Tustin PD officers hone critical incident training in hospital scenario involving knife-wielding man

By Greg Hardesty

“We’re going hot!”

With those words, the critical-incident scenario at the Tustin hospital began to unfold.

A man, irate at the treatment his ailing son was receiving, cursed and yelled at staffers at the front desk.

Police Officers D. Havourd, left, J. Deleon, center, and J. Hedges, right, look for a man armed with a knife in a hospital ward as the Tustin Police Department held active shooter training at Foothill Regional Hospital in Tustin.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

Hello?! My son needs help!”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!”

“Is it your son who’s dying?”

Frustrated at their responses, the man brandished a large knife and then went berserk, slashing people in his path as he ran down hallways and in and out of rooms.

Tustin police officers, along with evaluators in yellow vests, enter a building during an active shooter training at Foothill Regional Hospital.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

By the time three TPD officers arrived, one victim was dead outside the hospital, and three were dead inside.

Frantic staffers told the officers where they thought the suspect was, and they entered the hospital, ready to use their semi-automatic AR-15 rifles if necessary but hoping to talk the suspect down.

Mai Tran, playing the part of a wounded staff member, rests after a simulation as the Tustin Police Department held active shooter training at Foothill Regional Hospital in Tustin. Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

They found the suspect in a back room.

They yelled various commands at him.

Let me see your hands!

Get on the ground, do it now!

There was a person in a wheelchair near him that officers considered a hostage.

The suspect made a move for his knife.

A Tustin police officer guards a doorway while Virginia Kyle plays the part of a wounded victim during a Tustin Police Department active shooter training.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

In nearly all of the eight scenarios that played out Aug. 28 at Foothill Regional Medical Center on Newport Avenue, officers had to resort to lethal force to take the suspect down.

After the officers shot the suspect, they applied tourniquets to two fake limbs and pack the wounds with gauze. The fake blood coming from the wound made their hands slippery as they worked fast to prevent the injured party from bleeding out.

In briefings afterword, the team of TPD evaluators told the officers their decision to utilize deadly force was justified, since the man was a murder suspect and in danger of harming them or others.

Tustin Officer R. Casiello tries to stop the bleeding on a simulated wound after neutralizing an active shooter during the Tustin Police Department’s active shooter training.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

They gave the eight teams of three officers tips on how to try to de-escalate the situation.

The training scenarios were also an opportunity for the hospital staff to  assessed how staff members reacted to the chaotic incident, aiming to reinforce in them the now widely adopted strategy of “Run, Hide, Fight” (try to escape the threat, hide if you can’t, and fight back as a last resort).

The actors in the scenario, some with Hollywood-worthy fake stab wounds, included volunteers with the Tustin PD and staffers at Foothill Regional Medical Center, which asked the TPD to create the realistic rampage for training purposes.

A debriefing is held after the Tustin Police Department’s active shooter training.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

The scenario is part of the TPD’s ongoing commitment to keep current with active-shooter and related training.

“When police officers get stressed, they revert to their training,” TPD Chief Charlie Celano said as he observed the action. “So if you don’t do the training up front and ahead of time, that stress is going to take over. (Officers) perform at their best when you implant that training ahead of time.”

Sgt. Jeff Taylor ran the scenario. He is one of two sergeants assigned to the TPD’s SRT, for Special Response Team, which consists of 10 officers.

Three armed police officers along with three observer officers run to a building during a training at Foothill Regional Hospital.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

The SRT, considered a step below SWAT, holds regular training and a handful of full-scale scenarios such as the one at the hospital a few times a year, Taylor said. The team recently held one at the Tustin Marketplace and one inside the TPD station. The next one will be at a high school, Taylor said.

Everyone involved in the scenario was told to react as if what was happening was real.

Tustin Officer N. Nguyen enters a room with her weapon up during training.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

“Who else wants some?!” Officer Michael Carter, one of two TPD officers who took turns playing the bad guy, yelled as he waved his knife.

Lt. John Strain said the TPD may return to Foothill Regional Medical Center, an acute-care hospital with 177 beds, to instruct employees on the finer points of the “Run, Hide, Fight” strategy.

Officer R. Casiello guards a man on a gurney in the same room as an angry parent armed with a knife during a training exercise.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

Members of the eight teams of three TPD officers — mostly detective and motor officers — who responded to the fake knifing rampage said such training is important as it helps sharpen their skills when it comes to OODA, for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

“I believe the training scenario was as realistic as you can get,” said Det. Shonn Rojas. “These types of high-stress scenarios can provide officers valuable training in developing each officer’s own awareness of tactical considerations.

A police officer wearing a red hoodie plays the part of an angry parent and yells at a hospital employee during active shooter training at Foothill Regional Hospital.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

“Additionally, officers can train to be calm and focus on the threat(s) during a high-stress event. High-stress training scenarios can make us as ready as we possibly can be.

“With the ever-growing, real-life occurrences, we must be ready to react. The community is relying on us to bring calm to the chaos.”

Tustin Officers D. Havourd, left, J. Deleon, center, and J. Hedges, right, enter the hospital to look for a man armed with a knife during an active shooter training.
Photo by Sam Gangwer/Behind the Badge

Said Celano of the hospital scenario: “I thought it was great. Everybody did a great job, (not just) the officers, but also the volunteers….It’s incredibly important because we all know that in the world today, this stuff actually happens.”