Saturday, July 2, 2016

Orlando Nightclub Terror Attack Timeline Review: SWAT Has Become Too Risk Averse

Bringing everything together shows the shameful over-caution of SWAT leadership.  The first officers on the scene engaged the shooter immediately and cornered him. They were prepared to go in, finish him off and save lives but were ordered, no one knows why, to stay put and wait. Twenty minutes later, they were ordered to abandon their mission and leave the building, despite having the upper hand.

When heroes Gruler, Cornwell, Smith, and Backhaus left the building, SWAT was supposed to take over.

But SWAT did not act. The injured and hostages were left to fend for themselves.  One hundred armed police officers of various stripes sat outside that building for nearly three hours before they did anything more than the average grandmother would do.

And the average grandmother would not need to confer and plan and assess and wait for officials for hours before doing what she was equipped to do at the beginning, either.

Police and SWAT leaders' claims of concern about bombs do not stand up to the actual police incident reports, the reports of media on the scene, and the reports of survivors.  SWAT leadership is claiming "rescue" actions that were not police-assisted, or that were accomplished before  the full SWAT Team arrived , or didn't happen until hours later, and what little was done were low risk ventures.

When SWAT leaders did finally get around to doing something, the very thing their unit exists to do, they flubbed the whole thing. Their explosives didn't breach the wall, so they had to ram it with a truck.  They broke through in the wrong place - missed the bathroom completely, and broke into a hallway they could have just walked into from the front door, since the terrorist was holed up in the bathroom.

In three hours, with the nightclub manager on hand, SWAT leadership failed to confirm the locations of the rooms they needed to enter.

There's still no good explanation for why they waited, knowing full well that many hostages in the bathroom had already been shot and were barely clinging to life (at least one of whom died while they dithered), nor for why they finally decided to act after all.  The claim of his threat to put vests on hostages, given that he had already shot and killed so many, does not hold water.

Even after the terrorist was dead, SWAT leadership continued to delay treatment to the injured. Despite having a robot on hand, and knowing the terrorist was in the bathroom, they did not send the robot into the building until after they'd killed him and breached the other walls.   Once the robot was inside, they mistook a broken exit sign for an "explosive device" and further delayed paramedics from entering the building.

It's all on the public record:

[2:00 AM] The Guardian: Terrorist opens fire on the dance floor at Pulse nightclub, and people begin trying to escape.  "Burbano: “By the time it got to 20 to 30 rounds we were already trying to exit the side exitway behind the stage. It was very narrow. There was about 20 to 30 people trying to push themselves through a very small door and there was a huge gaping hole in the fence that looked like people had punched it and kicked it down."

"Imran Yousuf, 24, a bouncer and former Marine who served in Afghanistan, saw people pouring into the back hallway. No one was calm enough to unlatch the exit door.  "I jumped over to open that latch and we got everyone that we can out of there,” he told CBS News, estimating that 60 or 70 people got out that way."

"Hansen was at the bar. “The shooter came in through the front door and was shooting at the dancefloor and the bar,” he recalled. Hansen started crawling towards the club’s outdoor patio.
 Hansen reached the patio and, with others, pushed over a fence. "

"Gonzalez hid behind a bar until he was able to flee.

"Adam Gruler, an off-duty Orlando city police officer who was working security at Pulse that night, began to exchange fire with Mateen. Realising he was outgunned, he called for back-up.

"Gruler and the next ...officers to arrive on scene, Swat team members Scott Smith and Jeffrey Backhaus, went straight into the club and secured a large area where the first victims had been gunned down....."

[2:00 AM]  WNCN:  "Club-goer Rob Rick said it happened around, 2 a.m., just before closing time....  He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club. "

[2:02 AM]  Adam Gruler, an off-duty Orlando Police Officer who was working security at Pulse, immediately engaged the terrorist and called for back-up.

Belle Isle, Fla., Police Officer Brandon Cornwell, assisting a traffic stop when he heard the call, arrived "within 36 seconds" after hearing the dispatch.

Orlando Police Officers Scott Smith and Jeffrey Backhaus, who were patrolling nearby when they heard the call, were at the scene, pulling their own assault rifles and gear out of their trunks when Cornwell arrived.

The Washington  Post reported: "After an initial burst of fire between Omar Mateen and a security guard at the Pulse nightclub, a group of five or six police officers arrived on the scene within minutes, broke through a large glass window and entered the club."

"Cornwell estimated that “no more than two minutes” had elapsed since he and the other officers arrived, and they were now inside the club.

"Cornwell and the other officers immediately began “clearing rooms” one by one — not knowing if there was more than one shooter — and trying to locate the source of the gunfire. But fairly quickly — “within minutes,” Cornwell said — officers located Mateen in the bathroom area.

[2:05 AM ] CNN: "Patience Carter says the shooter enters the bathroom and shoots several people hiding there. People scream and scramble as blood flies. Then the gunman stops shooting."

Guardian: "For many who prayed the bathroom would provide refuge, it became a death trap. Mateen entered, barricaded himself in and carried on firing, reportedly laughing as he kept pulling the trigger."

WaPo: "At that point, [Cornwell] said, “we took up a tactical position by the bar standpoint in the middle of the club.” As he aimed his AR-15 assault rifle toward the bathroom door, he said, the shooting stopped. And it was then that the “15 or 20 minute” holding pattern began, he said.

"..... he and his fellow officers were [ordered] to hold their position rather than attempt to go into the bathroom after the shooter.

"He kept aiming, waiting for SWAT. More screaming. He and the other officers held their position, focused on the bathroom, where he could see “some movement inside,” he said.

[2:06 AM]  CNN:  Shooting victim Eddie Jamoldroy Justice texts his mother from a bathroom stall, asks her to call police.

[2:18 AM]  WaPo reports: The SWAT team was called in.

[2:20 AM]  The rescue team who confronted and cornered the terrorist is ordered to abandon their mission. Officer Cornwell, who was still aiming at the bathroom the terrorist was in, and who could see movement, reported: “We got word from higher up, and it was communicated to the OPD lieutenant that we needed to withdraw,” he said. “So we came back outside. And waited for SWAT. SWAT arrived. SWAT handled everything from there.”

"Outside, Cornwell said, he spent the next several hours helping  transport victims to ambulances. He arrived back at the Belle Isle Police Department on Sunday afternoon, his uniform and all his
equipment saturated with blood."

[2:21 AM] NYT:  911 log:"One woman, who called at 2:21 a.m., said her body was going numb.
For 24 minutes, the woman, who the log shows was 18, said everyone in the bathroom was injured and groaning in pain. "Just keeps saying I don’t want to die today,” the operator wrote. At one point, she was losing her eyesight and feeling in her body. “Just keeps pleading, please come to the bathroom,” the log says." At 2:45 a.m., the line went dead.

[2:30 AM] WaPo reports: "While some survivors described harried rescues by individual officers during the first half-hour or so, others inside the club remained trapped for hours."

[2:30 - 2:34 AM]  NYT: "The sheriff’s records also showed that callers reported hearing gunshots at 2:30 and 2:34 a.m., raising questions about earlier police accounts. Chief John Mina of the Orlando police had said the gunman did not fire any shots after 2:18 a.m."

[2:35 AM] Terrorist made his first 911 call

[2:42 AM] Hostage Eddie Justice texted his mother that lots of people were hurt. She asked if he was with the police. At 2:46 AM, he wrote “No. Still here in bathroom. He has us. They need to come get us.”

[2:45 AM] CNN reports: "Some 100 officers from the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Orlando Police Department respond to the chaotic scene [between 2:02 - 2:47 AM]."

[2:45 AM] LA Times reports: Capt. Mark Canty of the SWAT team arrived on scene.
"Canty said Friday. “We have to step back and position ourselves to contain him and assess what is the best way to enter the building.” [Note: despite the fact that the real heroes had already contained the terrorist within 10 minutes of the attack, and would have neutralized him had they not been ordered to stand down and wait for Canty's SWAT team.]

"Canty and other police began to position themselves outside the darkened building. They considered smashing through a wall to reach the hostages. “We had been discussing the breach from shortly after I got there just because we realized it was going to be difficult to get to the hostages from the interior,” he said.

"An Orange County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office bomb squad was on the way, and Canty asked the commander to prepare an explosive to break through the club’s walls."

"Some of the 44 SWAT team members replaced patrol officers stationed around the club in case the shooter emerged. "

“There was a group in a dressing room. They were kind of isolated from where the shooter was, and we were able to get them out a door on the north side of the building,” Canty said. Outside, officers helped punch holes in a fence so people who had reached a patio could escape. [NOTE: Survivors who reached the patio had escaped through holes in the fence long before SWAT arrived. If police helped with this, it was the original duty officers - not "special" teams. But survivors did not report the presence of police during their escape through the fence. ]

"The club manager was in touch with employees trapped in another dressing room with an air conditioning unit in the wall. “We were able to get that air conditioning unit out and get them out,” he said. About a dozen people were freed from the two dressing rooms. " [NOTE: This did not occur until 3:58 AM, nearly two hours after the shooting started.]

[2:48 AM] Police Negotiator talks to Terrorist for 9 minutes

[2:49 AM ] CNN:  Shooting victim Eddie Jamoldroy Justice texts his mother again. Tells her Terrorist is in the bathroom with them.  Mina Justice told her son the police were there and to let her know when he saw them. “Hurry,” Eddie wrote. “He’s in the bathroom with us.”

[2:50 AM] Eddie Justice sent his final text to his mother. He did not survive. He was killed.

[2:51 AM] NY Times:  "Dispatch log records released on Thursday by the Orange County sheriff’s office showed that officers were first warned about the possibility of explosives at 2:51 a.m., 49 minutes after the shooting began."

 [2:51 AM]  RT:  "“Shooter saying possible explosives in the parking lot,” East reports at 2:51. “Subject is saying that he is a terrorist and has several bombs strapped to him in the downstairs female restroom,” Desk2 reports at 2:54."

[3.03 AM] Police Negotiator talks to Terrorist for 16 minutes

[3:24 AM] Police Negotiator talks to Terrorist for  3 minutes,

CNN:  "While officers are negotiating with the suspect, eight people were able to escape with the help of law enforcement, by removing an air conditioning unit and crawling through the hole created."  [NOTE: this is from the dressing rooms that SWAT commander described. ]
[3:58 AM] Guardian: "police tried creating exit routes for the trapped clubbers. They tore a window air conditioning unit out, after hearing the thumping of fists coming from a dressing room on the other side. At least four people escaped that way." [Note: same dressing room "rescue"]
[4:21 AM] WaPo reports: "Some [survivors] were rescued at 4:21 a.m. — more than two hours after the shooting began — by police working from outside the building. The FBI’s timeline does not describe any SWAT movement into the building until 5 a.m. [Note: same dressing room "rescue"]

[4:09 AM] RT:  "“Subject is in male restroom and is now reloading his guns,” Desk2 reports at 4:09, adding “and is about to start shooting again” at 4:13. "

[5:02 AM] RT (from official Police Incident Report)  "The SWAT team breaches the club at 5:02. Callers report explosions, with Desk1 confirming they can be heard in the background."

[Approximately 5:00 AM]  CNN: "SWAT members detonate an explosive to blow a hole in the wall but its only partially effective. They then use an armored vehicle to breach the final hole in the wall. But it leads them only to the hallway, not to the bathroom. They continue trying to breach using the vehicle.

"They also smash down a door at the club, clearing the way for some 30 people inside to flee to safety."  [ NOTE: is this the other dressing room Canty mentioned above?]

[shortly before 5:00 AM] LA Times:  “He talked about putting vests on the hostages and sending them out to the four corners of the club,” Canty said. Mateen claimed to have a vest for himself too, according to the police chief. And the gunman said he’d take action in 15 minutes.

“We had started prepping [an explosive] charge. We were getting ready as quickly as we could.”

Canty was at the command post a few blocks from the club with Orlando Police Chief John Mina. They reviewed the plan to rescue the hostages, and Mina made the call to use the explosive to break through a wall of the club.

In the bathrooms, Aiken, 29, heard police on a loudspeaker: “Move as far away from the walls as you can.” He said the gunman then started shooting again.

The first explosion didn’t quite break the wall, so the SWAT team used an armored, Humvee-style BearCat vehicle to ram it, Canty said.

“The hole was in the wrong spot. It was in the hall between the two bathrooms. So they attempted to make a second hole,” he said.

[5:00 AM]   When officers heard gunshots inside, they hurled in some nonlethal explosive flash-bang devices to divert the shooter and then rammed the wall a few more times, finally breaking into one of the bathrooms where the hostages were trapped with the gunman.

That’s when they faced off with Mateen. “He starts coming out of the first hole, and that’s where he engages the officers in gunfire,” Canty said. Ten SWAT team members opened fire and killed the shooter.

The team freed more than 20 hostages, helping those who could not walk.

Canty said the rescue showed why police increasingly invest in military-style equipment like the BearCat. He said his team followed “accepted tactics” and did all it could to help those trapped inside the club.

The Guardian:  "For those imprisoned inside, it was the moment of salvation. Torres recalled a loud explosion and the bathroom filling with dust. Within seconds members of the police Swat team had burst in. Torres was dragged up and virtually hurled through the hole in the wall, landing on the hard ground outside the club, grazing his arm and side. He was quickly taken to Florida hospital. Later on Sunday, he was released.

"Santiago, still on the ground in a pool of blood, said he heard the police arrive, yelling: “Drop it! Hands up!” Then he heard police chatter on a distant radio. Unable to walk, he dragged himself under the stall to exit it. He saw a body in front of the door on the opposite side. There was no one else. He dragged himself out of the bathroom towards the bar area and saw the face of a police officer.

"Santiago waved the light of his cellphone so the officers could see him. They told him to lift his hands and drop whatever he was carrying. Santiago complied and dragged himself towards them.

"They grabbed him by the arms and took him outside, where he told them there were at least 15 people in the bathroom needing help.

“At that point they asked me instructions on exactly where the bathroom was,” he said. “After I told them, they put me in an ambulance.”

"Mateen himself came through the hole, still shooting. He hit Swat officer Michael Napolitano’s Kevlar helmet, directly in front of his forehead. But now he was outnumbered, by 14 law enforcement officers, and outgunned."

[5:15 AM]  CNN:  "CNN field team and affiliates report hearing multiple gunshots.
As SWAT officers attempt to breach another wall, the suspect leaves the bathroom and he begins shooting at them. Police return fire and kill him."

[SOMETIME AFTER 5:15 AM]  WNCN:  "Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says at first officers mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to the dead victims and that the club was booby-trapped. A bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body.

"Dyer says that held up paramedics from going in until it was determined it was something that fell out of an exit sign or a smoke detector.

"The robot was sent in after SWAT team members put explosive charges on a wall and an armored vehicle knocked the wall down in an effort to rescue hostages."

[10:00 AM] LA Times:  "Many SWAT team members stayed until 10 a.m., when they were sent home to rest. By 5 p.m., they were back on duty, Canty said, “ready for anything else that may occur in the city of Orlando.”

WNCN:  "The Orlando mayor says of the 50 victims who died from the shooting, 39 were killed at the club and 11 people died at hospitals."

~~~  ~~~  ~~~~~

SWAT Captain Mark Canty's remark, after leaving unarmed, injured people at the mercy of a terrorist for hours, that "that is why police need military-style equipment" sounds more like the comment of a tone-deaf, self-serving politician than of the police we once trusted to have courage.

The men without equipment  - those officers first on the scene - acted like Men, and the men with equipment - the SWAT team - acted like Insurance Adjusters.

If anything, the actions of Orlando SWAT leadership make a case for every citizen to be trained and armed equally with the police.

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