I have to admit that I was floored, literally floored when the LA Times decided to put the story of Officer Ripatti on their front page. This is so unlike the liberal, mostly cop hating paper I have been used to. Be that it may this is a very moving story that everyone should read. If your not familiar with Officer Ripatti, I first blogged about her last week shortly after the shooting. Since then a few in the blogosphere picked up on the story, even Patterico, the blogger who keeps a sharp eye on the LA Times, has started a fund drive.
A video of Ripatti can be seen here.
Los Angeles Police Officer Kristina Ripatti didn't hear the gunfire that changed her life.
She didn't feel the bullet that plunged through her chest, nicked a rib, tore through a lung and severed her spine. And she never saw the gun in the suspect's hand — the part that bothers her most, she said. Ten years of reflexively watching people's hands for weapons, and she didn't see it.
There was only an odor — a sudden, overpowering gunpowder smell bursting into her nostrils. Then she was down, dimly thinking that she wanted to go home.
The shooting that left the 33-year-old Ripatti paralyzed from the chest down underscores how suddenly and unpredictably the demands of policing can escalate into supreme sacrifice.
Ripatti, the mother of a 15-month-old daughter, left California Hospital Medical Center downtown Tuesday headed to a rehabilitation center to adapt to using a wheelchair.
"Obviously there is some reason this happened," she said, this week. "And I can't change it, so…. "
Ripatti was among the highest-risk fringe of officers in the LAPD. She was one of the few female gang officers working in South Los Angeles, and sought out the kinds of confrontations that tended to produce felony arrests and gun seizures, even as they put officers at greater risk of personnel complaints and violent encounters. She was known as a stand-out "obs officer" — adept at observing slight signs of crime.
Her ambition, she said, was to have male colleagues say of her not that "she's good for a female officer," but that she was "just a good officer."
But in the days after the shooting, her goals were more basic: to cough, to clear the bloody phlegm from her sinuses, to sleep through the night.
The article then goes on to detail the incident:
Ripatti was on patrol with partner Joe Meyer that Saturday night, June 3, near La Salle and Leighton avenues when a jaywalker sprinted in front of their car. He was a short, older man in a dark, hooded sweatshirt. "Basehead," Ripatti thought, a chronic narcotics user. Not likely to be as dangerous as younger gang members in that area. The man appeared furtive and kept glancing back. Ripatti got out of the car. The man broke into a run. Ripatti, fit from 45-minute daily runs, caught him on the pitch-dark porch of a nearby four-plex. She reached to grab him.
Meyer was a few steps behind. He saw a muzzle flash. Ripatti fell. Meyer drew his weapon. The suspect, 52-year-old James Fenton McNeal, was about eight feet from him. Meyer fired. McNeal would be pronounced dead from four gunshot wounds.
The officers had not broadcast a "code six" before stopping, a way of letting other officers know their location. Now Meyer tried his radio. But the frequency was blocked by another broadcast — a robbery at a nearby gas station, which Meyer would later hear had been committed by the man he shot. He tried again. A witness recalled seeing Meyer standing over Ripatti, screaming into the radio, "Officer down!" over and over.
Ripatti was on her side, talking. Meyer ripped off her uniform shirt, then her bulletproof vest. It seemed to take a long time. He couldn't find the wound. He searched her abdomen. Nothing.
Ripatti, who was suffused with survival adrenaline, kept pushing herself upright with her arms, insisting she needed to go. Meyer held her, then had to use his full weight to hold her down. She struggled and cursed him.
At last, Meyer saw a tiny stain of red just under the arm of Ripatti's white T-shirt. He pressed a finger into a hole under her armpit, and felt the pressure of blood. Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware of McNeal's gun behind him on the porch, and McNeal motionless beyond.
He kept his finger in the hole, until four officers with emergency medical training arrived, and told him to let go. He backed off, paced, tried to find other things to do, and spent the rest of the night second-guessing himself.
Her husband who happens to work a housing projects a block from my station area was on patrol that night. He heard the call of officer down and rushed to the scene to find it was his wife who was down.
An interesting aspect of the article is that she was a fitness nut. One reason why she caught the suspect so quickly. The doctors are saying that her level of fitness has already sped up her recovery beyond what they normally see:
LAPD is full of jocks, especially the South Bureau. But even in the department, Ripatti's devotion to fitness stood out. She did kickboxing, jujitsu, surfing, daily runs and circuit training.
"What are you training for?" people would ask. "Life," Ripatti would tell them.
Now she knows, she said. A high level of physical fitness will help her recover more quickly, doctors said. To Pearce, after the first day, it seemed like her swelling diminished every six hours.
When the doctors came to tell them that the paralysis was probably irreversible, Ripatti cried. They would have more time with their daughter, Pearce said.
When Dr. Gudata Hinika said he would prescribe an antidepressant — standard for patients reeling from such news — Ripatti declined. "Guinness and the World Cup" would work better, she joked, adding: "There may be a time for that, but I don't want it now."
In the end she is very lucky to be alive. Her partner was able to end the attack by the suspect by killing him, he then stopped the bleeding by plugging the wound with his finger. The luck of having four paramedic trained swat team members a minute away. She is lucky to be alive and she knows it:
Ripatti said she knows there are hard times ahead, but she is not without hope that she might regain some use of her legs. She said she knows she has to be there for her husband and daughter.
"I'm glad I'm alive," she said.
The Ripatti family is going to need funds to help with her recovery, if you would like to donate…anything will do….please either visit Patterico's blog and donate through him or you can send it directly to her fund here:
An account has been established with the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union to accept donations to help with Ripatti's medical bills. Checks can be made out to the LAPFCU with a notation that the money should be designated for the "Kristina Ripatti Trustee Account," and mailed to the credit union at 16150 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA 91410.