LIMA — Police officers breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday, a day after one of their own survived being stabbed in the side of the head with a screwdriver.
“We are very fortunate he was not seriously injured,” said Lima Police Maj. Tony Swygart.
Dave Gillispie, an 18-year veteran, was stabbed after he walked out of the police department with another officer to check a man who walked in and out holding a 47-inch long wooden pole and a 12-inch long screwdriver.
As soon as Gillispie stepped outside, John M. Heffner charged him and another officer with the screwdriver. The man was standing on the sidewalk in front of the police station less than 40 feet away when he charged the officers.
Gillispie’s training took over. He drew his 9mm handgun and fired three shots at Heffner, striking him in the shoulder and torso. A third shot struck a building across the street.
The fight was not over.
The 41-year-old Heffner, reportedly 6 feet tall, tried to get up. Officer Justin Wireman, on the department two years, reached for his Taser and zapped Heffner.
Wireman then kicked the screwdriver out of Heffner’s hand while Heffner laid on the pavement.
Swygart said Gillispie could have been killed. The wounded officer was rushed to St. Rita’s Medical Center by ambulance where he was treated and released the same night. He will be off work on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure following any officer-involved shooting. Wireman will return to work but be monitored due to the incident, Swygart said.
Heffner also was taken to St. Rita’s, where he was rushed into surgery and treated for two gunshot wounds.
Police were sorting out the incident Thursday, but a fairly clear picture of what happened was made possible through police statements, a video that caught part of the incident on tape and 38 police calls between Lima Police dispatchers, officers and an Allen County Sheriff's Office dispatcher.
How it started
The incident began around 6 p.m. Wednesday. Heffner’s wife called the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, telling a dispatcher her husband was suicidal and may try to crash his van on Interstate 75.
Heffner's wife tried to find her husband while talking to the dispatcher. Officers were dispatched to other locations, including Bresler Reservoir, to look for Heffner.
“Use caution. It says he wants to harm himself, suicide by cop or just have an accident,” the sheriff’s dispatcher warned a Lima Police dispatcher.
Additional warnings came through Heffner’s wife, saying he wanted a confrontation with police in hopes of having an officer shoot him.
The sheriff’s dispatcher told the Lima Police dispatcher Heffner was upset after his wife told him she wanted a divorce.
Minutes later, the sheriff’s dispatcher called back to warn the Lima Police dispatcher: “The guy we’re looking for told his wife he’s going to come to your station so you guys shoot him."
Heffner’s wife told the dispatcher he did not have a gun but did have a tire iron or something similar.
The dispatcher tried to track Heffner and his wife’s locations by their cell phones.
A male officer was heard saying, “Subject shot out front. We need an (ambulance) right now on station.”
Moments later, the sheriff’s dispatcher called, saying Heffner was outside the police department lobby and walking up with a screwdriver and board in his hand. Heffner’s wife was outside the station, advising the sheriff’s dispatcher by telephone.
“She just said somebody’s tased him,” the sheriff’s dispatcher said after gunshots were heard in the background.
Caught on video
A security video from a camera on Lima’s City Hall shows the sidewalk in front of the police station. It shows a man approaching the station, walking to a van and then walking up to the department holding a long board and a screwdriver. The man appears to have retrieved the board and screwdriver from his wife’s van. His wife is in the van just outside the police department.
The video shows the man walk into the station and then out. He stands on the sidewalk, waiting for officers to come out.
The man then runs toward the front door. Swygart said this was the moment the officers opened the door to walk out.
The man goes out of the frame before he is observed on the edge of the frame falling onto the pavement near the front door. An officer, who likely is Wireman, appears to have a Taser in his hand.
Moments later, that officer is observed pulling his gun while the man remains on the pavement. A state trooper and a sheriff’s deputy arrive at the scene within seconds and pull their guns. The rest of the video shows numerous officers swarming the scene and two ambulances arriving to treat the man and the officer.
Swygart said Wireman, who was working the desk, and Gillispie had no idea what was about to take place. They walked outside after Heffner peeked into the lobby and walked back out.
Police Chief Kevin Martin said as soon as the officers stepped outside, Heffner charged them.
Lima Police Lt. Jim Baker, who will oversee the investigation, said this was not Heffner’s only suicide attempt. Baker didn’t offer details.
All evidence gathered will be turned over to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office for review. Swygart said there is no reason to believe the officers violated any laws.
Heffner, who lives in Shawnee Township, has been charged with felonious assault with a deadly weapon, a first-degree felony. He remained at St. Rita’s Medical Center on Thursday night.
Following the criminal investigation, Swygart said, an internal investigation will be conducted to make sure department policies and procedures were followed.
Martin said the incident highlights the dangers of police work.
“Officers get assaulted on a much more regular basis than what most people in the community realize. What they do is a dangerous job,” he said.
While the incident appears to be what police refer to as “suicide by cop,” Martin said such as situation is hard for officers to manage. Officers do not want to hurt people. But in a “suicide by cop” scenario, the person tries to provoke the officer and leave the officer with no choice but to take action to defend his or her own life.
The shooting was the first time an officer had shot someone since another officer shot at a dog in June. The officer’s bullet ricocheted, striking a man walking in the background.
Stabbed police officer released from hospital