I watched as they unloaded the shooting victims from the ambulance.
One after another they were gently lowered to the pavement and then pushed quickly through the emergency-room doors.

The victims were indistinguishable on the gurneys with tubes feeding into their veins and pressure bags cloaking their limbs. You could not tell the individuals apart.

But two of the wounded were different; they were cops.
When part-time air-conditioning repairman Barry W. Kaiser began firing his gun from a quiet central Phoenix home, the police were summoned.

The first two officers sent to stop the shooting were themselves gunned down.

Before it was all over, Kaiser shot a total of eight people and then pulled the trigger one last time to kill himself.

Family members streamed into the parking lot of the hospital where the victims had been taken.

When tragedy unfolds and there is nothing to be done except wait, the eye wanders and registers small things: Interim Police Chief Dennis Garrett was already moving among the relatives in the hospital corridor; one of the officers, Michael Wheelis, appeared bald--for some odd reason it made him look even more vulnerable; a priest walked through the swinging doors.

Was he there to comfort the worried wives or administer last rites?
As time unwound, we learned that Officer Wheelis was only wounded in the leg.

But Patrolman Leonard Kolodziej, a 19-year veteran of the force, was already dead.

Kolodziej had been struck repeatedly by gunfire as he attempted to open the door of his squad car. As soon as the first shot was fired, coverage of the shooting focused upon the murderer, Kaiser. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he, why would anyone, do this?

Within 24 hours, the police officers in this drama were footnotes in the press. This is, of course, what viewers and readers want.

But what do all of the details about Kaiser actually tell us? He was one more deranged man who was unable to handle life's awful turns, a deeply disturbed individual who picked up a gun and shot innocents. We know the Kaisers of this world.

I want to tell you about Officer Kolodziej and what he did with his last moments on Earth.

According to Mike Petchel, a police officer who arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting began, Kolodziej died a hero, not the unwitting victim of a lunatic but a man who acted conscientiously to save others.

"He thought he had a shooter but he also thought he was dealing with someone who'd fled the scene," said Petchel. "He didn't know he was pulling up directly in front of Kaiser's home. As soon as he drove up, Kaiser opened fire on him."

Officer Kolodziej was struck in the shoulder, neck and head.
Despite his mortal wounds, Kolodziej struggled to warn his colleagues who were converging upon the scene.

Officer Kolodziej turned on his siren and lights to alert the responding police officers. He tried to use his microphone but his injuries were too severe.

"Other officers said they could hear Kolodziej's open mic," said Petchel. "They could hear his siren, then more gunshots and then gurgling."

Because Officer Kolodziej was shot in the throat he could not speak into his microphone. The men from his own precinct could only hear their partner choking.

His final act was to push the emergency button in his car which automatically flashed a desperate code to the police dispatcher, 9-9-9, "Officer down."

Officer Leonard Kolodziej was ten months away from retirement. It was all so senseless.

It always is.
We know now that Barry W. Kaiser was going through a divorce he could not handle. His wife had asked for the house and custody of the two small children this past month.

So Officer Kolodziej was, in effect, responding to a domestic-disturbance call when he was killed.

Ask any cop. None of them ever wants to deal with a husband and wife who are ready to kill each other.

But police officers always respond. It's their job.
And now Leonard Kolodziej's family must bury him.
I thought about all of this; in fact, I can't get it out of my mind. I've written a lot of words about police officers who lost control, who became needlessly violent.

Earlier this year, I wrote a series about cops who beat innocent people, put dogs on little kids and abused prisoners in their custody. I described a system that wasn't responsive.

The city manager's office announced that it would investigate the role of civilian review in cases where citizens complained about police conduct.

In the middle of the project on police excess, the Rodney King videotape exploded upon the airwaves.

Following the coverage of the Los Angeles beating, Phoenix erupted with five incidents in which officers used their guns on victims, including one man armed only with a rock.

Interim Police Chief Garrett reacted to the rash of shootings by his officers. He said he would examine the role of guns and whether his men might use other, more effective, methods--such as stun guns or chemical sprays--in deadly force situations.

On top of all of this the surprise resignation of ex-Chief Ruben Ortega prompted Mayor Paul Johnson to declare that he would form a separate committee to look into City Hall's oversight of the Police Department.

All of this is necessary. All of this is long overdue.
But as use-of-force procedures are reconsidered and as citizens are, we hope, brought onto a meaningful civilian review board, it is important to remember the sacrifice of Officer Leonard Kolodziej.

Good cops get noticed at funerals. Bad cops get publicity when they blow it.

That's what happens in this business. When cops go overboard, someone picks up the telephone to complain. People run to the press because under the old chief many felt it was useless to take a gripe to the department.

No one calls to volunteer the story about the detective whose hard work cracked a difficult case.

Not once in 21 years has anyone ever called this newspaper to praise the officer who responded to a violent domestic dispute and settled the situation down.

Nor have I ever sought out that story.
Making cops accountable is only possible when you appreciate the danger they face.

"They could hear his siren, then more gunshots and then gurgling."

Kolodziej died a hero, not the unwitting victim of a lunatic but a man who acted conscientiously to save others.

Good cops get noticed at funerals. Bad cops get publicity when they blow it.


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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey