You just never know who you're going to encounter on a car stop

By Joe Vargas

On May 18, Douglas County (CO) Sheriff’s Department Deputy Brad Proulx was checking on a disabled vehicle parked at the side of the highway. He quickly learned how things are not often as they appear. For no apparent reason, the driver — armed with an assault rifle — attacked him.

The incident was captured on the deputy’s body camera. The sheriff’s department released the video footage in an effort to educate the public regarding the split-second decisions officers have to make every day.

In the video, Deputy Proulx walks up to the passenger side of the parked SUV and looks inside. He immediately sees the driver is armed with some type of assault rifle. The deputy begins to retreat to the back of the SUV when the suspect suddenly exits and charges at him armed with the rifle. Giving brief commands, Deputy Proulx steps back and falls to the ground while firing at the driver.

Whether through luck or skill, Deputy Proulx shoots twice. One shot wounds the driver in the arm and the second shot hits the driver’s door.

Returning to his feet, Deputy Proulx radios in “shots fired” and engages the now-wounded driver. There is noticeable strain in his voice.

I’ve watched the video about a dozen times. The deputy’s survival skills were spot on. To be able to accurately shoot while falling backward is a credit to his training and “will to survive.”

The wounded suspect runs a short distance and collapses. The driver can be heard apologizing as Deputy Proulx gives him commands.

Who can really tell what the driver was thinking?

“Suicide by cop” or just plain dumb, you can’t tell. And I haven’t found any information that explains his motivation.

The suspect, 23-year-old Deyon Marcus Rivas-Maestas, was arrested and booked for felony assault after being treated at the hospital for a wound to his arm.

Anyone who has ever been stopped by a police officer probably has noticed the apprehension and vigilance with which officers approach vehicles.

The truth is, you just never know. As in Deputy Proulx’s case, he was just stopping to render aid to a possibly stranded motorist.

As a lesson, here are some tips on what you can do to make an officer feel safer during a car stop. These tips should be shared with every driver in your household

— Pull over as soon as safely possible and turn off your engine. You might also want to turn down the sound system and lower your window. Continuing to drive over a distance when there are clearly spots to pull over will only make an officer wonder, “What the heck are they doing?”

— Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Don’t start reaching for licenses and registration until told to do so. Also, keep those forms some place handy and know where you put them. Rummaging around in a glove box or center console makes it hard to see what you’re reaching for.

— Stay in your vehicle. This is for your own safety. It’s amazing how many people are attracted to the flashing lights and could plow into the vehicles.

— If it’s dark, turning on the interior light is helpful. At night, the officer will shine all available lighting at your vehicle. This gives the officer an advantage when approaching your vehicle.

— Allow the officer to speak first and obey any commands given. In the off chance a vehicle similar to yours might have been used in a crime, the officer may give further orders to ensure everyone’s safety.

It’s definitely a crazy world officers have to police. The “split-second decision-making” they have to make is what keeps them alive and safe. Every action an officer takes is in response to the actions of whoever they encounter.

As you saw from the video, Deputy Proulx’s decision-making possibly kept him alive that day.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.