A Use of Force instructor, responsible for training the San Diego Police Department officers who found themselves in a shootout in the middle of a College Area apartment complex, reviewed recently-released body camera footage of the incident with NBC 7.
The District Attorney’s Office released the body camera footage of the July 2018 gun battle this week after determining the officers involved were justified in using deadly force to subdue the suspect.
Footage shows officers knocked on the suspect’s door for approximately 30 minutes before firefighters broke it open. Seconds later, gunfire erupted.
"It’s probably as bad as it is going to get for an officer,” Service Training Manager Sgt. Michael Belz said.
One officer was hit and fell to the floor. Another returned fire before trying to pull him to safety. The inched their way down a hallway that turned out to be a dead end. Sgt. Belz described it as a “fatal funnel,” a space where they could only move forward toward the shooter or backwards.
The firefighters fled the opposite direction, leaving the gunman Joe Darwish in between them and the officers.
Belz said that had the officers not returned fire immediately, Darwish may have come out to the hallway and continued shooting. The crossfire could have put the firefighters’ lives in danger.
“It’s probably easier to say there is not much they did wrong,” Belz said.
Luckily, the hallway wasn’t completely blocked. The two officers, though injured, were able to kick out a window at the end and jump to safety.
Belz says when officers are forced in a gunfight, they are trained to win it and survive it.
Ambushes, active shooters, force-on-force training are all part of the curriculum at the Miramar College Law Enforcement Training Facility where Belz instructs.
"We make it a stressful environment because it is a stressful job. We try to put them in stressful situations and allow them to succeed at them,” he said.
Belz says the takeaway for rookie and veteran officers is not to be complacent, and treat every call as serious. Should things go bad, you'll have a plan.
"Officers got injured. Suspect lost his life. There is no good ending in that. They way they handled themselves, the way they were able to recover, you can't really ask for any more than that,” Belz said.
The hardest part, Belz says, is not the shootout, but the second guessing of your actions afterward. In this case, Belz says the officers involved should feel good they did their best.
Four of the five officers involved in the shooting are back on the job. Darwish was wounded by police return fire, and ultimately died from a self-inflicted gunshot.