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August 10, 2012

Warren police release video showing officer getting shot

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — The video images captured at 1:45 a.m. on Aug. 1 are dark, both literally and figuratively.

There is no audio. A group of police officers respond to a 911 call in the 7000 block of Paige, north of Nine Mile and west of Van Dyke. Dispatchers tell them a caller says there’s a man inside a house with a gun to his friend’s head.

The camera mounted in the scout car shows officers checking a vehicle parked in front of the address. Their attention quickly turns to the house, and they move briskly off camera.

And then, quickly and without warning, the situation escalates.

Officer Don Viars, 35, an eight-year veteran of the Warren Police Department, stumbles back into view and falls to the ground. His weapon drops to the street and slides across the roadway. Clutching his body, Viars believes he is in a fight for his life. Officers scramble to neutralize the threat, and to cover Viars, who eventually moves to shelter behind a parked car.

He eventually enters a police car that rushes him to the hospital, where he learns that his bulletproof vest likely saved his life.

The threat is over; the suspect, shot dead by police. The investigation begins.

Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green said that’s how even seemingly routine situations can go bad just that quickly: It’s the reality of police work.

At a press conference earlier this month, Green said that’s why he — after conferring with Viars, who agreed with the decision — decided to release the video of the shooting.

“The reason officer Viars feels it is important is that he wants to validate the so often talked about inherent dangers of police work with a glimpse of reality,” Green said. “This decision on his part points to his character and his commitment to the law enforcement community as a whole, not just to himself.”

Viars continued to recuperate at home in the days after the shooting, and Green said that he would be eligible to return to duty whenever he feels ready do so.

Green said Viars suffered a significant bruise when the bullet slammed into the vest over his abdomen, and that he thought the round had entered his body in the minutes after he was hit.

Officer Mike Sauger, president of the Warren Police Officers Association, said the vests are optional pieces of equipment that officers purchase themselves.

“They’re anywhere from $800 to $1,500. Typically, they last only about five years,” Sauger said. “It’s a piece of equipment that we’ll have to replace about every five years.”

Still, Sauger said he’s never worked a day on the road without one.

“It’s something pretty much everybody has. Obviously, we see how important a vest is, based on what happened to Don,” Sauger said. “If he didn’t have it on, we’d be in a whole different situation now.”

Police sources said a second officer was fired upon and narrowly missed during the shootout on Paige. Ironically, that officer routinely wears a vest for protection, but did not have one on that day because he was scheduled to go to the clinic when he reported for work for an ankle injury suffered on his shift the day before.

But it turned out to be a busy night crime-wise, and he ended up going on patrol without the vest. As fate would have it, he literally dodged a bullet.

The video, the role of the vest, and the inherent dangers of police work, where a situation can turn deadly without warning, were clearly points of reflection in the wake of the shooting. The intensity at the press conference where the video was released was unmistakable.

“When you’re in a situation like that, your adrenaline is going. You’re hearing rounds go off. On a night like that, you’re seeing the muzzle flashes,” Sauger said later. “When you get hit with a bullet in the vest, you’re going to feel it.

“The pain he was in, he had no idea he wasn’t shot until he got to the hospital. The officer wanted the public to know what exactly we go through, and to in a sense see a day in the life of an officer. That’s his wish. I support him on that,” Sauger said.

To view video from the shooting on Paige, visit the Warren Weekly’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/warrenweekly

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.