On January 22nd, 2008 Cpl. Lancen Shipman of the Moss Point, Mississippi Police Department was nearly at the end of a 12 hour shift when, at 4:40 PM he attempted to stop a 2004 Nissan Sentra as it exited a neighborhood known for high crime and drug activity. A pursuit began with speeds reaching nearly 100 mph on the streets of the predominantly low income community of 15,000 people.
The chase ended in the back parking lot of the Jackson County Civic Action Building on Jefferson Street when the driver stopped the car and fled on foot. The male driver, later identified as 27-year-old Ricky Powell, was 5â€™ 9â€ 300 pounds of fleeing felon, running toward his own residence. Cpl. Shipman gave chase on foot, running nearing 100 yards to catch up to him. The two ended up in a residential area, face-to-face.
Ironically, Shipman had been in a vehicle pursuit with Powell three months earlier, but Powell had successfully evaded him that day and no one in the neighborhood would help the police department identify Powell, so Shipman was not going to let him go this time.
Lancen Shipman is no stranger to crisis situations. As a Bay County, Florida sheriffâ€™s deputy, Shipman had already been involved in one deadly force encounter in March, 2005, shooting at a suspect who was attempting to strike him with a vehicle after another high speed pursuit. But Lancen had no idea just how critical this incident was about to become.
At 6â€™ 215 lbs, 31-year-old Lancen was in â€œdecentâ€ physical condition, but admits â€œI didnâ€™t work out that muchâ€ at the time. During the foot pursuit, Lancen kept gaining ground and shouting at Powell to stop. Suddenly Powell did, abruptly, turning to face Shipman, and taking up a fighting stance. Using the momentum from his 100 yard dash, Lance hit him full force with an elbow strike. Powell didnâ€™t move.
By this time, Shipman knew he wasnâ€™t operating at his peak. â€œMy blows were 50%, maybe 25% of what they should have been,â€ says Shipman. Taking blow after blow to the head, Shipman struggled to gain control of Powell. Shipman kept fighting, using knee strikes, elbow strikes, head butts, anything he could to slow Powell down. When he started resorting to head butting, Shipman knew he was in trouble.
Because he tends to get involved in foot chases and physical confrontations, Lancen had long ago taken his ASP baton and pepper spray off of his duty belt in order to lighten his load. This left him with only his hands and his pistol to fight with. Lancen used one hand to try to call for back up on his portable and thatâ€™s when things got worse than he ever could have imagined.
Powell reached out and did a two-handed gun grab from the front. At the time, Shipman carried a .45 caliber Glock model 21 in a Safariland SSIII security holster. He struck Powell with an uppercut to the face and put both hands on top of Powellâ€™s and pushed down. He then reached for his portable again, letting dispatch know that the fight was getting worse and Powell was attempting to disarm him.
Using Lancenâ€™s own gun and holster as a handle, Powell began to fling Lancen back and forth. Lancen went down, attempting to break free, but Powell kept pulling him back up. Powell then popped the holsterâ€™s top thumbreak, searched for the second snap, opened that one, and then pulled Shipman back to his feet one more time.
â€œI heard a loud pop, but I didnâ€™t know what it wasâ€ said Shipman. â€œI reached for my gun to end this fight.â€ He found out later that Powell knew how to defeat his retention holster, and after opening both snaps, he had ripped it wide open. The â€œpopâ€ was the back bolt breaking, â€œopening the holster like a taco.â€ Shipman found himself staring down the barrel of his own duty weapon. He tried for a gun grab but Powell backed up out of reach and the two men just stared at each other for a moment.
A 10-year veteran of law enforcement and an absolute â€œ5%-er,â€ Lancen had always carried a back up weapon until the previous week.
â€œI carried a second gun in my tactical vest, but it nearly fell out during a foot chase the week before. Iâ€™d momentarily lost control of it, grabbed it while I was running and had to secure it in my back pocket before I could gain control of my subject. Afterwards, I thought to myself, â€˜Iâ€™ve never had to use my back up gun in 10 years,â€™ so I stopped carrying one.â€
So Shipman found himself unarmed, on his knees, hands up in the middle of an open yard, with no cover and no where to run. â€œI thought about my kids, and I told him, donâ€™t shoot me, Iâ€™ve got kids. But I thought I was dead.â€ Shipman said.
A crowd had gathered and started shouting â€œShoot him Ricky! Kill the cop!â€ Then Powell turned abruptly and ran toward his own house, a short distance away. â€œNow I was mad,â€ Lancen said, and he followed Powell at a distance, bouncing from cover to cover, watching as Powell ran into the back of his house, a residence well known by Moss Point PD as a drug house.
Shipman took cover at an angle to be able to watch both the front and back doors while he awaited backup. Strangely, Powellâ€™s wife came out onto her front porch and asked him if he was okay and did he want to come in and have a drink of water. To this day, Lancen is unsure if she was trying to lure him in or if she truly did not know that her husband had just tried to kill the same officer she was offering to assist.
Shipman ignored her and stayed behind cover, waiting for reinforcements.
When the first back up units arrived, Shipman quickly filled them in and then ran the 100 yards back to his patrol car and suited up in his heavy duty tactical vest, grabbed 6 fully loaded magazines, his AR 15 patrol rifle, and ran back to the scene in front of Powellâ€™s house while more and more units arrived from every police jurisdiction in the area.
As he stood on the perimeter, armed with a patrol rifle but no handgun, helping to cover the back of the house, something happened that touched Cpl. Shipman deeply, something that he will never forget. Moss Point PD Detective Sgt. Jeff Smith walked up behind him and put a Glock 21 identical to Lancenâ€™s own into his broken holster. He then grabbed Lancen by the vest and said â€œYouâ€™re not unarmed, you got a gun back, we got you a gun.â€ Shipman credits this gesture by Smith as the beginning of his recovery from this horrific incident.
But the incident wasnâ€™t over yet.
Sergeant Jeff Smith took control of the scene as more units arrived. Powell refused to exit his residence and the passenger whoâ€™d been with Powell during the initial pursuit was also barricaded in the house. As plainclothes detectives arrived, Smith made sure they had body armor on before being allowed to take up positions on the scene. When they asked â€œDo we have time to get our vests?â€ Smith relied â€œAll the time in the world.â€
By now Lancen was able to be relieved of his perimeter post and he was put into a patrol unit to cool off. An officer from nearby Pascagoula, Mississippi stayed by Shipmanâ€™s side the entire time. â€I still donâ€™t know his name but Iâ€™ll remember his face always.â€ Lance said. As the ad hoc entry team assembled by Sgt. Smith prepared to make entry into the house, Lancen gave the Pascagoula officer his own tactical vest, and waited in the patrol car for Powell to be taken into custody.
Lancen began to realize that the incredible strain heâ€™d just put his body and mind through was beginning to take its toll. His motor skills were poor, his breathing shallow; he couldnâ€™t seem to cool off. Another deputy took control of Lanceâ€™s rifle and he stayed in the patrol unit while entry was made into the house.
Once Powell was in custody, Sgt. Smith told him to stand by the car and just identify Powell as he was brought outside. Lance did so and then sat back down, or tried to. â€œI passed out. O
nce I knew it was safe, I just passed out.â€ Lancen was brought to the ground gently by his fellow officers and then started to violently throw up; he was going into shock.
The officer from nearby Pascagoula stayed by his side while a female deputy held his head as he vomited. Another friend, Deputy Trace â€œHawkâ€ Wrier, stayed in front of him, getting up close to his face and talking to him, keeping him calm until the medics could get on scene. The ambulance arrived but Lancen refused to be put on a stretcher, he walked to the ambulance, escorted by his comrades.
As he sat in the back of that ambulance he saw that they were being escorted by a long line of squad cars. The very first squad car behind the ambulance said â€œPascagoula Police Departmentâ€ on the side; it was driven by the unidentified officer from Pascagoula, still refusing to leave Lancenâ€™s side.
Less than one hour has passed since Lancen Shipman had first begun his pursuit of Ricky Powellâ€™s 2004 Nissan Sentra.