A SWAT officer’s last debrief

Lieutenant Michael Pigott recently responded to a call in New York City of a dangerous emotionally disturbed person. This call was hardly routine for Pigott, but certainly not unique. Nothing was routine about any of Pigott’s calls, other than the fact that up until this one, Lt. Pigott was routinely successful at what he did.

Lt. Pigott was what some in law enforcement would describe as an honorable blue knight in black armor. He was a member of the highly acclaimed New York Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit. Pigott was not just a member – he was a unit commander.

Pigott arrived on the scene, and after a period of time he did what SWAT Commanders do day-in and day-out: he made a difficult decision under extraordinary conditions. A wild-eyed, naked, 35-year-old man from Brooklyn, who was perched on a ten foot wall swinging a long fluorescent light at anyone, who would come near him. He showed signs of what is known in law enforcement as “Excited Delirium.” Pigott made the call and directed a team member to fire his electrical control device at the dangerous suspect in an effort to peacefully subdue him. The suspect fell from the wall on which he was perched and, tragically, died.

This was the exact result that Lt. Pigott was trying to prevent. The incident was obviously devastating to all, who were involved. Pigott was reportedly administratively suspended and according to news reports he had his weapon and badge, “stripped” from him.

The media had a field day. This honorable man, who accepted total responsibility for his decision was named, blamed, and defamed in the media. This husband, father, son, and brother officer took as much as he could and then made another difficult decision that would have a tragic outcome. He went to his station, and after writing a most sincere apology he clipped the lock off a fellow officer’s locker, removed from it a 9mm pistol, and with it took his own life.

Lt. Pigott had been warned that he might face indictment. He could not fathom himself being led away in handcuffs. He spent the last moments of his life, alone, debriefing his final SWAT call out.

Lt. Pigott was a good man, whose life was filled with danger and many challenges. He faced them all, earning respect and achieving many unqualified successes. He had geared himself up and prepared himself tactically for any barrage that might be leveled at him by the criminals he was sent to apprehend. He found himself unarmed and ill prepared for the barrage leveled at him by the media. Their fire was relentless, withering and merciless.

If Lt. Pigott could have survived the onslaught of negative press coverage, he most certainly would have warned all officers to prepare emotionally for the imperfect world, containing imperfect people that bring on imperfect calls that lead to imperfect conclusions. Their aftermath can be as deadly to officers as the calls themselves. He would warn all to emotionally prepare for what is to come and to “Gear Up!”

This imperfect conclusion left a good father, a good son, a good husband, a good friend, and a good cop, unable to survive his last debrief. I wonder if our “friends” in the media ever debrief their actions. Maybe they would…in a perfect world. God help them and bring them wisdom.

Hopefully Lt. Pigott, a brave and honorable protector and servant, has found a perfect world. God bless him and bring him peace.

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