up on the resistance, both verbally and physically, the officer must go back to their officer safety training. The faster a person is secured in handcuffs, the less force that is necessary. Here, I believe the officer was trying too hard to avoid any racial or sexist complaints, when he would have been more than justified to use additional force to secure her quickly into handcuffs. Any complaint made by her would have been thoroughly refuted by the dash cam video and audio.
LESSON #2 – According to the Auburn Hills Police website there are multiple officers assigned to each patrol shift. When an officer knows they are going into an arrest situation the best, and safest, procedure is to call for back-up as soon as possible. From the video it is not clear if back-up was called for. Even if Officer Mikolajczak had called for back-up, there is no reason to start the arrest process until the back-up arrives (unless the suspect’s actions require immediate action). Had Officer Mikolajczak waited for back-up at the beginning of the stop I think it would be highly unlikely that the driver would have been able to get back into the car, let alone nearly crush the officer while fleeing.
Instead, Officer Mikolajczak was in the middle of his struggle when he was able to call for assistance. That is too late. I’m an eager and aggressive officer too. I like to track down criminals and put them in jail. I think Officer Mikolajczak was in that same mindset when he saw this driver he knew he had justification to arrest. Officers need to slow down a bit, call for back-up, and make arrests from positions of advantage. Officer Mikolajczak could have simply waited by his patrol car for a backing officer before contacting the driver, or engaged in small talk with the driver until back-up arrived. Officers can use verbal judo to try to de-escalate a situation as well. If contact is made, use statements like “I think your license may not valid”, or “did you forget to pay that ticket”. Even if they get an acknowledgement from the driver, they can say “well let me check to see how they want me to handle this”, or “OK, they might want you to go pay the ticket” (you don’t have to say that comes with handcuffs and an escort to jail). This time and de-escalation can allow the officer to confirm the warrant and license suspension, while allowing backing officers time to respond.
LESSON #3 – The Courts have consistently ruled that officers can take a person at their word, as long as the suspect has the means and opportunity to complete their statements. Ignoring the officers commands, talking over the officer to her friend on the phone, and refusing to place the phone into the car as instructed are all verbal signs of resistance. Once an officer realizes resistance is in play the best course of action is to take immediate measures to get the suspect controlled. Officer Mikolajczak was polite but clear in his commands. After multiple refusals to comply, take charge quickly. Typically if force is applied quickly and correctly, a person can be taken into custody without further or higher levels of force.
LESSON #4 – Officer Mikolajczak is able to turn the driver back away from him, but she is physically resisting his attempts to get her hands behind her back. Officers need to remember that if one technique is not working, move to a second or third to keep the resistance off-balance. This would have been an ideal time for a balance displacement technique, a wrist lock, the CLAMP, or even the LVNR if your agency allows those techniques, to get the driver off-balance, and perhaps on the ground for better control. Other options could be to use O.C. spray or a Taser. Once an officer realizes that physical force is necessary to effect the arrest or control, that force must be DECISIVE! The Courts recognize an officer’s authority to use more force on the person being arrested then what they are presenting, to allow control to be achieved (as long as it is objectively reasonable force). Allowing suspects to dictate the situation is a recipe for disaster.
LESSON #5 – Once the suspect is back in the driver’s seat, the officer must recognize the imminent danger he or she is in. It is not clear if the driver left the vehicle running during the initial stop, but at some point it is clear she put the vehicle into reverse. Recognizing the immediate threat is critical to officer survival. As hard as it is for officers to disengage, after repeatedly being trained to stay engaged and overcome, that disengagement is sometimes the difference between life and death. Officer Mikolajczak was incredibly lucky to avoid serious injury or death from this confrontation. Had the suspect vehicle backed up just slightly more to the right, the rear end would have missed the patrol car. The speed of the suspect vehicle’s backing could have pinned Officer Mikolajczak between the open driver’s door and his patrol car with enough force to generate far more injuries than what he did receive.
Thankfully, Officer Mikolajczak is going to be O.K. I’m sure he has relived this event several times. Hopefully, he has learned some ideas and techniques to counter a situation like this in the future and gain control more quickly. In addition, the scum bag driver was captured a short time later, and is now facing felony assault on law enforcement charges in addition to her suspended license and traffic warrant. Hopefully, Auburn Hills is in a jurisdiction that will throw the book at the driver and send a clear message to anyone else who may consider taking her actions.
Any law enforcement officer who has been on the job for more than a few years knows that this game is a game of constant learning. Those who fail or refuse to keep learning either become a statistic or become obsolete. Sadly, many law enforcement commanders, removed from the dynamics of the street, settle into this very dangerous mindset – “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here”.
Change for simply change’s sake is detrimental and counter-productive. Change must come from a proactive approach to examining our profession, keeping our eyes and ears open for new technology, techniques, legal rulings, and more. In the end, we must adapt to a changing world, but that does not mean we let our guard down. On the contrary, every decision or change made, should be made with the utmost commitment to bettering our profession and keeping our officers and citizens safe.
Nothing in this review is meant to slander or libel Officer Mikolajczak, or the Auburn Hills Police Department. On the contrary, we recognize that the officer did a very good job in this enforcement action up to a point. The only message we hope to impart, is a message of “lessons learned”. Ultimately, the officer lost control of the suspect, and then was nearly seriously injured or killed.
As professional law enforcement officers we must learn from these situations, remind ourselves of the dangers, and stay diligent in our duties. By doing so we uphold the strength of our oath, by protecting the innocent, apprehending the offenders, and remaining safe and capable of going back to the streets to further carry out our oath.
The BlueSheepDog Crew wishes only the best for the officer and his department. We are glad this menace to society is behind bars, and the officer only sustained minor injuries. By evaluating the circumstances we can all become better, safer, and more professional – and that is the point of these reviews.