The Lessons Of Tim Gramins

By Massad Ayoob

Situation: Backup is racing to help you as you shoot it out with a heavily armed bank robber, but you’re alone for now and running low on ammo.

Lesson: What’s on your person may be all you’ll have to fight with, so carry enough. Solid positions and aimed fire deliver fight-stopping hits … and knowing what you’re fighting for will make you fight harder.

August 25, 2008. It’s a sunny and beautiful late afternoon in Skokie, one of the separately incorporated communities surrounding the city of Chicago, Illinois. Of Skokie Police Department’s 124 officers, about 15 are patrolling on the street during the three-to-eleven shift. Inside the Crown Vic Police Interceptor squad car of Officer Tim Gramins, the dedicated ISPERN radio — the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network, reserved for serious emergencies — comes to life. A bank has been robbed in nearby Northbrook. The suspect is a black male, average size, driving a white Pontiac. A witness has reported a possible plate number, from a series tracked to the city of Chicago.

This puts Skokie in between. SPD units proceed to the Edens Expressway, I-94 South, hoping to interdict. Two Skokie units pull over a man and vehicle fitting the description but quickly determine he’s not the suspect they’re looking for. It is then Gramins spots a white Grand Prix, with a lone driver who fits the description.

They make eye contact with each other, and Gramins recognizes an expression he has seen many times. He calls it “the ‘Oh, boy, here’s the police’ look.” The man floors his accelerator with a sudden lane change, and the chase is on.

In Pursuit

Hitting his lights and siren, Gramins radios in his situation. He knows other units will be responding, but has no way to determine how soon backup will catch up with him, particularly in late rush hour traffic. The suspect veers his getaway car across three lanes of traffic to hit the Touhy Avenue exit east, and then bangs a right onto Skokie Boulevard. In the powerful CVPI, Gramins expertly remains on his tail. The chase swerves onto Estes Street after a block, through the intersection of Keating, then right on Kilpatrick.
And then, the fugitive springs the trap.

Ambush!

Here, in a quiet suburban neighborhood right out of a Leave It To Beaver rerun, Gramins sees his quarry slam on his brakes and come to an abrupt stop in the street. Action beats reaction: Gramins responds quickly but by the time his squad car has stopped it is only 15 feet behind the fugitive’s vehicle.

The white car’s door pops open and out comes the suspect. Gramins sees a silver-colored auto pistol in the man’s hand as it rises over the steering wheel, coming out the door, and swinging toward him. As this is happening, training and practice send Gramins’ left hand across his torso to swiftly release his seat belt, and his right hand to unholster his GLOCK 21 service pistol. But Ray Maddox, a 37-year-old Gangster Disciple gang member who has sworn to kill the next cop who stops him rather than go back behind bars, gets the first shots off.

Bam, bam, bam, bam! Gramins can hear and even count all four of them, can see Maddox running toward him firing one-handed. Now, though, the cop’s own gun is up in both hands and he fires right through the windshield, indexed on his target, tracking the gunman as he approaches the patrol car door, still shooting.

Incredibly — perhaps, for Gramins, even miraculously — both men now run out of ammunition and go simultaneously to slidelock.

Second Magazine

Both combatants react instantly to the change in the situation. Maddox spins around and runs back to the Pontiac. Gramins explodes out the driver’s door of the squad car, seeking to escape the trap his vehicle has become, and runs between the cars to the right. He’s reloading on the run, ejecting the spent magazine, slapping in a fresh one, and closing the slide. At approximately this time in the gun battle, he is able to radio in: the suspect is out of his vehicle, shots have been fired and he (Gramins) needs help.

The gunfire has captured the attention of the residents on this quiet street. A 12-year-old boy skateboarding on the sidewalk runs into his house and tells his parents, “There’s a police officer in the street being shot at, call 9-1-1!” Gramins will later tell American Handgunner, the boy is “the bravest kid I’ve ever known.” Gramins can hear the boy’s dad yelling to him like a cheering section, “Get him! Shoot him!” In the heat of the moment, Gramins has time to take some comfort in this.

Reloaded, he charges the suspect, now on the other side of the vehicles. The officer fires as he goes. He will tell me later, “He (was moving) back toward my car. I don’t think he knew I was off to his left. I charged right at him, and ended up three feet away. I was shooting one-handed when I got close. As I ran toward him firing, I saw no effect.”

Third Magazine

Seeing his GLOCK at slide lock again, Gramins sprints to an angle where he can get his patrol car between himself and the gunman, who is still shooting at him but with a different pistol. Again the cop is reloading on the run, demoralized his gunfire has done nothing to stop his deadly attacker, and acutely aware he’s on his last magazine.

Gramins is now to the right of their two cars, and he sees Maddox is now to the left of his patrol car, using it for cover and crouching down low. An intensively trained SWAT team leader, Gramins tries to use the technique LAPD SWAT employed to successfully neutralize the machinegun-armed suspect Matasureanu in the infamous North Hollywood bank robbery shootout of 1997: he points rather than aims his G21 and fires as he moves, trying to ricochet his bullets under the car and into Maddox’s legs to bring him down. The angle isn’t right, though, and he sees his bullets hitting his own car and front right tire. Time to change the plan, he realizes.

Finale

Gramins sees a tree between the sidewalk and the cars in the street. He dives prone behind it, and — trained on the precision rifle as a SWAT cop — realizes he now has the best cover and the most solid shooting position he has had since the gunfight began. Maddox has been popping up and shooting at him like a jack-in-the-box and then crouching deep, watching Gramins from under the car. The cop sees Maddox looking at him now from under the police car.

Carefully, consciously focusing hard on his front sight, Gramins follows legendary Border Patrol shootist Bill Jordan’s advice (“Take your time, quick!”) and squeezes off three rapid but still carefully-aimed shots, holding on the would-be cop-killer’s head. On the third, Maddox collapses face down. He is no longer shooting. A large pool of blood begins to spread outward from the gunman’s head.
Gramins keeps him covered. About a minute later, the first responding officers, Detective (now Sergeant) Barnes and Detective Mendez, arrive. Both are fellow SWAT team members. Gramins feels a sense of relief as the backups kick the downed antagonist’s gun out of his reach, and handcuff him.

It’s over.

Reconstruction will show from the first shot of the gunfight to the last, 56 seconds have elapsed. During this time 54 pistol shots have been fired, 33 from Gramins’ GLOCK .45, and 21 by Maddox from two pistols.

Wound Assessment

Raymond Maddox did not survive. Autopsy showed he had been hit by 17 of Gramins’ 230-gr. Speer Gold Dot .45 hollowpoints. Some had hit extremities, including upper limbs as the officer’s bullets tracked up the gunman’s arms while he was firing at the cop. But Maddox had also been hit in one kidney, both lungs … and the heart. All three of Gramins’ last carefully braced, precisely aimed shots had indeed hit the head, but two had smashed into his face and only the last had pierced the brain and ended the fight.

Gramins did not emerge entirely unscathed. He caught a bullet fragment in one shin, and bullets going through the glass of the car had sent fragments into his face. He also suffered a significant hearing loss in his left ear, most likely due to firing 13 rounds from his .45 from inside the closed patrol car.

He, at the hospital in a room adjacent to where the medicos were trying to save Maddox’s life, also had to hear a doctor angrily cry, “Why did the cop have to shoot him so many times?” If only the physician had known …

The shooting death of Raymond Maddox at the hands of Officer Timothy Gramins was ruled a justifiable homicide. No lawsuit was filed. Gramins received multiple awards for his heroism in the encounter and was later promoted to sergeant.

Weapon Assessment

Both the would-be cop-killer and the officer who neutralized him were heavily armed. They had access to seven loaded firearms between them. Gramins deployed only one; Maddox used two.

Maddox opened fire with a stainless steel 9mm auto which Gramins first thought looked like a Taurus copy of a Beretta, but turned out to be a 16-shot S&W Model 5906. It was recovered, empty, from the front seat of Maddox’s Pontiac, its last spent casing stovepiped where Maddox had dumped it as he grabbed his second weapon. It was a Bersa .380 pistol. The .380 was apparently hit and, unknown to the cop, rendered inoperable by one of Gramins’ .45 rounds near the end of the gunfight. Also in the front seat of the gunman’s car was an SKS semiautomatic rifle, fully loaded with a 30-rd. magazine, and in a box. At least one analyst has suggested Gramins’ charging toward Maddox while emptying the second magazine in his GLOCK kept the gunman from accessing the high-powered semiautomatic rifle. Gramins was told later Maddox’s weapons were tied to four homicides in the city of Chicago.

Gramins had been carrying his primary sidearm, the 13+1 capacity GLOCK 21, with only 12 rounds per mag because he had found with his magazines, it was sometimes difficult to positively seat them loaded all the way up if the slide was forward. He had the two spare magazines on his duty belt, and also a 9mm subcompact GLOCK 26 backup gun in a holster attached to the Second Chance ballistic vest under his uniform shirt. A Remington 870 pump shotgun loaded with five 12-gauge slugs was racked above him inside the patrol car, and as a SWAT officer, he had an AR-15 in the trunk with several 30-rd. magazines. Like his opponent, he was never able to deploy any of the heavy artillery.

Lessons

There are many lessons to be learned from Tim Gramins’ incident, some more obvious than others.

Carry enough ammunition to finish a worst case scenario fight. After this event, which has been widely publicized among law enforcement, Tim Gramins put his .45 in his gun safe and went with a 9mm. He told me, “We are allowed to pick our weapon. GLOCK, S&W, Beretta and SIG are authorized, and we have our choice of 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP, all with department issue Gold Dot ammunition.” His duty pistol is now the GLOCK 17, loaded to full capacity with 17+1 rounds of 124-gr. +P 9mm, backed up by 11 rounds of the same in his GLOCK 26, which of course can feed G17 magazines. A slim-line Safariland triple magazine pouch carries three more 17-rd. mags in uniform, and he carries two 33-rd. 9mm magazines behind the trauma shield of his ballistic vest.

This adds up to 146 rounds on tap. A widely-circulated police article by our mutual friend Charles Remsberg made Tim famous in cop circles as the policeman who carries almost 150 rounds of ammo on his person. “I can carry a hundred rounds more ammo, and it only weighs a couple of pounds,” Gramins told American Handgunner. “Round count seems to be skyrocketing in police gun battles, police running out of ammunition. I don’t want to be in such position. I came close to it, with only four rounds left in my GLOCK 21.”

The dynamic movement required to escape the kill zone kept Gramins from accessing either the shotgun in the squad car’s cockpit or the AR-15 in its trunk. One lesson this taught him: what you have on your person may be all you have to fight with once a fight goes mobile.

Aggressive humans can soak up multiple lethal wounds and still continue homicidal action for surprising periods of time. People have taken multiple, massive wounds even from high powered rifles and shotguns, and stayed in the fight. Contrary to popular belief, a heart shot like the one Maddox sustained well before Gramins’ brain shot killed him does not necessarily guarantee the hoped-for “instant one-shot stop.” The medical journals devoted to treatment of trauma show multiple survivors of gunshot wounds to the heart, and forensic pathologists have recorded numerous cases of people who continued conscious, purposeful, sometimes successfully homicidal actions after being shot in the heart. Even if cardiac function is completely shut down, the recipient of the wound has up to 15 or 16 seconds of action left before blood pressure drops below the level it will no longer sustain consciousness, and not all wounds of the heart cause total shutdown. This appears to have been the case with Raymond Maddox in this shooting, who by the way had a “clean toxicology screen,” which showed no alcohol or drugs on board.

Forensic pathologists tell us there is no post-mortem artifact for adrenalin dump, and even if there was, its effect on the given person experiencing it cannot be precisely predicted. This shooting appears to be a classic example. Mortal wounds are not necessarily instantly fatal. The study of gunfights is replete with cases of “men who were dead, but didn’t know it yet.” It was not possible to reconstruct exactly when Maddox took the cardiac hit, but it is absolutely possible he was up and running for almost a minute despite a .45 caliber gunshot wound to the heart before the final bullet to the brain short-circuited his central nervous system and ended the encounter.

Training is critical! As a SWAT cop prior to this shooting, Tim had extensive experience shooting through barriers such as windshield glass, from both sides, and this stood him in good stead in the opening of the gunfight when he essentially “broke the ambush” by returning fire through the windshield from the driver’s seat. Extensive Simunitions-based “force on force” role-play had prepared him as best as possible for shooting a murderous criminal who was shooting at him.

Know what you’re fighting for! The day of this shooting was the eighth birthday of Tim Gramins’ son. Prior to hearing the emergency call over ISPERN, Tim had been pondering when he could take some break time to buy his son the Star Wars game he wanted for his birthday. Throughout the gunfight, Tim was aware of his need to survive for his son and for the rest of his family. He credits this determination for seeing him through the deadly gun battle. The very term “gunfight” is really a misnomer: the guns don’t fight, the people do, and those who know what they’re fighting for have a powerful psychological advantage.

Finally, the lost lesson of this incident seems to be the importance of aimed fire. At the end, from a solid prone position where Tim had his hardest “front sight focus” of the fight, was when three rapid shots to the head all struck the intended target, the last one “shutting off the computer” and bringing the death battle to a decisive close on the side of The Good Guy.

The author wishes to thank Sergeant Tim Gramins and the trainers of the Skokie Police Department for the outcome of this shooting, and fellow police writers Chuck Remsberg and Dave Scoville for first spreading the valuable lessons of this life-or-death battle to the law enforcement community.

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