Playacting for preparedness

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Ready to rush are Deputy Ben Fender, Sheriff's Detective Tony Nichols, Deputy Chad Bass and city Detective Brad Martin.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

In an exercise Thursday, local Special Weapons And Tactics Team officers talked a man, who portrayed a recently fired factory worker, into surrendering after releasing hostages.

Lewisburg Police Sgt. David Henley, the SWAT team commander, wrote the scenario. Officer Shaun Crawford played the unemployed man, who was living in his truck after his wife obtained a restraining order to keep him away.

Then, the pickup was repossessed, according to the hard luck story Henley wrote to start the five-hour training session, which included an hour of review.

SWAT officers have trained for their own safety with hazardous materials teams and each other to increase their familiarity with forced entry into buildings. They'd not been confronted with a dynamic chain of events such as the fictional domestic situation that escalated into what looked like a dramatic hostage situation.

That made-for-exercise chain of events started with the sound of shots fired in City Hall and the SWAT Team's response.

Snipers were posted on the roof of the bank in front of City Hall. Helmeted officers were posted at building corners with shields held at the front of their line. As first responders, Lewisburg firefighters were standing by at an ambulance and two fire trucks. In the police interrogation room, a negotiating team talked on a speakerphone with Crawford, who portrayed Billy Ray Johnson, the unhappy husband and ex-Marine, who'd been discharged because of beer and whiskey.

The fictitious hostage-taker shot a man in his leg and abdomen after he "may have had one or two" beers, negotiators were told.

"He can't walk very good," Billy Ray told negotiators about the wounded hostage. "I kind of fibbed on that."

At about 6:40 p.m. Thursday, nearly 100 minutes after the exercise began, the wounded hostage was released. Thereafter, the fictitious wife, who in real life is probation officer Crystal Gray, was released. By 9 p.m. Crawford, as Billy Ray, came out, apparently persuaded that he wouldn't be harmed.

Crawford "did a really good job" portraying Billy Ray, Police Chief Chuck Forbis said. "He ad-libbed very well. He was able to stay with it.

"The training is very serious," Forbis said.

Officers are sent to tactical officer training and Henley is a member of the National Tactical Officers Association.

Forbis said law enforcement officers learned Friday to put their training to use while being put through a chain of events that was as realistic as possible.

Henley declined to name all of the SWAT Team officers, citing security reasons.